(con't from Part II)
He realized that when he really looked through the lens of concentration and then opened himself to mindful investigation, examining who was experiencing the moment and what the
nature of his self was, he eventually could see that even the self is impermanent. He concluded that there is not a separate, solid self. Memory, consciousness, feeling, and perception
exist, but there is not one solid, separate aspect that knows all of those experiences--that is, there is no independent entity or soul that remembers, is conscious, feels, or perceives. There are only memories, feelings, and perception. These are only experiences that are, as it were, experiencing themselves; there is not a separate, solid self experiencing them. Because there is memory, one remembers experiences; because of awareness one is aware of experiences--but in each case it is just awareness being aware of memory and experiences.
This battle with the Mara-mind and these three revolutionary insights brought about Sid's fi nal transformation. He was no longer asleep; no longer subject to identifi cation with greed,
hatred, or delusion; no longer subject to rebirth. Sid was awake, the Buddha.
After the Buddha gained liberation under the Bodhi Tree-- so called because he attained bodhi, or enlightenment, there--he said, in effect, What now? He was free. He had learned to accept pleasure as pleasure, pain as pain. He had seen through Mara's tricks and the ego's control and did not resist or attach to anything. He radiated care for the suffering in the world, but suffering no longer existed for the Buddha. So what now?
One important note: Pain does still exist. Nirvana is not a state of constant pleasurable bliss. Suffering and pain are distinctly different. Many spiritual practitioners have the idea that if we are in pain we are doing something wrong and that spiritual practice, properly conducted, will make life pleasant all the time. According to Buddhist teachings, that was not the Buddha's experience. He went on to teach for forty-fi ve years, and he had a bad back toward the end. His back hurt and he said so. That was the truth of that experience. He got injured and sick. He still had a human body, but he had no aversion, no attachment, and did not suffer because of his human body.
Even more important, the Buddha still had a human mind. Although he was free from the dictates of and misidentifi cation with Mara as personal or powerful, Mara continued to visit the Buddha. Mara came back regularly to see if the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha had prevailed. Fear, desire, and doubt still arose in the enlightened Buddha's mind. The difference was that he responded every time with, "I see you, Mara." He did not take Mara's visitations personally and did not feel that he had to act on them; he saw fear, desire, and doubt as they were and did not react, but responded with care and understanding.
After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha was not sure what to do next. He spent many days continuing his meditation, refl ecting on his newfound freedom and the path that had led him to deliverance from all forms of suffering and confusion. He refl ected on the fi ve factors that had led to his spiritual awakening and labeled them faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom (which encompassed compassion). The factor of mindfulness he broke down further still, into four distinct levels: body, feelings, mind, and the truth of experience. Then he formulated all of what he had learned and experienced into four universal truths consisting of twelve main factors, a formulation that later was referred to--and still generally is referred to--as the four noble truths and the eightfold path. We'll take a look at these teachings in a bit.
With the path of awakening fully understood and comprehended, the Buddha considered sharing his insights with others, but he was hesitant because his revolutionary insights were so contrary to the common teachings and views of his time. He was pretty sure they would not be understood or accepted by the masses, because they are so subtle, so simple, and so contrary to the natural human instinct. To ask people to accept pain and a spiritual liberation that does not include bliss
all of the time seemed crazy. He was unsure if people would be willing to do the work necessary to free themselves from attachment to and craving for pleasure.
Buddhism is often referred to as an atheistic tradition, but that isn't an accurate description. The Buddha acknowledged the existence of celestial beings or gods, and in fact he later recounted that a god named Brahma came to him and implored him to teach. Perhaps God, like Mara (who could be seen as the devil), is just another aspect of our minds, God being the
wise aspect and Mara being the unwise aspect.
It would be more true to say that real Buddhism is nontheistic. While the Buddha acknowledged gods, he concluded that they did not have the power to free us from suffering, and thus they were not part of his formulation. They were the benefi ciaries, though: the Buddha is often called the teacher of
humans and gods, because the gods are suffering as well and the Buddha can and did teach the gods the path to freedom.
The god Brahma saw that the Buddha was hesitant to teach the Dharma--the truth of his enlightenment--and implored the Buddha to reconsider. There are some who will understand
this teaching, Brahma explained. The Buddha replied that it was a freedom that was very diffi cult to attain. He characterized it as being counterinstinctual to human beings: the natural human instinct is to resist, avoid, or meet with aversion all things that are unpleasant, and to grasp at, hold on to, and
crave all things that are pleasurable. He explained that his experience along the whole spiritual path was one that went "against the stream" of ordinary human consciousness.
The Buddha felt that the masses would never be willing to practice the kind of renunciation, mindfulness, concentration, and morality that it takes to become free. Brahma agreed with the Buddha, but he insisted that there would be some in every generation that were not completely asleep, that had only a little dust in their eyes. The Dharma, as experienced and taught by the Buddha, Brahma insisted, could clear away that dust and allow those who chose to undertake this training to
The Buddha refl ected on Brahma's plea as he was sitting next to a lotus pond. He saw that most of the lotus plants stayed stuck in the mud, beneath the surface and the light of day, and some were barely breaking the surface, but there were a few lotuses that had broken forth into the sunlight and blossomed. The Buddha likened humans to the lotus fl owers. Out of the deluded mud of human existence, fi lled with greed, hatred, and delusion, in a world where wars, oppression, and lust rule the masses, there are those who can and will rise above the muck and emerge victorious against suffering.
Being convinced that it would be a worthy endeavor to start a spiritual revolution, the Buddha decided that he must offer the path to freedom to all who cared to follow it. He thought of his homeless homeys he had been practicing with in the forest and thought that if anyone could understand this radical
teaching it was them. So the Buddha set forth to teach the Dharma.
Noah currently teaches at his meditation center in Los Angeles. Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is located in a historic building in East Hollywood, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.
4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90029