02/12/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2013

Buddha's Simple Truth

Years ago, I sought out a teacher I had heard about to study meditation. It all seemed simple enough. We sat, we meditated, we spoke of my experiences while meditating. But things just did not seem quite right. There was an edge, or an attitude, an arrogance that was palpable, especially when I asked questions. He almost seemed angry the more I searched for knowledge.

I remember one time when another student made the mistake of asking about why she had to keep her eyes open while meditating. It was the Samatha tradition, in which the eyes are kept half open. "This is how we do things," was all he said.

"But my eyes dry out, and it becomes uncomfortable," she replied.

"You just have to learn to do it this way," was his answer.

She asked again, "But why? Why not meditate with our eyes closed like other practices?"

At this point, the teacher's voice rose, and his words became clipped. "Because this is our tradition. This is how we meditate. It is the Samatha tradition. If you want to keep your eyes closed, then find another way to meditate."

I was shocked watching this. It seemed to be a valid question. It seemed that any number of responses could have been more proper. Such as, it keeps us grounded in the present moment. It allows us to see. Instead, the teacher apparently felt like some things should just be accepted without question, which is something the Buddha definitely would not have supported. After all, wasn't it he who said "nobody's head is above another"?

That experience turned out to be a good one for me. It caused me to question his approach to teaching and the entire Samatha practice. It caused me to start a deeper journey and search for answers rather than doctrines. The more I read, the more I questioned, the more I learned.

Did the Buddha really mean for us to blindly accept his teachings without question? Obviously not, for he states that we should question.

Is opening or closing our eyes really going to prevent us from finding nirvana, or just greater balance? Obviously not.

I bring this moment in time up for two reasons. Not that I dwell on it, but that it is one of those instances that caused me to pursue my own journey on a much broader scale. It caused me to read and search and learn about the Buddha's actual teachings vs. the teachings so many profess are his. The more I did the more I found that Buddha, like any spiritual leader, provided a very simple path to the truth. It is just that after 2,500 years, his path has become complicated by the institutions that have grown around it. His "Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path" are still the core of his approach to ending discomfort and suffering, but the layers, rituals and doctrines of ordinary men and women have created an artificial hierarchy that can make some practices of Buddhism seem more like a religious organization than an approach to finding peace and balance and an end to suffering.

Buddha's own simple truth was that nirvana is right here and now. It is within each of you. And it is up to each of you to uncover it and live it in the present moment, not through the layers and rituals that different men and women have added, but through what should be very simple teachings. Very simple truths.

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