We are told that a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who lived around 400 BCE, left his home and family, went on a spiritual quest and became enlightened — “awake.” Buddha can be translated as “awake.” From then on he was referred to as “The Buddha.”
According to Wikipedia: “No written records about Gautama were found from his lifetime or some centuries thereafter.” So the stories of his early life may or may not be true. What is true is that there is a tradition of teaching ascribed to him that survives to today. This tradition includes the “Four Noble Truths," and the “Eightfold Path.”
The Four Noble Truths:
1: Life is suffering;
2: Desire is the cause of suffering;
3: The path to liberation from suffering is to renounce all desire; and
4: The way leading to the cessation of suffering is the noble eightfold path.
The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View; Right Intention; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
I have no grief with the teachings as I read them. I wholly support them. Control your desire, you control your suffering!
But I do question the story of Siddhartha. Here’s why: I hold responsibility in high regard. I honor people who are responsible and not irresponsible people. The story I heard of Siddhartha is that as a young man he left his wife and child and went off to discover the truth of the world. He discovered that the rest of the world was not as privileged as he and that suffering was rampant. He endured the life of the common person and became aware of the way out of suffering. He became “awake.”
The part that bothers me is the leaving of wife and kid. I have always had a problem respecting men who leave their families. To me, when you commit to a family and particularly when you commit to having kids you take on a lifelong responsibility that cannot be ended. To me, that responsibility can be part of the path to enlightenment, but it must be trod!
I don’t believe that abandoning ones’ responsibilities can lead to enlightenment. I do believe that having a family can make reaching enlightenment a little harder.
A responsible person can lead a single life. A single person can achieve enlightenment. A person with a family may have a harder time to reach enlightenment. (Or not!) I don’t know. I only know my own experience.
Ken Keyes said, “Today is perfect. It cannot be improved upon. Unless you compare it to the imagined future or the dead past, neither one of which exist.” Embedded in this statement is the truth that you can only feel what is happening right now. Your whole life is right now. There is the trite statement that 'The past is dead. ... The future is a promise. All you have is now. That’s why it’s called the Present!”
I think it was also Ken Keyes who said, “There is always something happening. You only get bored when you call it nothing.”
If you’re feeling good, pay attention. Enjoy it. If you’re in pain, pay attention. Pay attention. My dad used to quote some wise soul who said, “One by one thy duties wait thee. Let thy full strength go to each. Let no future dreams elate thee. Learn thou first what these may teach.” Aldous Huxley said that the residents of “Island” taught the parrots’ to say “Here and now, boys, here and now!” That’s not a bad mantra for any of us.
Piet Hein said “Living is a thing you do, now or never. Which do you?” I don’t think he was a Buddhist either.
While I am not a Buddhist, I do agree with almost all of the teachings that have come down from The Buddha. I strive to be aware, aware of myself, of my surroundings, of other people. I try to be awake — not because of The Buddha, but because that is what I think is most appropriate for a human to aspire to.
On second thought, maybe I am a Buddhist.
—Dan Fischer lives in Ashland. He occasionally teaches at OLLI at SOU. His blog is www.danielcfischer.com, or Google “The Crazy Mud Caper.”