The living room of the cabin we’re staying at for Bodhi Day faces right into where Venus rose this morning. It was a clear morning, and there She was. I sat on the couch at about 5am with my mala, reciting the Morning Star Mantra, once for each of the 112 beads:
Nobo akyasha kyarabaya Om arikya mari bori sowaka
I mentioned on Day 1 that Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism became enlightened after reciting the Morning Star Mantra a million times in one sitting.
It’s important to remember that the Morning Star Mantra isn’t a magic incantation. Simply reciting it one million times will not get you to Nirvana as did reciting “There’s no place like home” got Dorothy Gale back to Kansas. It’s a matter of wrapping your brain around freedom from dukkha that such an extended period of meditation can bring.
At least Dorothy knew what she was saying. What does this Morning Star Mantra mean? Why did Kobo Daishi become enlightened reciting it one million times in one sitting?
At a very high level, it pays homage to the Bodhisattva, Akasagarbha. So who is Akasagarbha? According to the Eternal Fishnu, in Western terms, let’s just call him “the God of Space”, more formally, “the God of the Infinity of Space”.
The sentiment, not the literal translation (for which there is no one answer), of the Morning Star Mantra is, “How wonderful is the boundlessness of space.” This is important because freedom from Dukkha, suffering, equates to freedom from the constraints of what our brain clings to.
The Universe is boundless, not limited to the piddly “knowledge” in our brains. Our brain clings to the very minuscule experiences of our human life. Boundaries are man-made things. All of space is our backyard.
When We Become Nothing, We Become Everything
What does “nothing” mean? In the context of Buddhism, “nothing” means our mind doesn’t cling to anything – and because it doesn’t cling to anything it is free to be everything.
It’s All or Nothing
We usually think of “all or nothing situations” as undesirable since we civilized folks can use our intellectual sophistication to reach some sort of compromise. And it’s true. Our intellect is a gift that allows us to at least sometimes engineer Win-Wins or to cleverly have our cake and eat it too. But most of the time, as smart as we are, we just can’t seem to make everyone happy.
But in the case of enlightenment, freedom from dukkha, we strive for both! We strive for the elimination of all clinging, which makes us nothing. Here there isn’t a compromise – but instead a path. Just get on that path.
Tomorrow morning, on Bodhi Day, perhaps you will have an epiphany. You will cut all the strings tethering you to this and that and back to this. But it takes only one string to keep you tethered in the tangled web of dukkha. It only takes one line to reel in a fish.
There probably is something sacred that you will not cut off. Is it your children or others you love? Is it the God of your religion? Is it pissing off someone you’re afraid of? Eventually that sacred string will reel you back into the fragmented, house of cards we call “reality”.
Don’t worry about that. You’re not a fish trying to break free from those things. You’re a soul trying to find peace in a world that wasn’t designed from the ground up for we self-aware beings. As it was for the fish that the Eternal Fishnu lead onto land during the Devonian, in God’s time, fish out of water can transform into something really cool.
I’ve written a 4-part series hoping to shed light on why we cling to things. The theme is looking at the classic “Seven Deadly Sins” from what I call a quasi-evolutionary-psychology point of view. I say “quasi” because I’m not an anthropologist. But a software developer who spent forty years needing to understand how and why people think in order to build productive tools that fit into existing processes. I think the series helps to understand why we hold grudges, why we become addicted, and why we have hopes and dreams.
Here I outline four levels of clinging, each exponentially harder to do than the one before. But as it is if you hit the biggest guy in jail and the rest will leave you alone, conquer that last one and the first three will magically fade away.
Regrets, and Wrongs Done to You
These clingings are the easiest to let go of. It’s easy to get that we cannot change the past. “The past is the past”, we say. But that sentence isn’t really a delete button. Saying that just masks the memory like deodorant – it’s still there encoded in your neurons.
We’ve all done things we regret, and they haunt us for years if not the rest of our lives. Some things were just embarrassing, some mean, some greedy. As long as we’ve learned from the mistake, that’s all we can do about the past.
Forgiving someone for a terrible act against you can be very tough or impossible, depending on the act. They hurt our pride. Sometimes it takes people decades to forgive, if ever. But as hard as forgiveness towards others or another towards you can be, these clingings are nothing compared to what comes next.
Hint: This wouldn’t be a problem if you had no pride.
Bedazzlement – The Big Payoff
These are our addictions – whether instinctive such as love or learned vices such as drugs and alcohol. All addictions commandeer our brains, like some alien took over our body. Our logic and values are re-wired.
All addictions end in a big payoff, Bedazzlement – such as a hitting someone, getting drunk, a cheap thrill, popping a pill, a McDonalds binge. This is the payoff high that our brains give us when we solve a problem – the “drug high” of dopamine. Bedazzlement, the shiny prize we seek, keeps us going when we just want to give up. When we get what we’re seeking, we feel great, and we need to do it again.
We mistake this bedazzling high for happiness. But here’s the kicker – we’re sad even when we have what we want because we know it’s temporary.
It’s hard to cut these sort of clingings because we’ll wonder what life is about without these highs (or just getting what we want, which usually won’t be the case). It’s important to know that we can have things, but we just need to be able to answer that we would be happy without it.
Expectations, Hopes, Wishes
This is setting up a future for ourselves that we believe is for our good. This is different from Bedazzlement in that a “high” can be cheap – such as a few bucks for a hit of drugs. Hopes and Dreams are things we invest much time and energy into over a long period of time. These expectations, hopes, and dreams are clinging to one outcome where we won’t be happy until we get it.
Remember what the quote I mentioned yesterday by the Zen master, Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth.” Plans never work and we cannot cling to a plan in a dynamic world. When people say, “All we have is hope.”, it’s a delusion that gives us comfort.
This class of clinging is tough to give up because hopes and dreams gives us direction and purpose. Living a life with no direction is innately counter-intuitive to how we’re brought up to succeed – or worship the successful.
This is the toughest. Success with the levels above are hindered by this one. We believe in what is good or evil, beautiful or ugly, fun or tedious, yucky or delicious.
Beliefs are the toughest to dump because from our human perspective, they define us, they are what we are. Everything we do, and incur from what we do, is guided by these beliefs.
Now, in Buddhism, it’s not a matter of which beliefs are right or wrong, good or bad. That doesn’t mean Buddhists think good and bad don’t matter, that evil is as OK as good.
Rather, for Buddhists, we train ourselves to understand that the Universe is One, and not live under the delusion that anything is separate from the whole. We undo all the training that is pounded into our heads from birth – Mama, Dada, rattle, food, teacher – we recognize symbols, things.
This ability to recognize things is the foundation of our human symbolic thinking. Our brains can recognize things so we can perform virtual experiments in our head before actually trying something out. Buddhists use our symbolic thinking as a tool, not as the foundation for reality.
Beliefs are boxes we draw around things naively thinking the things inside will be impervious to what is outside of that box. Maybe for a little while. But those things outside finds its way in, and you fix that breach, and it finds another. Soon, your box is like a web of lies where one lie covers another. But each new lie isn’t just one more lie. It creates holes in that model of the world we call our brains at every intersection.
To be clear, though …
If you leave your Bodhi Day ceremony tomorrow morning and do something stupid like send your boss your resignation, leave your family, take up the hobo life, give away your possessions, or buy a Porsche, you’re just using poor Reverend Hanamoku as an excuse to run away. If you run away from a life that you’re dissatisfied with, that’s clinging to your insistence on your grudges, addictions, hopes, and dreams. You’ve missed the whole point.
Your epiphany tomorrow morning, in fact what you should be meditating on from now until then, is that every thing is dependent on everything, your sense of self, this and that, is just an illusion of your brain. It doesn’t follow that you run away from your problems right after that epiphany. What follows is you are in 100% acceptance of what Is and understand that everything is in constant change.
There will always be what you now perceive as problems whether you’re later enlightened or not. In an enlightened state, there are no problems – just the Yin and Yangs of One vibrant Universe. The choice is between no suffering and a fully present life … versus moments of fist-pumping bedazzlement clouded by and followed by dissatisfaction.
It’s not your life that’s bad. You make it bad by clinging to something here and way over there and other places all at the same time. Running away is just going from one frying pan into another frying pan. For God’s sake, Prince Siddhartha ran away from his life!
Empty your head of all you know, accept what is right here with you, and merrily walk the path!
Tomorrow morning I will be praying for your Enlightenment, even though it does no good because it’s All up to you. But don’t fret if nothing happens. If you’ve read this much, you have a desire to find the path, and that itself means you are on the path!
Faith and Patience to You!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:
- Tomorrow Begins the Secular Bodhi Season of 2018
- Day 1: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Buddhism is a Skill
- Day 2: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Have a Holly Jolly Bodhi
- Day 3: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – A Bodhi Day Carol
- Day 4: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Our Unique Paths
- Day 5: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Traditions
- Day 6: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Trip to Our Bodhi Day Place
- Day 7: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Bodhi Day Eve
- Bodhi Day 2018!