When I was in Shaolin China, in a temple town in Henan province, I always felt it was like a dream simply because everything was different. There was no one I knew, my decision to go there was sporadic so I went with little research, there was nothing that I related to at first or recognized. You name it: language, culture, how people looked and dressed, even going to town for a visit to the supermarket was an exercise in cultural shock.
I was too afraid at the beginning. I travelled alone, no guides, and no Chinese language skills. No one spoke English in this part of China, it was very far from the ‘civilized world’ as we know it. For the first few days, I couldn’t stomach the food and I lived on steamed rice and water. I didn’t understand when people spoke about me around me, or when they spoke to me. I felt threatened if I walked a bit too far from my school, fearing I wouldn’t be able to find my way back. Even having a phone was useless; because there was no one I could call in China in an emergency. My first Kung Fu Shifu spoke little English, and I had to use sign language a lot and gesticulate dramatically to get small things across. Even the silence at night on Kung Fu camp used to scare me. On my first day in the Kung Fu school, I woke up thinking it’s a mistake, after I went to bed crying the night before and shaking under the covers. What the hell did I do? I thought. How did I ever think this was a good idea. “I’ll book my flight back to Egypt next week,” I said to myself, “or as early as I can. Until then, I’ll hide in my room.”
Then the change happened, I fell in love with the place, started liking Kung Fu training, got used to every single aspect of the strangeness and moved from scared alien to lover. To the point where the phrase “Made in China,” now printed on almost every single merchandise in the world thanks to a tigerish economy, became an endearing thing, and a bag of memories.
However, the feeling that Egypt is so far away, almost like a fantasy land, never went away. I was in Middle Earth. And Egypt is some mad version of a post-apocalyptic futuristic movie. If not for discovering VPN three months into my stay and getting re-connected to familiar “avatars” and “status updates” on Facebook and Twitter, I would’ve been mentally stranded in this bubble or would’ve sworn Egypt and its worries existed only in my imagination, and that things like Starbucks, fancy restaurants, “City Stars,” and even McDonalds are mere hallucinations; the Matrix that I can’t see for what it used to be anymore.
Surviving without familiars can confuse you at first. It reminds me with this fictional character in Lost, the Sci-fi TV series, I think he was a Scott, who needed some sort of a “constant” as he traveled back and forth between time. I remember his lover was called Penny, and she was his constant.
Now, when I came back to Egypt, I felt the opposite of that. It was time for the reverse shock. Mind you, I spent over a year in Europe, and despite finding some difficulty adapting at first when I moved back to Cairo, it’s nothing, nothing compared to a change from a secluded martial arts boarding school in the Asian mountains to a big bustling city in the Middle East.
I came back to the same people, close loved ones too, family, friends, albeit people who haven’t experienced or have seen what I’ve seen. I felt like I was in a coma for 9 months, or to me, they were. Like going to sleep, then waking up a year later. Things have changed; There’s a new president, new graffiti on the walls, some big and small changes, and some things that didn’t change at all. They got back a girl, who looks the same, but not so much; a subtle difference is there and they can’t quite figure it out.
I was quiet at first. I mean, what should I say? And it seemed to me, they didn’t know where to start either.
Have you seen what I have seen? … No, you can’t imagine. Have I seen what you have seen? No. I can’t imagine too.
But I think, at least in my case, they can see some signs. My disenchantment, staying in my room for hours on end, keeping quiet, or just being suddenly explosive and angry, sleep disturbances because no matter how much Abbas El Akkad is quiet, it’s not quiet enough, not remotely. Going out becomes a burden, and I almost developed a phobia to driving in Egypt traffic.
And now ever since I got back, my closest companion is a water bottle. In China, where I was, everyone had a plastic water bottle, young or old, even Kung Fu masters and policemen carried them. The bottles were filled with strange looking herbal teas, carrying some flowers or seeds, or just plain hot water to sip on. It’s second nature there. Especially with water.
And I picked the habit.
Now, my water bottle has become my constant.
No, not my pictures and videos from there, not my Kung Fu uniforms, or my Shaolin weapons or Buddhist accessories (because these seem like things bought from a souvenir shop, and my weapons look like heavily-used movie props. In Egypt, they look so out of place, drowned in clutter. I look at them, and I almost can’t believe I know how to use them. Sometimes I see in them the same alienation I feel in my heart).
But my water bottle is different; it’s a simple, small reminder that I was part of a different culture, at least for a while. No one around me sips on hot water; some make fun of me. But that makes it even more precious, because it’s a part of the China experience that they can see, touch, poke fun at me for. The water bottle is cheap, it’s not something I can order on ebay or ship from a Kung Fu shop abroad, or want to. I couldn’t have got it unless I was there.
It’s kitsch, it’s used, it’s scratched from multiple falls to the floor, it’s too normal to be a fantasy and I fill it with steaming hot water and sip on it like my friends the Chinese do.
My plastic water bottle –which sells for 15 yuan a pop– with the plastic pink top and the faded Chinglish writing is the proof I was there, that China didn’t happen in my head while I was sleeping.
I was there because my plastic water bottle is here.
Just to be clear to readers, regarding my previous post “Religion,” when I say the word ‘religion’ in any post I’m generally referring not just to the current Islamic religious institution (except in cases when I clearly name Islam straight up), but to other orthodox religious institutions as well, including the Church for instance. For me, many of these institutions in my part of the world are radical, perhaps for reasons that have to do more with application than anything else, or so it seems. That said, sometimes revered and holy texts play a part too. But I’m not here to hand down verdicts, pit one religion against another or decide which faith invites more condemnation or praise.
I choose to talk about my own experience, and I’m only responsible for that.
Hopefully, one day, others, whatever their faiths are, or those who have left the faith, revised their approach to it or still cling to it for reasons they know best, can open up and talk about their experiences too, honestly. Be they Muslim, Coptic, atheist, Baha’i, agnostic, Jewish, or Hindu. No religion is above critique, and none is void of some good as well.
My words and anecdotes, from here on, should not be taken as a pretext to “prove” the flaw of this religion or that, or as a launch pad for blame or as a means to boast about the superiority of one ideology or thought over another. At the end of the day, whatever the original thought maybe, if its application or processing are flawed, if questioning is absent, and genuine doubts and concerns are crushed, tabooed, ignored or rebuffed, it doesn’t matter if the thought carries the names of “Muhammad” or “Jesus” or “Moses,” “G-d” or “Buddha” or all of them combined, it doesn’t matter if it was originally desired to bring peace, or love or justice, it still won’t work. Not now, not ever.
Eventually, no matter how much one believes an ideology or religion is not what its followers want it to be, but what it really is, both notions will be mixed and confused.
Our minds depend on associations to understand the world around us.
When the word ‘religion’ is mentioned, because of some conditioning and what it has come to be defined as, I can’t help but think ‘restrictions.’ My body even reacts to the word; I instantly feel closed up, claustrophobic, I could feel it in my chest; breathing becomes shorter and my jaws tense.
For me, the word kills possibilities, like free travel, wearing what I feel makes me beautiful, enjoying some things, doing what at heart feels right, connecting with others from all walks of life (Women, and *men*. Yup, I don’t like the “religious” idea of avoiding intimate relations with men, save the husband, or having to wait until I get married to have heart-to-heart conversations with a man, share dreams with or travel and spend great time together. In fact, most of the men I met recently and whose company I enjoyed tremendously, who I opened up to, and shared parts of myself with, I know I’d never marry or fall in love with. It’s about connecting. “Islam” as we know it, makes me feel these small pleasures, these connections, can be taken away in the name of “haram” or “self-preservation” or whatever).
The word ‘judgement’ also comes to mind. To be religious, in my experience, was to be judged too, by none other than those people who are/were supposed to be pious and God-fearing. In the name of “‘Amr bel ma’rouf” or “nasee7a” or “taqweem” or even duty. All the same.
And suddenly instead of being a moral code, or a moral compass, perhaps a quest to finding peace and the creator of this world, religion becomes a behavioral checklist of what is deemed right or wrong, more often than not from the perspective of those who practice it. And you can’t do a bigger disservice to religion; self-appointed preachers are probably the number one reason people feel alienated in some religious communities. But hey, it seems I’ve been barking up this very same old tree for quite a while now.
The word ‘religion’ now feels like the antithesis not just of freedom, but of spiritual well-being, living life through the heart, to the fullest; feeling, throwing yourself into the world, and making moments count. The worst about those restrictions associated with religion, especially “Islam” (or more likely the thing that it has morphed into these days in this part of the world) is that they’re distracting at best, and at their worst, they drive one away from experiencing life––the path–– with courage and with every fiber of one’s being. It brings fear, and it turns one away from the very thing one feels one must pursue.
And this is why many have recently broke ranks with religion, not just because of hostile sermons, the wrong examples and bad publicity, but because in their core, these people decided they want to experience life, without people reminding them at every corner of ‘harams‘ and ‘inappropriateness’ that seem to go against what their souls are hungry for.
And that’s also why you find many religious people who are not happy; or who pretend to be happy (or force themselves to be happy, and feel guilty when they can’t, or deny their troubles and live in cocoons, or insist they’re happy in an attempt to make the world believe it so they could believe, or worse defend the very thing that makes them unhappy out of fear, guilt, or habit).
Happiness is a spontaneous, simple feeling that can’t be forced; peace is not a feeling that one can talk him or herself into. When I see my cats, for instance, I feel happy. No one has to talk me into “having to feel happy” since pets “should make me happy.” It’s instant; it’s a feeling comfortable with itself, gentle sometimes, and overwhelming in others. And when it comes, it’s never associated with a need to make others think or do certain things. It’s like being in love. In fact, it is being in love. When you’re in love, every person and everything is beautiful.
If religious people in this part of the world “were in love,” this kind of love, they wouldn’t fight and bicker with others, feel superior by virtue of belonging to this or that faith, they wouldn’t find the need to change anyone; love is sufficient. You feel it, and then you start seeing the world differently.
That’s why it was always easy for mystics and prophets, and the enlightened, to be at ease with people (not rejoicing in their praise, and not taking insult when they hurt them); they were in love. You have no time for pettiness when you’re in love.
Trust me, when your soul wants something, is aching for something, there’s nothing that could be done ––including sermons, ‘nice conversations’ or immersion in holy books–– that can shut that up. Back in the day, when I used to feel that ache, some friends used to dismiss this as ‘waswasa‘; ‘the shaytan who wants you to stray from the path.’ That or
(النفس الأمارة بالسوء). I was asked to intensify the rituals; read Quran more regularly, they said, ponder, or do this or that. And in fact it is pondering that finally showed me that the ‘shaytan‘ (not the fantastical creature, but something very twisted inside me, a mixture of disillusionment, good intentions badly placed, conditioning and guilt) that was the thing keeping me on that path, the one my soul knew it was not for me. I also realized that my ‘nafs‘ was the victim there, not the aggressor. I realized that the light I was looking for was not in ritual, or in books, but it’s inside, perhaps covered by all that.
You can’t shut up the voice of the soul, and you don’t want to, it’s all truth.
I’m not trying to make any arguments here. In fact, I don’t know what I’m doing except sharing what the word ‘religion’ has come to mean for me. “Religion,” as we know it, has become something that makes my soul cringe. But now, I don’t believe it’s my soul I should blame.
In fact, perhaps “religion” owes my soul an apology.
Some books recounting the life of Buddha, especially of Western origin, tell the story of Prince Siddharta Guatama like a fairy tale, a myth.
Not this play, by Paul Carus.
It thoroughly dwells on the mood and the state of mind of Buddha before the enlightenment, before the mystical transformation, the crossing of man from the realm of humans to the realm of gods.
In some tales, Buddha is depicted as a one-dimensional character, shielded from the idea of suffering. His predicament begins after he accidently witnesses a funeral, signs of old age, and a sick man, all in one day, in additiong to glimpsing a monk, a man of God who seemed detached from the world, after which he decides to leave the palace of his father (the King) in search for answers.
But Carus takes us into the mind of the Buddha, before he became one, and hints that his journey had started long before that fated encounter with death, sickness, and decay. It started when Buddha became disenchanted with the old gods, realizing they brought him no peace, when his mind started to wander outside of the walls of the palace, long before his body did.
Carus puts it simply, speaking of Buddha’s first step on the path, he says “He ponders on the problems of the world. He ponders on life’s meaning much, investigates the origin of things.”
But those around Buddha were worried; they didn’t understand what burdened his heart. He had a wife, riches, a new-born son, and a “religion” that should save him. In vain, they tried to pull him back into their world.
But apart from spiritual and mental burdens, on the personal level, I find great signficance in the fact that we get to see through this play that enlightnment does not begin with a desire for knowing but begins with character.
One needs to carry certain attributes … before God or the Light could ever enter him or her, before they ever decide that departure from their old world is essential.
Enlightened beings are not born in piety but in revolution; awakening comes first in recognizing one’s need to stray from the crowd, come what may. Enlightenment begins with a measure of indepenence, and a fierceness in refusing false security and authority.
And as we see, social norms and the powers that be, embodied in Visakha the minister of state in this play, fights this blossoming independence with all their might.
Because free thought is “dangerous,” because in Visakha’s words, it’s a threat to “the sanctioned order of our institutions,” says he, who is at once a man of state and a man appointed to guard the religious institution of the time.
A man, like Buddha, who rejects the socially accepted, government-sanctioned godly “practices” and views of the time is bound above all, to leave “the Brahman ritual in deep contempt.” The Brahmans were the priests of the ancient Hindu/Vedic religion, who were responsible for ritualistic sacrifice. They were the first to fight Buddha tooth and nail post-enlightenment.
God has no place in Visakha’s arguments, or the Brahmans’. It’s order that concerns them; mainting the distinction between ranks of this Hindu echelon. It’s about running a tight ship; it is as simple as that.
Those who have not experienced such turmoil that Carus speaks of when he speaks of Buddha––the God-shaped void and the need for answers, or more likely the right questions––or never faced such resistance by the Visakhas of the world may never know how it feels.
For those who do or did, the following may be relatable.
From the play “Buddha: A Drama in Five Acts” by Paul Carus:
Suddhodana, the king [Buddha’s father]: My son Siddhartha [Buddha’s name before enlightenment] truly loves his wife,
And since their wedlock has been blessed by this
Sweet, promising, this hale and healthy child,
His melancholy will give way to joy,
And we reclaim his noble energies
To do good service for our race and state.
New interests and new duties give new courage
And thus this babe will prove his father’s saviour
For he will tie his soul to life again.
Pajapati, the queen [the King’s wife but not Sidharta’s mother]: I fear his grief lies deeper than you think
Suddhodana, the king: What sayest thou, my trusty counselor?
Visakha, the minister of state: This is the last hope which I have for him,
I followed your advise and tried all means
To cure Siddhartha of his pensive mood.
I taught him all that will appeal to man:
The sports of youth, the joy of poetry
And art, the grandeur of our ancient lore,
The pleasures even of wanton sense; but naught
Would satisfy the yearnings of his heart.
Suddhodana, the king: Yet for religion he shows interest: He ponders on the problems of the world.
Visakha, the minister of state: Indeed he ponders on life’s meaning much,
Investigates the origin of things.
But irreligious are his ways of thought.
He shows no reverence for Issara,
And Indra is to him a fairy tale.
He grudgeth to the gods a sacrifice.
And sheddeth tears at immolated lambs.
Oh no! he’s not religious. If he were,
His ills could easily be cured by faith,
By confidence in Issara, the Lord.
Suddhodana, the king: What then is your opinion of the case?
Visakha, the minister of state: Siddhartha is a youth of rarest worth,
And he surpasseth men in every virtue
Except in one. ––He is too independent:
He recognizeth no authority,
Neither of men nor gods.
[More and more impressively]
From the incurable disease of thought.
Suddhodana, the king: Cure thought with thought, teach him philosophy,
Show him the purpose of our holy writ.
Instruct him in the meaning of the Vedas,
Reveal to him their esoteric sense.
Visakha, the minister of state: My lord, I did, but he is critical,
He makes objections and will not believe.
He raises questions which I cannot answer,
And his conclusions are most dangerous.
Pajapati, the queen: It seems to me that you exaggerate;
Siddartha is not dangerous.
He is As gentle as my sister was, his mother,
And almost overkind to ever one.
Visakha, the minister of state: I know, my gracious lady, but even kindness
May harmful be, if it is out of place.
Suddhodana, the king: I see no danger in his gentle nature.
Visakha, the minister of state: But he lacks strength, decision, warlike spirit.
Suddhodana, the king: That cometh with maturer years.
Visakha, the minister of state: I doubt it ––
Your so, my Lord, not only hath no faith In holy writ, neither does he believe
In caste-distinction, and he would upset
The sanctioned order of our institutions.
He would abolish sacrifice and holdeth
The Brahman ritual in deep contempt.
Suddhodana, the king: Your words alarm me.
Visakha, the minister of state: Rightly so; I fear
That he will stir the people to rebellion;
But since a child is born to him, his mind
May turn from dreams to practical affairs.
There are some men who care not for themselves,
Who scorn high caste, position, wealth and honor,
So far as they themselves may be concerned,
But they are anxious for their children’s fortune,
And so Siddhartha soon may change his views.
Suddhodana, the king: Let us be patient for a while yet longer.
Keep everything unpleasant out of sight,
Invite him merry company. Remove
His gloomy cousin Devadatta. He tries
To reach a state of bliss by fasts,
His very play is penance and contrition.
I leave you with this thought. Peace and Amituofo.
Note: According to lore, Buddha lost his mother either in childbirth or when he was a week old, and was raised by his aunt. So the queen in this play is his father’s wife or his aunt, but not this mother.
This is the second post in a series by yours truly meditating on the life of Buddha. The first is right here.
“All the commentaries have said that Buddha renounced the world. It is not true. The world simply fell away. It has ceased to have any meaning for him.” –– Osho
When Buddha saw it for what it is, when he saw death, sickness and old age, he became disenchanted by the world, and declared, “I cannot fool myself anymore.”
What made the prince declare he was “sick unto death” and drove him out of the palace of his father? What did he do next when he saw that “diamonds” were dust, as scriptures put it? Where did it all begin?
During the next few weeks, I’d like ––in short notes here–– to share some excerpts from literature on the life and teachings of the Buddha, Siddharta Guatama, and general comments on his life and teachings. In my view, some of Buddha’s thoughts are timeless and illuminating.
But before I do so, let me first dispel some stereotypes about Buddha.
And I ask you, while reading this, to please start with a clean slate and forget what the West has promoted about Buddhism. Forget the Dalai Lama, or even the highlighted practices that new age Buddhism has been associated with. Read this with an open heart.
Buddha was not, and is not, a God
He was not a god or deity per se, at least not in the traditional sense or in the way that people in this part of the world define the word “god”.
Budda was a human being, who was as lost and tortured by reality as many around us. He wanted to understand, and he left the familiar in search for meaning. He was a rich prince who had it all, including money, power, a wife and a small child, but one day “having seen everything, and found nothing,” he simply turned inward. He abandoned his life and riches, and the palace of his father, and went on a long journey that ended with him “reaching enlightenment.”
Or rather began with that.
He returned to the house of his father years later, a different man, and then continued speaking to whoever would listen about his experience. He lived a simple life after. His own father and wife became part of his following. Buddha was not a god, he was a prince, a warrior, a swordsman, and one of the best archers of his time, then a monk and a seeker. He was a son, a cousin, a neighbor, a brother, a husband, a father, a teacher and finally an inspiration to those around him.
What is enlightenment?
In the Buddhist tradition, enlightenment is an act of self-destruction and annihilation at its core, its aim is to reach a state of emptiness, and reception of the truth. Buddhism does not define truth, but alludes to it. In its heart of hearts, it has very few absolutes if any.
Enlightenment is returning to the state of godliness –– what some mystics and Sufis call unity, or merging with the divine, becoming one with it, to the point when the seeker is not distinguishable for what he or she seeks. And from there, the idea of Buddha becoming a “god” has emerged; in the end it’s nothing beyond the idea of Buddha attaining a state of transcendence.
But again, Siddharta [the Buddha that we know] is not unique in that. Buddhism believes that this state of enlightenment ––absolute sight, reaching a knowing, becoming a mirror that reflects truth–– can be reached by anyone. Everyone has the potential, but few of course reach this level of purity, and so they’re revered as ‘super beings.’
Perhaps the term god, in our books, is not the best way to describe the experience, because we use it exclusively to refer to the Creator or the Higher Intelligence that governs the Universe. And in this respect and translating this state into our terms, Buddha, even by Buddhists standard, is not a god, but a human being that saw what others have not yet seen, but which could come to see if they take the path. His state would be similar to what Sufis would refer to as ‘3aref’ or ‘3arefeen.’
In fact, in Sanskrit, buddha is a general term that refers to the enlightened among humans, whoever they are, and Buddha, capitalized, usually refers to the most famous of those, the enlightened prince Siddharta Guatama, the subject of this post.
Buddhism is not a religion
The ritualistic quasi-dogmatic institutionalization that Buddhism is experiencing now is nothing but an innovation by its followers. When Buddha died, around 70 schools of thought were born, each approaching the philosophy differently, and adopting different texts and different degrees of rituals and dogmatism. But original Buddhism is not a religion. In fact, in its pure form, it’s everything but that. It’s merely a signpost, a way of looking at life’s biggest questions; a mystical tradition if you will, and a path that has a very good chance of pointing people to truth. And that’s that.
Only crucial moments are highlighted in the story of Buddha
Buddha never claimed he’s either a deity or a god. But a human being who found a truth he cannot put into words, but so can only describe a possible path to. In fact, the major schools of thought differ on the relevance of the details of Buddha’s life (including when and where he lived precisely) because, in the words of Karen Armstrong, “they were more concerned about the meaning of historical events.” Some stories were there only for allegorical or symbolic meaning, important for their significance regardless of historic accurate detail.
Armstrong says, “The scriptures show that the first Buddhists thought deeply about several crucial moments in [Buddha’s] biography: his birth, his renunciation of normal domestic life, his enlightenment, the start of his teaching career, and his death.” The incidents of great importance are the subject of scripture, which derives its teachings from Buddha’s experiences. “His was essentially an autobiographical philosophy,” says Armstrong.
As Buddha puts it: “He who sees me, sees the dhamma (the teaching), and he who sees the dhamma sees me.” Again quoting Armstrong, “it follows that understanding the Buddha’s life, which is to an extent fused with his teaching, can help us all understand the human predicament.”
Buddha: A guide or a superhuman?
Some monks simply regarded Buddha as a guide and an exemplar, others began to see him as superman. According to Armstrong, traditional scholars used to see the former as a purer form of Buddhism while the latter was seen as a corruption. Modern scholars see both as authentic.
Guatama [Buddha], says Armstrong, “did not want a personality cult, but paradigmatic individuals such as himself, Socrates, Confucius, and Jesus tend to be revered either as gods, or as superhuman beings. Even the Prophet Muhammad, who always insisted that he was an ordinary human being, is venerated by Muslims as the Perfect Man, an archetype of the complete act of surrender (islam) to God. The immensity of the being and achievements of these people seemed to defy ordinary categories. […]
“After his enlightenment, we get no sense of his likes and dislikes, his hopes and fears, moments of desperation, elation or intense striving. What remains is an impression of a transhuman serenity. The Buddha is often compared to non-human beings––to animals, trees or plants–– not because he is subhuman or inhumane, but because he has utterly transcended the selfishness that most of us regard as inseparable from our condition. The Buddha was trying to find a new way of being human.”
He is not the only buddha, many came before, and many would come after, he said
“[Buddha] would have said that there was nothing unique about his life. There had been other Buddhas before him, each of whom delivered the same dhamma (teachings) and had exactly the same experiences. Buddhist tradition claims that there have been twenty-five such enlightened human beings and that after the present historical era, when knowledge of his essential truth has faded, a new Buddha, called Metteya, will come to earth and go through the same life-cycle.”
Buddha’s Prophecy and the last buddha
Metteya, the buddha of the next age that Buddha spoke of, is commonly represented sitting on a raised seat, his feat resting on the ground, a sign that he will arise from his seat and appear in the world. The Sanskrit word for the name Metteya means “friendly and benevolent” and/or “love.” And unlike, the thin famished-looking Buddha of that world, depicted in meditation, with his eyes closed, in a state of “listening/reception” or “waiting,” the Chinese depict the next Buddha in an image of abundance and joy and he’s usually smiling or laughing. Metteya, whom Buddha spoke of, would achieve complete enlightenment when he appears and would teach the purest form of the Dhamma (the teachings that lead to enlightement or illumination). He will appear in a time when this Dhamma had been forgotten.This Metteya, according to ancient Buddhist scripture, was expected to come in the future as the last of the earthly Buddhas.
This is a mysterious aspect of Buddhism, this prophecy, and many Buddhist and non-Buddhist scholars have elaborated on this concept of Metteya (as well as many claiming to know who he was). And what I personally found interesting is that some Sanskrit researchers, including Muslim ones, have concluded that this “last and final awakened Buddha” is none other than our Prophet Muhammad, the last of this heavenly kin. According to some versions of the prophecy, Buddha said that Metteya would appear “in the West,” which to India and China, is our part of the world. He would appear in a distant future before the “end of time.”
In the words of Osho, “There have been many buddhas before him and there have been many buddhas after him –– and as long as every human being can become a buddha, new buddhas will go on springing up in the future. Everyone has the potentiality … it is only a matter of waiting for the right time. Some day, tortured by the outside reality, in despair of having seen everything and found nothing, you are bound to turn inward.”
Buddha has not abandoned the world, he just saw it for what it is
“Buddha has not renounced the world, he has renounced his illusions about it,” says Osho. “And that … was a happening, not an act. When renunciation comes as a happening it has a tremendous beauty, because there is no motive in it. It is not a means to gain something else. It is total. You are finished with desiring, you are finished with the future, you are finished with power, money and prestige, because you have seen the futility of it all.”
Buddha on the nature of truth
“Whether you believe or not makes no difference to truth. But if you believe in God you will go on seeing––at least thinking that you see––God. If you don’t believe in God, this disbelief in God will prevent you from knowing. All beliefs prevent you because they become prejudices around you, they become ‘thought-coverings’ –– what Buddha calls avarnas.
The man of intelligence does not believe in anything and does not disbelieve in anything. The man of intelligence is open to recognizing whatsoever is the case. If God is there he will recognize––but not according to his belief. He has no belief.
[…] You cannot see something that goes against your belief; you will become afraid, you will become shaky, you will start trembling. You have put so much into your belief––so much life, so much time, so much prayers. For fifty years a man has been devoted to his belief––now, suddenly, how can he recognize the fact that there is no God? A man has put his whole life into communism, believing that there is no God; how can he come to see if God is there? He will go on avoiding.
I’m not saying anything about whether God exists or is not. What I am saying is something concerned with you, not with God. A clear mind is needed, an intelligence is needed that does not cling to any belief. Then you are like a mirror: you reflect that which is; you don’t distort it.”
Buddha on Knowledge and information
“Buddha is not knowledgeable. An intelligent person does not care much about information and knowledge. An intelligent person cares much more for the capacity to know. His authentic interest is in knowing, not in knowledge.
Knowing gives you understanding; knowledge only gives you a feeling of understanding without giving you real understanding. Knowledge is a false coin; it is deceptive. It only gives you the feeling that you know, yet you don’t know at all. You can accumulate knowledge as much as you want, you can go on hoarding, you can become extremely knowledgeable. You can write books, you can have PhDs and LittDs, and still you remain the same ignorant, stupid person you have always been. Those degrees don’t change you; they can’t change you. In fact, your stupidity becomes stronger; it has degrees now! It proves itself through certificates. It cannot prove itself through life, but it can prove itself through the certificates.
I have seen intelligent farmers, but I have not seen intelligent professors. I have seen intelligent woodcutters, but I have not seen intelligent professors. Why? What has gone wrong with these people?
One thing has gone wrong: they can depend on knowledge. They need not become knowers, they can depend on knowledge. They have found a secondhand way. The firsthand needs courage. The firsthand, knowing, only a few people can afford––the adventurers, people who go beyond the ordinary path where crowds move, people who take small footpaths into the jungle of the unknowable. The danger is that they may get lost. The risk is high. When you can get secondhand knowledge, why bother? You can just sit in your chair. You can go to the library or to the university, you can collect information. You can make a big pile of information and sit on top of it.”
Buddha on death
Buddha chose the color yellow for his followers’ robes. Yellow represents death, the setting sun, the evening. According to Osho, “Buddha emphasized death, and it helps in a way. People become more and more aware of life in contrast to death. When you emphasize death again and again, you help people to awaken; they have to be awake because death is coming. Wherever Buddha would initiate a new sannyasin, he would tell him, “Go to the cemetery; just be there and watch funeral pyres, dead bodies being carried and burned … go on watching. And remember that this is going to happen to you, too.” Three months’ meditation on death, then coming back–– that was the beginning of sannyas.
On Godliness and the moment of illumination
“The human being becomes the center of religion, his innermost being becomes godliness, for which you do not have to go anywhere, you simply have to stop going outside. You have to remain within, slowly, slowly settling at your center. The day you are settled at the center, the explosion happens.”
On the enlightenment of Buddha
“It rarely happens that a human being becomes enlightened. It is such a rare and unique phenomenon that the very soul of existence waits for it, longs for it. Thousands of years pass, and then somebody becomes enlightened,” says Osho.
When Buddha reached that state, he sat in silence. He found no use in speaking. Higher forces, call them deities or angels, came down to earth, touched his feet and asked him to speak, urging him, telling him that existence is waiting.
“But Guatam Buddha has his own arguments,” says Osho. “He said, ‘I can understand your compassion, and I would like to speak. For seven days I have been wavering between the two, whether to speak or not to speak, and every argument goes for not speaking … I am going to be misunderstood. I am going to be condemned; nobody is going to listen to me in the way that the words of an enlightened man have to be listened to. Listening needs a certain training, a discipline; it is not just hearing.”
The beings, after deliberation, responded telling him that he can go misunderstood by the majority of men, but if he is understood by only one percent, then this is enough, “it is not small in this vast universe. Even if one person in the whole universe becomes enlightened because of your speaking, it is worth it.”
Buddha preached for forty-two years after enlightenment, and until his death. And those who become enlightened “did not become enlightened because of what Buddha was saying, they become enlightened because they could feel what Buddha was––his presence, his vibe, his silence.” Tradition has it that only a few reached that state.
That’s the first of my posts about Buddha and his life. In later posts I will share more of his words, and wisdom, in the hope that whatever your religion or faith is, or the lack thereof, his philosophy can help you ponder on the beauty and mystery of life, and of the inner self, and its potential for complete illumination. For me, faced with the teachings of Buddha, I find myself quoting النجاشي the King of Ethiopia’s words to early Muslims بتصرف, directed to my Buddhist brothers and friends:
.والله إن هذا وما نزل على محمد ليخرج من مشكاة واحدة
Peace and Amituofo.
Note: Dhamma or Dharma: Law, or natural laws, what sustains the order that uphold the Universe, a body of teachings, or sometimes it also means religion and duty or the knowledge of and the duty to the conduct set by the Buddha as a way of achievening enlightenement.