Chapter 1 excerpts continued…
What is the Buddha?
What then does “buddha” mean? The word is derived from the Sanskrit word budh, which means “to awaken.” The verb budh, “to awaken,” is converted into the noun buddha, “awakened person” or “awakened one.”
Next, let me briefly discuss the meaning of “awakening.” In Buddhism, a person’s intellectual or mental activity is referred to as either “knowledge” or as “wisdom.” In Buddhism, human “knowing” can be generally divided into these two functions.
Knowledge refers to our normal mental activity. For example, take a case in which we see a flower. Intellectually, the “I” that sees and the flower that is seen arise in a relationship in which each stands in opposition to, and separate from, one another. In addition, when we usually see something in the ordinary sense, we have some kind of subjective reaction to it. For instance, we may feel, “I don’t like tulips!” or “I love carnations!” Our own subjective feelings come up to the surface. For the most part, when we human beings see something, we look at it in that way.
There is another way that people see things, which is more purely objective. It differs from the subjective way of looking at things. For instance, the scientific method is supposed to eliminate our feelings of liking or disliking the things that we observe. We may wonder about what flower family the tulip belongs to or where its habitat may be located. With this method of observation, we seek to analyze, synthesize, and comprehend things from many different angles in an objective, scientific way.
The first way of “knowing” encompasses both our ordinary, everyday way of seeing things in the scientific manner of observing objects. In both cases, it is based on a relationship between the subject, which sees, and the object, which is seen. In Buddhism, this way of looking at things is called knowledge. In contrast, in wisdom, the object that is seen in the subject that sees become one: I become the tulip and the tulip becomes me. That which sees and that which is seen become completely one. The second way of perceiving an object, such as our tulip, is called wisdom. It is also referred to as “awakening” or “realization,” and it represents another structure of knowing by human beings.
What does it mean that the object that is seen by the subject and the subject that sees the object become one? When we deeply look into a thing, the “I” that sees becomes – in and of itself – the thing that is seen. As we see the tulip, we enter into the life of that flower. Becoming one with the light of the tulip, we come to know the tulip and see the tulip. Conversely stated, the life of the tulip reaches into our lives and into the deepest part of our hearts and minds. There, we ourselves come to know that tulip’s heart, as well as its life and the meaning of its existence. This way of seeing his call “awakening.”
For instance, at the front of a flower shop we may see scores of tulips bundled for sale and observed that each flower has been marked with the same price. This is how we look at tulips using our ordinary way of thinking. Certainly, whether they are white, red, or yellow, tulips of the same variety and size would be price the same. However, from the standpoint of life of the tulip itself, the existence and value of each tulip would be utterly unique.
Each and every tulip flower is in the replaceable life; existing this one time only, it has survived the long winter and is now moving with all its might. Each and every tulip is blooming at the risk of its own life, so to say that all the flowers are the same would mean that we do not truly see the unique life of the individual tulip. That tulip is blossoming with irreplaceable life. When we are able to see the tulip at the place where the life of the tulip in our own life become one, then for the first time we will be able to see the world about life, in which each and every tulip is blooming with all its might. This is the way of seeing that I am talking about now.
According to Buddhist teaching, when we consume a living thing – such as when we eat the meat of animals such as fish, chicken, or cattle, or when we eat eggs – we are committing the terrible offense of taking life. As a result, special customs have been passed down among Buddhist followers whereby they either never eat such things or they occasionally refrain from eating them. This teaching that the taking of the life of a living thing is a great evil offense is based on the perspective of that living thing. It takes the standpoint of awakening or wisdom (prajna) in which we see that the life of that living thing and our own lives are one. It is born out of a re-examining of our own lives, based on that standpoint. In this way Buddhism teaches us that all living beings alike live precious, invaluable lives. Thus, all varieties of living things – fish – fish, birds, and humans – have lives of infinite value.
The Buddhist teachings include the notion of sattva, a Sanskrit word that is generally applied to all living beings and animals, including human beings. In China it was translated shujo, which refers to the multitude of living beings, or as ujo, which indicates things having any kind of feelings. All of these words points to be non-differentiation of all living beings. Again, this kind of thinking arose from the way of seeing what is grounded in the standpoint of awakening in which one sees an object when the subject and the object have become one, and the seer has entered into the object.
This way of seeing things eventually made its way into China, where it was expanded to include not just animals but also all plant life. That is to say daikon, potatoes, carrots, and so on all contain the same life is that of human beings. This gives rise to a way of thinking which hell that our own lives, the life of a daikon, or the life of a carrot should also be understood as sharing common value. Broadening that understanding somewhat more, and the lives of all living beings one discovers the fundamental, common nature of all life. In Japanese Buddhism, this way of thinking eventually joined together with traditional Japanese thought. Life came to be viewed very broadly, extending beyond plants and animals, even to minerals, so that life can be perceived even in a small pebble. Even there we can find a life that is in common with our own. This was the result of the gradual development of the notion of wisdom (awakening and realization) in Indian Buddhism.
One could say that this way of looking at things, based in Buddhist wisdom, whereby we see an object by becoming that object and transcend the opposition between subject and object, is an example of Eastern thought. In a certain sense, it might be regarded as a complete opposite of scientific thinking as it has arisen in the West. I believe, moreover, that, as the destruction of the environment worsens and we reach a point of crisis in which the very future of our planet is at stake, this way of seeing things based on Buddhist wisdom can be very important, for it can make possible a new kind of human life in a 21st-century. This unique kind of human knowing arises in the sphere of an exceedingly profound mind, that is, in the world of spirituality. This is the significance of wisdom and awakening today.
We must seek to stand at the point of intersection of the vertical access of self-responsibility and the horizontal access of the universal principle of the Dharma. If we do so our lives will become focused on seeing things with the eyes of wisdom and awakening. Buddhism teaches us that a life of awakening is the ideal way to live as a person of the world and a member of the human race.
(to be continued…)