On Not Becoming a Buddha

Above all, don’t wish to become a future Buddha;

Your only concern should be,

As thought follows thought,

To avoid clinging to any of them.

~Dogen~

Hawk looking down 0614I do not think I have ever wanted to be a Buddha. I do not remember that thought at all. I do focus on trying not to cling to my thoughts but my lifelong practice of hairsplitting has been a sanctuary as well as a war.

My fondness for making excessive distinctions in reasoning allows me to dress up old behavior as new. I may not have expressed a wish to become a Buddha, but I have desired acquiring inner peace for the rest of my life.

Quite often it feels as if I am stomping through myriad thoughts, trying to shake off first one and then the other. I am amazed at the substance I give to a thought–I walk around in it–giving it a life it does not have.

Usually, it is a thought I know well but until I have examined it thoroughly, I am not able to let it go. I like to think that hairsplitting serves me here, much like Ajahn Chah’s distinction between holding and clinging:

We pick up [a flashlight], look at it and see, `Oh, it’s a flashlight,’ then we put it down. This is called holding but not clinging, we let go. We know and then we let go. To put it simply we say just this, `Know, then let go.’

~Ajahn Chah~

For me, knowing to let go requires trust, and when I do, the named thought floats by, a mere reminder of what is. However, knowing an object, a thing, is easier than meeting a familiar emotion.  Yet, the practice is the same.Hawk looking up 0614

In fact, the practice of looking and letting go is what the mind learns to trust; Chah says that in “constancy of mind, wisdom arises.”

That constancy of mind is what I need most when emotion pulls at me, when I face patterns of a lifetime. Hairsplitting allows me to breathe between thoughts but it also makes for interesting detours.

As I began my regimen of healthy eating, meditation and yoga, I defined and redefined my practice of each as well as the union and intersection of all three. That is neither bad nor good but my initial focus was on results and now, it is to live.

In the beginning we practise with some desire in mind; we practise on and on, but we don’t attain our desire. So we practise until we reach a point where we’re practising for no return, we’re practising in order to let go.”

~Ajahn Chah~

“Practicing for no return” would not have been what I needed to know as I began my practice. I would not have trusted it. My wishing to become a Buddha was disguised as various emotional and physical health goals. In order to change my physical and emotional being, I had to let go of trying to become a future Buddha.

Gifts and Limitations

In a recent morning meditation from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, I read of his playing basketball during high school and college. He assessed his performance with this stunning sentence: “My gifts were enough to hide my limitations.”

In immediate response, my mind sorted its archives to a job interview I had in the late ’80s; I interviewed for a library KMHuberImage; librarycataloger position with the library system’s director. Her impression of my resume was, “You’ve had many positions that most people would consider careers.”

Forever naïve, I welcomed her comment as a compliment, freely admitting how wonderful it was to experience as many careers as possible. Not only did I miss her point but I’m not sure that I fully appreciated my own response until I read Nepo’s sentence.

In other words, my gifts were sufficient to let my heart go elsewhere.

The ability to enjoy more than one career seems to be much more accepted in the 21st century. In fact, it may be a necessity. Regardless, there is an emerging awareness that exploring our gifts to their fullest allows us to let go of the dreams that are mere moments of brightness for the one light that is ours alone.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my work as a journalist/editor, a college writing instructor, an administrator and in between, I worked clerical jobs that taught me the immense importance of detail.

For as long as I can remember, writing was in my heart but I never had the courage to experience it. I believed one secured a job to support one’s writing, which wasn’t working out too well for me. Never did I consider “the succession of life’s trials is precisely the unfolding we need to find our bliss and rightful place in the order of things” (Nepo).

Not surprisingly, I did not get the cataloger position but I was later hired as the branch librarian and went on to become the director of the library system. I loved those library years but I could not make them be my dream nor was I the library system’s dream, ultimately. We both looked elsewhere.

It is not that I have not considered my careers from time to time for I have. I am grateful for all that brought me to this moment, for all the unfolding of my gifts that gave me each dream until another dream emerged. I think it kept me curious.KMHuberImage; Library gazer

What I never experienced in any of the dream jobs was the joy I experience every time I write. For me, there is nothing like it, and I am completely serious when I say that I come to the writing to find out what happens next. Whatever happens in the writing, I experience it. No longer clinging to what the writing may or may not be, the words and sentences open into the field of infinite possibilities, where joy resides.

Every career brought me moments of happiness but never joy for I was KMHuberImage; writingclinging, which is very like trying to touch the wind.

“The truth is that what we want to dream of doesn’t always last. It tends to serve its purpose… And then fades away, losing its relevance. And we can do enormous damage to ourselves by insisting on carrying that which has died” (Nepo).

Only in pursuing our gifts do we meet our limitations, which, I suspect, is the stuff of dreams.

Life: A Chronic Condition

Life as a condition generally denotes the state of being human but when health is implied, the meaning involves a defective state. Thus, considering life as chronic implies a wearing away, a wearing down.

Often, I use “chronic illness” to describe my health, although it makes me wince. I am no more an illness than I am a writer, a family member, a friend or a neighbor, although I have met each of these conditions with joy and sorrow, success and failure, the usual mixed bag that is life.

Life with conditions resembles what the Buddhists call clinging, attaching ourselves to this or that. We rarely regard reliving a fond memory as clinging but it is; Michael Singer describes this fondness as “I don’t want this one to go away… I want to keep reliving that moment” forever attached, completely embedded.

Just as chronically, we eschew those memories that are less than fond, even though they are always readily available. From those moments we cannot run fast or far enough, unaware we are on a treadmill of attachment incapable of escaping what we know.

Ironically, a shift in our attention from the known to the unknown of awareness frees us. Being in the moment switches off that treadmill, shuts down that memory to experience what always is, the freedom that is in every moment we ever have. Conditions result from experience but in the moment—the state of being– there are no conditions only creations. Chronically, life is; only we attach.

The ancient traditions teach us that everlasting joy is inevitable when we stop pushing away or holding onto life. The freedom integral to peace and contentment is available in every moment. In truth, freedom requires risk and risk resides in the unknown, not exactly comfortable conditions, or has our chronic response to risk become comfortable.

Embracing risk feels as if we are opening ourselves to each and every moment changing us—we are–as if risk were a mere matter of inhaling and exhaling—it is, if we focus. In a mere matter of a breath, consider the strength of a sigh, an exhaling of what is no longer necessary.

Almost any form of meditation considers the breath. In learning to meditate, I focused on inhaling and exhaling and discovered the pause in between. As basic as the pause is, I had never considered it. Only recently did I realize my daily meditation practice has immersed itself into my daily life: inhaling and exhaling, I release all-too-familiar conditions, as if I were sweeping 10,000 rooms daily, which I do.

For me, it was chronically easy to cling to conditions in the belief they secure one’s life. Labels–gender, occupation, health, neighborhood location–categorize life, as if the familiar confines could stay the constancy of change. I spent a lot of my life that way but I admit to a fascination with risk, which has always served me.

It has taken most of my lifetime to realize that joy, love, compassion, and gratitude are chronically inherent in the risk that is life. These emotions eschew the ego and all of its conditions; these emotions launch us out of ourselves into all of life. They are worth every moment of risk.