Teachings on Buddha encompass the historical figure Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni, the Buddha of our current era, and the notion of Buddhahood. Buddhahood involves the aspiration to live in ways that bring us closer to awakened states of being. This includes individuals, groups, collectives and movements that exemplify living wide awake, with the wisdom of compassion, mindfully in the world. Every individual, the collective of the species, all lives, all species and the evolutionary tapestry of nature possess Buddhahood.
For a beautiful portrayal of Siddhartha Gautama’s life, I highly recommend reading ‘Old Path, White Clouds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is a beautifully crafted account of the life of Buddha and his teachings. While we do not know the historical Buddha, and millennia after his physical passing, many histories, myths, stories, and facts have intertwined about his life. It is important to recognise and acknowledge this person as a significant figure for peace, health, justice, non-discrimination and compassion. His life undoubtedly was filled with ordinary struggles and challenges inherent in human life; he was born, lived and died. The enduring value attributed to his insights into life and living has been considered by so many to be of such immense value to humanity that people continue to study and practice according to his teachings and have established universities, monasteries and meditation centres across the globe to keep the central principles, teachings, and practices alive says much about the imprint of this historical figure.
What does it mean to be awake or to live awake in the world? In the dhamma teachings, being awake implies that one has insight into the true nature of suffering (Dukkha), understanding the suchness of reality experienced as knowledge of the foundation truth of reality clearly as it is (shunyata), one who has gone beyond bewilderment into awareness of life in terms of the truths of impermanence (Anicca) and the interdependent nature of phenomena as non-self (Anattā), with comprehension of the causes and effects of harm and healing (Kamma), and is therefore profoundly committed to living deeply and truly compassionately. The awakening of Buddha and one’s Buddha nature is an inherent state or quality of mind that is synonymous with nirvana.
When we think of Buddha and Buddhahood, we are reflecting deeply, interested in the essential qualities within our humanity that can be cultivated and nurtured, finding expression in an awakened life. These innate capacities, such as mindfulness, friendliness, care, love, understanding, and many other virtues, culminate in the wisdom of compassion that can be enacted in the world. They can take on myriad forms to address the vast array of circumstances and situations, done in ways that remain relevant in meeting the needs of Refuge for all. Buddhahood involves actively cultivating valuable ways of living imbued with awareness, integrity, respect, openness, honesty, gratitude, humility, ethical responsibility for life, and encouraging virtuous thoughts and deeds. To live fostering our ability to be infused and respond to experience with love and understanding, goodwill, patience, kindness, care, friendliness, and selflessness, all invested in health, peace, and Refuge. We could go on listing endless good qualities of our humanity. Here are a few more: our capacity to be mindful, contemplative, reflective, adaptable, resilient, and creative. All these and more are the excellent qualities of our humanity that form a golden light that guides life, encouraging Buddhahood and the arising of the Buddha within our hearts and minds, liberating us into an awakened state of being for the benefit of all that lives and the body of life.
Through the Teachings on Buddha as a source of Refuge, and in our practice and everyday life, we are encouraged to contemplate the nature and characteristics of Buddha. What would a Buddha be like? What would be the qualities and traits they embody? What attitudes to life would they promote and maintain? How would a Buddha live their day-to-day lives? How would a Buddha treat themselves and others? Dwell on these and other questions and use the historical Buddha Shakyamuni or any Buddha figure to guide our character, behaviour, and how we want to be in this world. Buddhas serve as model figures; there are Buddhas everywhere in the world right now.
For practice, you can use a statue (Rupa) or image of Buddha, in any of the many forms, as an object of contemplation and meditation. It is vital to remain realistic and to recognise that we all have moments of Buddhahood each day. Indeed, the Buddha within and the activities of the Buddhas around us often go unnoticed, moving below our awareness. Therefore, actively look for the Buddha nature arising in you in the simplest everyday moments, acts, gestures, postures, inner thoughts, and your relationship to life and experiences.
We are not attempting to be the historical Buddha, nor are we waiting in the hope that Buddha will emerge or arrive in the physical world. Buddha Shakyamuni is not a saviour figure. Instead, we aspire to embody the good qualities that Buddha represents. We are acknowledging and appreciating, with respect and joy, the presence of Buddha-nature in ourselves and all others and the possibilities for health, peace and Refuge that this brings. We are not holding up these good qualities, whether our own or others, as signs or markers measuring success, progress or ability. But so, we can encourage the growth and development of understanding, nurture love and compassion, and affirm, embody and evolve these qualities as an offering to the world.
We work at cultivating our mindfulness so we may ‘encounter the Buddha’. This means discovering with the utmost genuine affection the value, worth, respect, compassion and esteem for the life force you are and all that it encompasses. And to come to the realisation that every being is already a Buddha, navigating their existence as the dust of worldly life continually builds up and gets cleared away.
Our inherent Buddha nature as a fully enlightened state is a precious, valuable resource, our most profound universal nature. It is the capacity for the wisdom of compassion discoverable within the human birth. This awakened nature allows us to live in the world free from entanglement in the inherent nature of suffering and the unhelpful, unhealthy and unwholesome states of being that can result. This real potential can be known to all of us when the collective Buddha emerges in the human species. Through the Teachings on Buddha, we work towards this awakened state of being with sound intention, determination, will, and knowledge to harness emotional states and intellect into meaningful activity in our daily lives. Buddha-nature is a lamp of the wisdom of compassion shining within and all around us, and it can be experienced and known directly. It can also be lost and rediscovered, made visible again and again, the sacred nature of being to be treasured.
By Genyen – Ian Hackett presiding teacher at Tig-Le House