Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Who Is Awake

I came across this today, apparently an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's upcoming book - The Case for God. It was such a beautiful piece of writing, and sentiment, that I thought I'd reproduce it here:

From almost the very beginning, men and women have repeatedly engaged in strenuous and committed religious activity. They evolved mythologies, rituals and ethical disciplines that brought them intimations of holiness that seemed in some indescribable way to enhance and fulfil their humanity. They were not religious simply because their myths and doctrines were scientifically or historically sound, because they sought information about the cosmos, or merely because they wanted a better life in the the hereafter. They were not bludgeoned into faith by power-hungry priests or kings; indeed religion often helped people to oppose tyranny and oppression of this kind. The point of religion was to live intensely and richly here and now. Religious people are ambitious. They want lives overflowing with significance. They have always desired to integrate with their daily lives the moments of rapture and insight that came to them in dreams, in their contemplation of nature and in their intercourse with one another and with the animal world. Instead of being crushed and embittered by the sorrow of life, they sought to retain their peace and serenity in the midst of their pain.

The Buddha after his awakening - teaching the DharmaThey yearned for the courage to overcome their terror of mortality; instead of being grasping and mean-spirited, they aspired to live generously, large-heartedly and justly and to inhabit every single part of their humanity. Instead of being a mere workaday cup, they wanted, as Confucius suggested, to transform themselves in to a beautiful ritual vessel brimful of the sanctity that they were learning to see in life. Thy tried to honour the ineffable mystery then sensed in each human being and create societies that honoured the stranger, the alien, the poor and the oppressed. Of course they often failed. but overall they found that the disciplines of religion helped them to do all this. Those who applied themselves most assiduously showed that it was possible for mortal men and women to live on a higher, divine or godlike plane and thus wake up to their true selves.

One day a brahmin priest came across the Buddha sitting in contemplation under a tree and was astonished by his serenity, stillness and self-discipline. The impression of immense strength channelled creatively into an extraordinary peace reminded him of a great tusker elephant. "Are you a god, sir?" the priest asked. "Are you an angel...or a spirit?" No, the Buddha replied. He explained that he had simply revealed a new potential in human nature. It was possible to live in this world of conflict and pain at peace and in harmony with one's fellow creatures. There was no point in merely believing it; you would only discover its truth if you practices his method, systematically cutting off egotism at the root. You would then live at the peak of your capacity, activate parts of the psyche that normally lie dormant, and become fully enlightened human beings. "Remember me, " the Buddha told the curious priest, "as one who is awake."


This story of the first person that the Buddha met after his Enlightenment has always been a powerful one for me. There are so many strands here - he did not recognize him for what he was, he passed on by after the Buddha told him what he was, not knowing how to profit from the encounter ..... and on and on ....

The notion that the Buddha is one who is awake - fully and utterly awake to their experience - has also remained powerful and poignant. Not about being someone different, becoming someone different, becoming anything other than what we are, right now. But opening fully, and utterly to what is, right now, and seeing it for what it is, not lost in it, not entranced and seduced by it, but seeing it for what it is, in the fullest possible context, in detail, and it nature. Fully awake.

Karen summarizes so well the best of this inner urge that many of us feel, that seems to have become a little lost in the public eye, transfixed as it is with the words and deeds of fundamentalists.

5 comments:

MEB said...

Recently I started reading your blog from the beginning, May 2004, and am slowly working my way up to the present. It’s not just a jewel, but a chest full of jewels. It has also provided me with thoughts about a dilemma I've been in regarding making a comment about your most recent post by Karen Armstrong, another world treasure! But there are so many inspiring strands I have been unable to settle on just one to comment on! Then I saw this and realized – this is my comment too!

A Smile
… I've found that the only thing I can contribute by way of a comment is a simple smile.
… So often something in their posts just 'hits the mark' and words are really inadequate to express what I feel in response.
… It's like a recognition going on, of one person seeing into something, and that resonating with my seeing into something, and across this seeming divide of internet, blogs, beings practicing on other sides of the world whom I've never met .... there's a moment of recognition ... a meeting .... and .... a smile.
… How wondrous that moment of recognition is. And how full the smile.
… Nothing to add to other people's posts, nothing really to say, just a smile .... a smile of recognition, and a smile of profound gratitude. …

:-) Posted by Chodpa at 8:25 AM / Wednesday, November 24, 2004

SacredWest said...

When the Buddha became enlightened the first thing he saw, it is said, is that all beings are already enlightened also.

I think the reason we strive in every age to see the world as sacred is that the world IS sacred. We're trying to rise through our own obscurations.

I love Karen Armstrong, and I see why you chose this piece, it's lovely - yet what a telling commentary on our own obscured times that we have to explain why people seek to perceive sacredness.

We should be explaining why people fail to see what is real - as indeed the Buddha did for us.

Funny how this sounds political or secular or something - I know all this is obvious to you - sorry if I state the obvious - easy to see how we're all caught in samsara ;)

quiet said...

I think I was intended to find this blog today. Thanks. The doors to understanding are just opening for me.

Someone else mentioned Karen Armstrong recently and I will seek the book you mentioned.

ian said...

Karen Armstrong is amazing. How many other people can write equally compelling biographies of Muhammad and Siddhartha?

Thanks for this. Such a good reminder why religion/spirit is so important. Glad to have found you.

Irving said...

It reminds me of my late Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh of blessed memory, who said, if you could accept what is happening to you at each moment, you would be finished with the Sufi path. You would in complete faith see God in every human being, and in each moment of existence.

God bless you :)

Ya Haqq!