Friday, June 22, 2012

An Introduction to a Path and Mahayana

In the Sufi Master Rumi’s Table Talk, there is this fierce and pointed passage:

“The master said there is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten.  If you were to forget everything else, but were not to forget this, there would be no cause to worry, while if you remembered, performed and attended to everything else, but forgot that one thing, you would in fact have done nothing whatsoever.  It is as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task.  You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all.  So man has come into this world for a particular task, and that is his purpose.  If he doesn’t perform it, he will have done nothing.”

Regardless of what spiritual journey you are currently undertaking, the main message that Rumi sought to convey is that we are here on this earth for one purpose, and one purpose only- and that is to achieve union with our fundamental, enlightened nature.  Rumi’s passage can be interpreted in a number of ways, but what came to my mind today was the Mahayana goal of spiritual development: to achieve the enlightenment of Buddhahood in order to help all other sentient beings attain this state.  This is known as the bodhisattva path.
            True spirituality also is to be aware that if we are interdependent with everything and everyone else, even our smallest, least significant thought, word, and action have real consequences throughout the universe.  The whole universe, in regards to subatomic interaction, is nothing but change, activity, and process- a totality of flux that is the ground of all things.  All of our thoughts, our intentions, actions, dreams, desires- energetically- have a force; a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing into mass.  This is emptiness; this is impermanence.  Whatever we do or say or think has an effect on ourselves directly- biologically, physiologically- and on everyone else.
             Although there is no definitive Mahayana canon, some have traditionally considered the earliest Mahayana sutras to include the very first versions of the Prajnaparamita series (Sanskrit: “The Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom”)- a central concept in Mahayana Buddhism, and essential to understanding the principles of the Bodhisattva Path.  Mahayana scriptures are largely preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, and in Sanskrit manuscripts.  The prajnaparamita sutras, the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra are considered most fundamental to the Mahayana traditions.  Without getting into any of the Mahayana sutras, I’ll make a wide-sweeping oversimplification about the Dharma (universal or natural law): The Dharma is the Teaching of Deliverance in it’s entirety, as discovered, realized and proclaimed by the Buddha.  It is a no-nonsense, all encompassing practical guide for transforming your life; a teaching of Enlightenment based on the clear comprehension of actuality.  The Dharma offers a realistic system of ethics, a shrewd analysis of life, philosophy, and practical methods of mind training.  This will set you on your way to changing your thoughts and changing your life.  I will get more in depth in later posts.
Great importance is placed on lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, on the unbroken chain of transmission from master to master (comprises the teachings of the three vehicles of Buddhism: the Foundational Vehicle, Mahayana, and Vajrayana).  That is not to say that just because you don’t have a master, you can’t be a practicing Buddhist.  It should not be understated, of course, the importance of having a master, or even how destructive it can be jumping around from lineage to lineage without any sustained continuity or dedication.  My point is, at least, that these teachings are there for everyone, Buddhist or non-Buddhist.  Lineage serves as a crucial safeguard: It maintains the authenticity and purity of the teaching.  Nearly all the great spiritual masters of all traditions agree that the essential thing is to master one way, one path to the truth, by following one tradition with all you heart and mind to the end of the spiritual journey, while remaining open and respectful to the insights of all others.  All I hope to provide is some insight into another world, into another spectrum of consciousness that people of all religious backgrounds can relate to.  Buddhas, masters, and prophets which emanate the truth can exist anywhere- in any experience, a smile, an angry person you encounter on the street- the key is to remember your spiritual practice, to let it guide you unwaveringly, so that eventually the inner teacher, who has always been with us, manifests in the form of the “outer teacher”- and we solidify the bodhicitta mind of enlightenment- the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings.

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