Friday, August 24, 2012

Enlightenment -- How it could happen, and in what form

It was our last night of stay in Vietnam before returning to the U.S. We were on our way to a get together in Saigon District 3, when we drove past a memorial built in memory of The Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist Monk who set fire to himself on June 11, 1963 in the center of Saigon. The self-immolation was a gesture to protest against religious oppression in Vietnam. You may see the video of that event here

One quick glance at the statue is all that it took to make me want to stop and look closely. I still cannot forget my excitement in seeing the statue. It was as though there was a connection waiting to be made. I had seen the video several years ago, and the moment I saw the statue, it had a transforming effect on the state of my Mind.

Scene of a car in the background and a fireball enveloping Thich Quang Duc

As I looked at the memorial I felt as though all the events were unfolding in my Mind. I instantly recalled my trip to Hue a few weeks earlier when I had seen the car used to transport Thich Quang Duc to the location in Saigon, displayed at a historic monument.

I felt frustrated being unable to find proper expression to describe what all this meant. I had wondered how I could possibly write my feelings about seeing the relic in Hue and then seeing a memorial in Saigon. I felt incapable of expressing my feelings.

Then one day, nearly 6 weeks after we arrived in the U.S., my son found a book aptly entitled "Afterimages: Zen Poems" written by Shinkichi Takahashi. I had been seeking to find the meaning of the afterimages following my coincidental encounters with the relic and the memorial from the event of June 11 1963. A close friend of mine had given me this book many years ago and it had been tucked away in some box. It even had a dated inscription of 12-21-72. I was struck by the coincidence of the date with the much anticipated date of 12-21-2012. At the very least, I thought it would be 40 years since the time I received the precious gift.

As I browsed through the Zen poems, I was awestruck when I found a poem entitled:  "Burning Oneself to Death". As I read the poem, all my thoughts appeared to crystallize and I could feel a great sense of elation and excitement. I had found how to express my experienced understanding through the Mind of a highly skilled and highly venerated Zen Master. I had been thinking about this ever so frequently that what I had hoped to express landed right in to my hands. I said to myself, WOW! I had found the expression that transcribed my thoughts. The poem said it all. I truly felt enlightened. The poem is as follows:

"That was the best moment of the monk's life.
Firm on a pile of firewood
With nothing more to say, hear, or see,
Smoke wrapped him, his folded hands blazed.

There was nothing more to do, the end
Of everything. He remembered, as a cool breeze
Streamed through him, that one is always
In the same place, and that there is no time.

Suddenly a whirling mushroom cloud rose
Before his singed eyes, and he was a mass
Of flame. Globes, one after another, rolled out,
The delighted sparrows flew round like fire balls."
                         --- Shinkichi Takahashi

The poem epitomizes the extreme sacrifice any human can make so that others who follow might see a better and clearer path. 

The feeling of enlightenment strikes when there is confluence of thoughts in one's Mind. It is the meeting place of two or more streams of thought which have come together for a reason. It is the merging of thoughts which offer a better sense for understanding the meaning and purpose of all the things we perceive. These are thoughts that are referred to as nen-thoughts, or nian-thoughts, about something unique that we have seen, heard, felt, touched and tasted. I recall asking a colleague of mine not too long ago for the Chinese term describing nian-thought. I was told that the script describes  nian-thoughts  as "thoughts from the Mind and Heart".
The script captures the imagination in one's Mind to show the multidimensional nature of the Human Mind, and the source of power produced by the Human Heart. The rainbow colors illustrate the breadth and depth of the conscious Mind. Breadth is from the perspective of being mindful to everything we encounter. The richness of the three Primary Colors (Red-Green-Blue), and all other secondary colors which they can produce are symbolic of the depth of mindful thought. The Heart, in shades of Crimson Red, epitomize the singular color of Hemoglobin, blood plasma, the source of energy for the Human Mind. The White color, piercing the script from top to bottom, epitomizes purity in Mind and Heart. 

It is obvious that one must be mindful of what to say, or write, so that things are communicated in ways that are meaningful and mindful. I had been wondering how to write about what has been persistently nagging my Mind. The inability to express current thoughts accumulates and grows more each day. It gives the feeling of exponentiation of thoughts. So, how could one retain such thoughts? It is as though we wish to put this unique quality of our perception in a special compartment of our Mind, and then wait, and wait, and wait, until there is better understanding some day that gives both the meaning and the purpose of the perceived thought. 

We can perceive whatever we wish to perceive. However, whatever we perceive must have some unique attribute to makes it worthy of deeper thought, and consequently attain a better perception. Our perceptions become stronger through deep thinking. Naturally, these lead to greater knowledge and a higher state of the conscious Mind. If our perceptions are worthy of further thought, then they must be useful in someway, shape or form. One can feel enlightened suddenly at anytime and anyplace. 

I have been intrigued by the word "Enlightenment" only because of my desire to know what it means to feel enlightened. I suppose no one could possibly describe that feeling because it is a feeling that must be experienced singularly, an experience of oneself from within oneself. The Sanskrit word for enlightenment is "Bodhi", or "awakened". In Sanskrit script it is बो (Bo) धि (dhi). Budddha means the "awakened one". Therefore, if one feels awakened by the thought process, then it must be the heightened state of the Mind, a state of Mind that makes one extraordinarily aware of one's own environment. 

Enlightenment cannot be shared. It is a self-experienced understanding of something that we have been thinking about, something that we have been questioning about, asking ourselves Why?, Why?, Why?, ... for a period of time, and then suddenly, instantly, we have an answer! That is the beauty in feeling the sense of enlightenment. It is an experience of our own innate ability to feel and sense our own Mind. It is an experienced understanding in one's own Mind, as that prescribed by the Heart Sutra. The Manthra "Ga-The' Ga-The' Paara Ga-The' Paarasam Ga-The' Bodhi Svaaha" epitomizes the final approach and the entry into the unique state of Mind.

More and more of this elated feeling leads to enlightenment. It is the enlightenment within one's own mental state, a Bodhi state. This is analogous to finding the Buddha in oneself. "If you see a Buddha on the road, kill him", says one Koan. It is truly this phrase which indicates that one must seek one's own path towards enlightenment. Finding the Buddha in oneself is indeed the enlightenment. I now believe this to be the absolute truth.

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