Buddhism Without Ism
Wakefulness: the Essence of the Buddha's Path
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[לטקסט בעברית: "בודהיזם ללא איזם"]
The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism; the Buddha was a human being who met other people, listened to them and spoke with them right in the heart of life, and taught one simple thing: how to live in the world – without being caught by the things of the world; how to meet ourselves and meet others, right here and now where we're at – unconditionally, in freedom and peace, joy and love; how to live fully, deeply, the life that we, as human beings in the world, are living. The Buddha taught many things, and after him his disciples continue and add; the Buddha and his disciples taught and are still offering many teachings, but the essence is truly simple – it is the way we are relating now to all that we are meeting, the way we are now meeting the life we are living.
The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism but Buddhism without "Ism", or simply, wakefulness. Wakefulness, being fully awake, is the essence of the Dharma, the vitality of the Sangha, the heart of the Buddha; when we are fully awake the Buddha and the Dharma and the Sangha are not separate: there is no Sangha without Buddha, there is no true togetherness without wakefulness; and there is no Buddha without Sangha, without human beings who are awakening to be fully alive. Wakefulness is the essence of the Buddha's Path, the heart of the art of mindful living, and it has two inseparable facets – presence and awareness; when we are present-aware we are truly alive – this is wakefulness as a way of life:
The Buddha was asked, "What are your disciples doing? What are they studying with you?" and the Buddha answered, "We sit, we walk, we eat". He was told, "But is that all? We all sit, walk, eat – what is so special in what you are doing? What are you in fact studying?" Replied the Buddha, "We sit – attentively, walk – fully present, eat – in awareness; in everything that we do we are truly awake, that is the way we are living".
Buddhism without Ism is Buddhism with no "extras": without ideals and without ideas, with no prejudices and no rigid conclusions, not relying on using means and not being tempted by aims that are only substitutes for life as it is; without ritual and ceremonies and without superstitions, without sacred cows and without golden calves; without attachment to all that. And all knowledge and explanations, and all rules and regulations – they are tasteless if we are not truly present, attentive, aware; only when we are fully awake can we truly taste and appreciate the life we are living. It is meaningless to study Buddhism if we are not fully present, aware of the one who is studying – the Buddha did not teach Buddhism but being wakeful; it is meaningless to practice meditation if we are not fully present, aware of the one who is practicing – the Buddha did not teach meditation but being wakeful; it is meaningless to do good deeds if we are not fully present, aware of the one who is doing the deeds – the Buddha did not teach good deeds but being wakeful. These are all meaningless, that is – without wakefulness there are fear and loneliness, frustration and discontent, in everything that we do; and therefore the essence the Buddha taught is being fully awake – only wakefulness makes life worth living. The essence is not what we do or abstain from doing – material or spiritual action, within the bubble of the retreat or in the marketplace of life – but the quality of the action, the quality of being in the heart of the habitual "doing"; the essence the Buddha taught is one simple thing – that is wakefulness, which is a way of living right here and now in peace and in joy, and meeting what-is in gratitude and compassion – it is the way to be free to love life as it is in the present moment.
In Buddhism there are different approaches, different emphases according to character, culture and custom: there are northerners and southerners, some don yellow robes and some don orange or grey or brown or red – multi-colored Buddhism; and in each generation, in every place and time, some are stringent and some are lenient, some renew and some preserve. There is Authentic Buddhism – original, primary, rooted – and there is Skillful Buddhism – developed, diverse, flowery; but the essence of the path is beyond the traditional simplistic division between Theravada and Mahayana, beyond all distinctions between the different schools – the essence of the Buddha-Dharma is wakefulness, which is a way of being truly alive: wakefulness is a path that is whole, and has two facets – skillfulness and creativity, and also authenticity and simplicity; when we are wakeful we are open to renewal, while staying true to the essence.
Thus, on the Buddha's Path some conserve and some innovate – but without being fully awake we cannot skillfully renew, and we cannot authentically preserve; that is, only wakefulness is the key and the door to the path – authenticity is meaningless without creativity and renewal, and skillfulness is meaningless without simplicity and attentiveness to the essence. Without creativity and attentiveness to the changing conditions, to the culture and society in which we are living, to the place and time and person that we are meeting, rather than preserving the essence of the path only an empty shell is preserved, tasteless and devoid of vitality; and without simplicity and attentiveness to the essence that is in itself always new and unknown, rather than truly renewing it is only one shell replacing another, the manner of speech and dress and behavior changing in hopeless pursuit after innovations that are only a continuation of the known, the world of habit. So, wakefulness is a path that is whole, a path that has two complementing facets – skillfulness and authenticity, creativity and simplicity; and therefore, in order to be truly wakeful we ought to be very creative in the world of routine and habit, and we ought to be very simple in the complex world in which we are living.
Buddhism without Ism is Buddhism that emphasizes the essence of the path, which is wakefulness: there is Buddhism of knowledge and learning – but what we learn cannot be truly understood unless we are fully awake; there is Buddhism of ritual and ceremony – but it is meaningless unless we are fully awake; there is Buddhism of good deeds – but only when we are fully awake we are truly helping. Wakefulness is the essence, and it is truly simple and always new: only here and now, when we are truly awake, can we live in compassion and gratitude, in peace and in joy, discover beauty in ourselves and in others and be free to love life as it is.
One day the governor came to visit a well-known Zen sage, and asked a question: "What are your disciples doing? What are they studying with you? – are you reading scripture?" The Zen sage replied in the negative. Asked the governor, "If that is so, are you practicing meditation?" And again, the Zen sage replied in the negative. "Then what are you in fact doing and learning?" asked the governor, and the Zen sage replied, "We are cultivating Buddhas and Bodhisattvas"; to which the governor answered, "Precious is the dust of gold, but in the eyes it causes great harm".
The governor asks, and in response the Zen sage negates all that is not essential, in order to reveal the possibility of being fully awake; and to that the governor replies and praises his response, and yet cautions him to not get caught in this negation. The governor says: "What you are teaching is truly wonderful – the essence is wakefulness, we ought to awaken to be truly alive; you truly understand deeply and speak clearly of the essence of the path, but do not mislead yourself and others – it is not necessary to refrain from learning scripture and practicing meditation and performing ceremonies and doing good deeds. It is possible to study Buddhism, practice meditation, perform ceremonies, do good deeds – it is possible to do all that in presence-awareness, when we are fully awake to all we are doing".
Buddhism without Ism is a full and radical change in our life's priorities, and it is truly simple: the essence is not what we do or abstain from doing but the quality of the action in any life-situation, the quality of being in all that we do, the quality of the attentive approach to life as it is in the present moment. Wakefulness is the quality of our life – it is the direct and simple and sane approach to meeting the human condition, individually and collectively – without secret formulas and without hidden assumptions, without prejudices and without adamant conclusions; without accumulation of titles, without a technology of progression in stages and without pursuit after spiritual attainments, but each moment anew simply being fully awake in presence-awareness … and thus Buddhism without Ism is not a method or system but an art – it is the art of wakeful living.
~ ~ ~
One day the governor came to visit a well-known Zen sage, and asked a simple question: "What is the essence of the Dharma? What is the deepest and most wonderful teaching that the Buddha taught?" The Zen sage answered wordlessly; in awareness, he wrote 'wakefulness'. The governor said to the Zen sage "Thank you very much; I understand that my question went too far, too soon. First, we ought to be wakeful – that is the foundation, the first step; I truly understand. And now, I ask again: after wakefulness, what is the most wonderful and noble teaching that the Buddha taught? What is the essence of the Dharma?" Again, very attentively, the Zen sage wrote 'wakefulness'. And the governor again said: "Thank you very much for emphasizing for me the importance of wakefulness, I truly understand; but it may be that you, the well-known Zen sage, do not understand my question. Because I do not ask about the first step on the path, I ask about the last step; I ask, what is the essence of the Dharma? What is the most noble and deepest teaching that the Buddha taught?" And again, wholeheartedly, the Zen sage wrote 'wakefulness'. Now the governor was already annoyed, and in great rage he retorted to the Zen sage "Wakefulness, wakefulness, wakefulness – what is wakefulness?!" The Zen sage again wrote, fully present: 'wakefulness is wakefulness'.
The Buddha taught four truths: there is ill-being – such is life – and there is a cause to ill-being, it is possible to put an end to ill-being, and there is a path that puts an end to ill-being; the Buddha spoke of four truths but without being fully awake we do not truly understand and still think that ill-being and the end of ill-being are two separate things, that we ought to banish one in order to realize the other – without wakefulness we are still occupied with and caught in the problem of ill-being, with no way out … but when we are aware of the fact of ill-being, fully present together with the difficulty and the distress, we are also awake to the wonders of life, what is not ill-being, and thus life here and now is not a problem. When we are fully awake we understand that the end of ill-being is not a separate thing, found in another place that is not ill-being; we understand that the end of ill-being is not a thing found in a particular place or a special state, and therefore there is no way there – when we are present-aware we understand that there is no solution away from the problem. The end of ill-being is not found at the end but right at the start, the end of ill-being is the approach – it is simply the way that we meet ill-being with a wide-open heart, with no pretense and no denial, when we are attentive in the heart of the human condition; and so, without pursuing a solution out there, life in the present moment is not a problem. We have heard much already about the four truths, and yet there is no way to meet ill-being but in presence-awareness, there is no way to understand the cause of ill-being but in presence-awareness, there is no way to realize the end of ill-being but in presence-awareness – there is no way but wakefulness; wakefulness is the first and last truth – when we are fully awake the end is the start, when we are truly present-aware there is one and only truth: it is the truth of meeting life in the very here and now, from without and from within – it is the truth of life as it is in the present moment.
The Buddha taught eight facets of the path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; eight facets of the path and wakefulness is the essence of them all, beyond any idea of "right" or "wrong". When we are fully awake we understand that right view is freedom from all views, non-attachment to crystallized conclusions and known formulas – right view is looking deeply at life as it is – that is being truly awake; and so, right thought and right speech and right action are nothing but thought and speech and action in presence-awareness, right livelihood is nothing but an attentive way of life, and right effort is not an instruction for action but a description of the way we are living when we are wakeful: the effort to understand does not lead to understanding, the effort to be joyful does not bring joy, the effort to be good is not peace but war against evil; the effort to be in control does not yield freedom, the effort to attain an aim and to realize success is not love, the effort to be wakeful is not facing things as they are, here and now – wakefulness is not a result of making efforts. Efforts can be made, in wholehearted attentiveness; efforts can be made to solve problems and attain achievements, but wakefulness is not the effort we make but the light illuminating, the attitude of our relating – this is right mindfulness; and when we are fully awake we understand that right concentration is already there, in and of itself, when we meet what-is in peace and in joy, in choiceless presence-awareness, when we are whole with the way life is in the present moment; and this is the first and last freedom, this is right view – when we are wakeful the end is found right at the start.
The Buddha spoke of loving kindness and compassion, equanimity and joy; the Buddha taught four wonderful qualities, and the essence of them all is wakefulness: all noble qualities are not distant aims that we attain by skillful means, but the very attitude in which we are meeting life as it is. There is no way to joy – joy is the way; when we are fully awake we are truly alive and this is true living joy. There is no way to meet what-is in equanimity, non-discriminately, other than when we are fully awake, in non-reactive choiceless open presence and simple awareness; there is no way to attain peace – peace is the way we are meeting all life-situations when we are attentive to the way life is – this is peace as a way of life, a way of being peace, simply being together with all that we meet. There is no way to meet what-is in compassion other than when we are fully awake with a wide-open heart, together with the difficulty and the distress; wakefulness is the freedom to be light right in the heart of darkness. And there is no way to live in gratitude and loving kindness other than when we are truly and fully awake to the beauty of the wonders of life, in ourselves and in others, from without and from within; there is no way other than when we are fully present, aware of the good news, in every person and in any life-situation.
The Buddha taught six aspects of the path, six paths to go beyond ill-being: generous giving, moral conduct, inclusive tolerance, diligent perseverance, full presence, and whole understanding; the Buddha taught six aspects of the path, and wakefulness is the essence. When we are fully present, aware of things as they are, we truly understand – this is whole understanding, understanding the wholeness of life; and understanding already includes all other aspects of the path, understanding is the source and the essence of all paths. When we are fully awake, in wholehearted attentiveness we are whole with all that we meet, and so we are living life to its fullest with no denial and no pretense – this is full presence, which is a way of being full of aliveness. When we are fully awake we are meeting what-is with interest and curiosity, continually renewing in each moment without being tempted by feelings and thoughts of despair or hope – this is diligent perseverance, which is the readiness to meet each moment anew the challenge of life in the present moment. When we are fully awake we are opening our heart to include all that we meet, from without and from within, without judgment and without discrimination – this is inclusive tolerance, which is the freedom to live with broad margins. Without wakefulness, even if we endeavor to be kind and good, we still get hurt and hurt others; but when we are fully awake all noble qualities and all good deeds are realized, in and of themselves – wakefulness is the first and last code of moral conduct we need … and simply, it is action that is attentive and free, beyond ideas of "evil" or "good". Without wakefulness we are not truly generous but still occupied with bargains and calculations of profit and gains, materially and spiritually – only presence-awareness is unconditional generosity; without being fully awake we are offering only first-aid – only wakefulness is true and deep help, giving without an idea of giving.
The Buddha described a multitude of Bodhisattvas, awakened human beings who dedicate their life to the path of offering help to others, and all Bodhisattvas are nothing but the same essence – wakefulness – in different circumstances and conditions; each Bodhisattva is nothing but a facet of someone who lives on the path of awakening, the path of the art of mindful living. The Buddha spoke of social engagement and generous action, supporting and giving in living joy, compassion in action; but in order to reach far we ought to start very near: only here and now, when we are present-aware, can we truly help ourselves and others, do good deeds; only here and now – when we are fully awake – can we truly love and be truly alive, and so help others help everyone else awaken to the wonders of life.
Wakefulness is the essence of the Dharma, the deepest and most wonderful teaching that the Buddha taught; but we cannot truly understand what we are now hearing and reading unless we are attentive, right now where we are sitting: there is no way to understand the Buddha's Path but only when we are fully present-aware. Without wakefulness we only think we understand, translate things to familiar terms, hear only what we want, grasp life as we are used to – without wakefulness there is only Ism without Buddh; but when we are wakeful it is truly simple – wakefulness is wakefulness is wakefulness, wakefulness is attentiveness, presence, awareness … and that is why we are looking deeply in light of the question – right here and now, are we attentive to life? Are we able to face things as they are, new and unknown?
Being present-aware, here and now – it is simple, even if sometimes it is not easy; it is not easy and that is why we react and try to avoid the difficulties, and that is how we get entangled – but still it is simple: all that we truly want – freedom and peace and joy and love – all that is already found right here and now, when we are fully awake. And therefore there is no way but wakefulness, which is a pathless path, a step into the unknown – the Dharma is not a paved path according to recipe or prescription, program or formula, with stages and means and an aim, compass and map, safety railings and supporting conditions; the Dharma is not a secure refuge, life is not safe – the Dharma is an earthquake! … and so we let go and awaken to be truly alive, each moment anew – that is the way to realize the quality of awakened living.
~ ~ ~
During his lifetime the Buddha spoke countless words, the Buddha taught countless teachings; and one time, so it is told, he did not say a word. He sat in front of the assembled disciples, and wordlessly so they sat – attentively; until the Buddha reached out his hand, held the flower that was by his side, and presented the flower before the assembly, wordlessly. The assembled disciples immediately tried to find interpretations and explanations – what is the intention, what is the meaning – very occupied were all; and only one, so it is told, was truly awake – only Maha-Kashyapa smiled a smile of whole understanding, a smile of living joy: the Buddha presented a flower, and Maha-Kashyapa smiled; the Buddha presented a flower of understanding, and Maha-Kashyapa understood.
The Buddha invites us to awaken, and to discover here and now the facts of life – a flower is a flower, a smile is a smile, understanding is understanding – it's as simple as that; but do we truly understand? – are we attentive, fully present, aware of the flowers and grateful for the wonders of life? And the flowers are not only what we usually think – the flowers also have thorns, the flowers and the thorns are not separate; the flowers are also the thorns, all things are flowers when we are fully and truly awake … and so we understand that the thorns are flowers as well – they are opportunities to discover compassion in our heart and our life. When we are present-aware the flowers are flowering and the thorns are thorning, when we are attentive the heart is awake in living joy – and what more do we need in order to awaken here and now and discover beauty in life as it is? The Buddha presents us with a multitude of flowers, in each moment of being alive – are we fully awake? Are we able to smile in wholehearted joy, attentive and compassionate joy, right here and now as we are in the place where we're at, with the flowers of life as well as with the thorns?
Wakefulness is the freedom to be truly alive, to simply be and truly discover the wonders of life – it is the way to discover the aliveness of all things; wakefulness is the sweetest fruit of the tree of life, the roots and the trunk and the branches and the leaves and the flowers of the tree of life – it is the whole path, the first and last step on the path of mindful living; but being fully awake is not something we do – when we are present-aware life-itself awakens to be fully alive, life in and of itself is awakening – that is, wakefulness is not something we attain and accumulate or transmit, give and receive. What did the Buddha give? What did Maha-Kashyapa receive? In a single present-moment both together were awake and so they met, understood and smiled – wakefulness cannot be transmitted or accumulated, wakefulness is not something to be attained, a particular thing, a property or an attribute, but it is the approach – it is an attitude of meeting all things as they are; wakefulness is the attentive attitude to life as it is in the present moment – it is a vast aliveness, attentive and whole. And it is not always comfortable, it is surly not safe, but such is life: in winter shivering from the cold, in summer sweating from the heat – when we are fully awake both winter and summer are flowers; when we are fully awake we are joyful when we are hungry or full – being hungry, being full, both are flowers; wakefulness is the freedom to be truly alive.
Many years ago the Buddha presented a flower and Maha-Kashyapa smiled, the Buddha presented a flower of understanding and Maha-Kashyapa understood; but the Buddha is already dead, while we are still living. Maha-Kashyapa understood, the Buddha understood, and we – here and now, are we wholeheartedly attentive and do we truly understand? The Buddha is already dead and we are still living, the Buddha is already dead and the Buddha awakens to be fully alive, the Buddha lives only when we-ourselves are truly alive, only when we-ourselves are present-aware – now, and each moment anew; that is, the living Buddha is not found in a tradition of explanations and ceremonies, or in an authority of scripture and teachers – the living Buddha is wakefulness, and when we are fully awake we see beauty in each moment of being alive, and right where we're at we are joyful and loving and free: the attentive attitude to life in the present moment is the key and the door to the quality of awakened living.
The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism: the Buddha was a human being who met other people right where they are, spoke simple things to their hearts, and taught how to awaken to be truly alive – how to live fully and deeply the life we are living, our very real life in the heart of the human condition. And how can we meet the Buddha? Where does he live? What is the address of his site? The Buddha lives here and now dot compassion, dot freedom and peace and joy and love; the Buddha dwells in each place and time where and when we are present-aware, attentive to life; it's as simple as that. And when we are truly awake we are already free, right where we're at, here and now in the heart of life, with the flowers and with the thorns; free to be fully aware of the beauty of the wonders of life, free to be present and meet what-is in peace and in joy, free to be truly and fully alive, free to love – and what more do we ask for?