The Stumbling Block of Enlightenment

As stated in my previous post on the subject, what Buddhists refer to as enlightenment is nothing other than a profound realization of the most fundamental truth regarding the emptiness of all things (sunyata in Sanskrit). Myriad other Buddhist teachings can be understood as various facets of this diamond-like truth. For example, it is emptiness that has us speaking in terms of dependent origination, interbeing, and the non-dual; and it is emptiness that has us speaking of the three marks of existence: the impermanence of all things, the lack of inherent selfhood of all things, and the unsatisfactory nature of all things. The last of these, by the way, is merely the first noble truth – the truth of suffering – viewed from a slightly different angle.

However, it is the second noble truth that points to the fundamental difficulty of human existence: our almost unrelenting tendency to overlay the infinite potential inherent in the emptiness of all things with our own finite and often do…

A Buddhist Easter

Good Friday marks the day of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, his death by all appearances at the time. And if that were the end of the story, Christianity likely would not have grown to be the religion it is today; for suffering and death do not convey much in the way of Good News. A resurrected Christ, on the other hand, one who is raised up from the dead – now that is a reason for untold joy! Such is Easter, the holiest of holy days for Christians around the world. Jesus died for our sins, that we may live forever. This is the truth for millions of Christians.

The first noble truth of Buddhism is the truth of suffering. Like the passion of the Christ, however, this truth alone does not convey a very hopeful message either. It is the truth of the path, the fourth noble truth that conveys the good news of the Buddha’s teaching. Thus, the Buddha didn’t die for us. He lived such that through his example of heightened awareness we might liberate ourselves. “Watchfulness is the path of…


The most fundamental truth in all of Buddhism is that of the emptiness of all things. Enlightenment is the realization of this truth. Oh, but if only the depths of this reality were as easy to understand as to define!
If the truth of emptiness (sunyata) were as easy to grasp as that of, say, 2+2=4, we wouldn’t need to speak in terms of enlightenment, or awakening (bodhi). It would be obvious to all but the least educated amongst us. But since the deepest understanding of emptiness is more akin to an understanding of Einstein’s theory of general relativity than simple arithmetic, we give it a special name. Just as we have a special name, of a sort, for those who understand relativity. Namely, genius!

Indeed, some can speak intelligently about certain aspects of general relativity. Far fewer, though – even after a century of commentary, experimentation, study, and reflection – have grasped its intricacies. So groundbreakingly monumental was Einstein’s theory that when Sir Arthur Stanle…

Fasting and Equanimity

I hadn’t fasted in over a year. That’s probably reason enough to conclude that life has been just a little bit too hectic of late. Combine that with the difficulty I had choosing a day on which to fast once I’d made up my mind to do so, and the evidence became conclusive. A life too busy to accommodate a day on which to fast is a life in need of simplification.
Once I’d made up my mind, though, things fell into place quite nicely. No, I couldn’t find my special fasting tea – it must have gotten discarded in the move – but I did find a ginger and licorice root variety in the cupboard that would suffice. No, I didn’t prepare ahead in order to have some nice green juice or carrot juice on hand, but I did find some grape and orange juice in the fridge that would suffice. And, anyway, isn’t that what fasting is all about: gaining greater understanding of that which is sufficient? It is for me at least.

My last “solid” food was a bowl of soup at around 7:00 p.m. This smaller than normal di…

A Bodhicitta Dream

Those of us who consider ourselves spiritual in nature may wonder from time to time how we came to be walking the path that we’re on. Is it simply a natural manifestation of what we naturally are, or was the process far more happenstance than destiny? Did a beautiful gift somehow fall into our lap, or was it a hard-fought struggle to become the spiritual being that we are today? Christians often speak in terms of the grace of God when considering such questions; which may explain how one person can hear the gospel and thereafter become a lifelong Christian, whereas another may hear the very same words and remain steadfastly aloof and unmoved. Buddhists, similarly, speak in terms of bodhicitta – awakened mind, or awakening mind (see Schuhmacher & Woerner, 1994, for instance). The workings of bodhicitta may explain how one individual can be moved to practice on behalf of all beings by whatever understanding of sunyata (emptiness) they may have been fortunate enough to glean, even a…

Abundance, Diversity, and Death

Nature values life in abundance. The very soil beneath our feet is evidence of this truth, a testament to the untold abundance of all that has lived and died since life’s first humble beginnings here on earth. In equal measure, nature values diversity of life. Anyone who has ever strived to maintain a weed-free lawn can testify to this truth, as can anyone who has ever pondered the existence of the infectious diseases that so often plague us.
Abundance and diversity, these twin values ultimately work in concert with each other, despite appearing to engage in mortal combat from time to time. Like when an abundance of foxes decimates a population of hares, annihilating diversity in the process; or when the abundant crop that we’d hoped for doesn’t materialize on account of the insects, weeds, fungus, or disease that came to call "our" garden home. Notwithstanding the inevitable ebb and flow in the short term, abundance and diversity do eventually come to exist in harmony with…

The Insufficiency of Intention

“It’s the thought that counts.”
These words have a certain ring of truth to them, don’t they? On the other hand, a friend once related to me a story of how she put a lot of thought into choosing a gift for her daughter which, while perfect in every other way, happened also to be of a particular color that was rather abhorrent to the little girl. But it wasn’t just a dislike of a color. The real issue was that the little girl felt unheard.  She felt unknown – by her own mother nonetheless! Didn’t her mother know that she didn’t care for that color? I can relate, actually. As a young adult beginning to walk a path of vegetarianism, I was presented one Christmas with a beautiful leather jacket. It was quite expensive, too, which meant that accepting it with a smile and then never wearing it again seemed like a woefully inappropriate thing to do. And all the while we were having the discussion as to why I could not accept it, I just couldn’t help thinking of all the times meat had been fo…