Many of you have heard the quote “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” The basic message is if you think you are enlightened, you are not! Whatever we think Buddha is or isn’t, however we define Buddha, when we cling to that definition, it is an illusion.
As a cognitive behavioral based, mindfulness therapist, I help my clients work with their illusions to uncover what they have repressed, to identify, question, and challenge the causes of their suffering. This opens the gateway to hope and possibility, and offers personal choice as a means of taking responsibility to change the way they think, feel, and react. This process of inquiry and exploration, through rigorous self-examination and present moment awareness, requires each of us to identify and question our conditioning. I encourage my clients to take a different approach: to ask Buddha what he is doing on the road, and to sit and talk a while.
Our thoughts represent our perceptions of the world through the environment in which we live and learn. We interact through our senses, through language and other forms of communication. It is through our sensory experience of the world, in relationship with others, that we are conditioned. We draw from collective experience, from the “collective unconscious”, as Jung described it. Ridding ourselves of delusion and illusion does not mean killing or repressing our thoughts. It means we have to work with them diligently to free ourselves from our limited perceptions, our preconceived ideas, our attachments to being right or wrong, and to see in the tangled mess of them the possibility of liberation from suffering. Have you ever worked with necklaces or chains that have become tangled and hopelessly knotted together? It takes patience and persistence, but they can eventually be untangled.
Enlightenment is a process, an ongoing and conscious journey. When we are awake in the present moment asking “What is this?” then we can identify the source of our suffering, and gain clarity and insight in the process. We can work mindfully to find acceptance, harmony and balance in any situation and stay on the path.
Explore what is illusion and what is not. Are you paying attention to what is happening right now? Are your thoughts based in the present moment or are they leaping out of the past, causing you regret, anger, and sadness? Do they have you cowering in fear of the future? Through mindfulness, we can integrate all aspects of our experience within the spaciousness of Buddha nature. Through skillful means, we work with our ego conditioning, gently offering loving kindness to ourselves and opening our hearts to trust in our true, inherent nature. Only from that place of clarity and wisdom, can we extend compassion outward, to all beings, in all realms. It is through a consistent, moment-to-moment understanding of non-duality and interconnectedness, conscious effort and an organic awareness of everything as a living breathing whole, that we are able to respond with an open heart and mind. W.B.Yeats said, “All things hang like a drop of dew upon a blade of grass.”
The Buddha is everywhere and nowhere. He is one place, and every place, all at once; on the side of the road and on the park bench, staring out of bleary alcoholic eyes begging for a moment of kindness, hanging on a blade of grass, swimming in the depths of the ocean, and riding on the wings of birds. The arising and ceasing of all things is simultaneous. Birth and death are seamlessly intertwined, neither separated by our perception of time…our years, hours, minutes or seconds, nor by our opinions, thoughts, comments, politics, religions, wars, or prayers. All things are unfolding as they are. It is our perception of the unfolding of all things and our consequent response to them that makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
So if you see Buddha on the road, offer him some cool water, share your food, and invite him to travel with you on the endless journey. Talk to him. Tell him stories or a few jokes here and there. Ask questions. Listen deeply. Respond wholeheartedly and mindfully. After all, you can enlighten Buddha as much as Buddha can enlighten you. And, after awhile, the Buddha will not appear randomly, separately on the road, but will always be present, traveling everywhere with you…to nowhere at all…along the immeasurable path!
Andrea Minick Rudolph, M.A., F.A.P.A., Executive Director, Oryoki Zendo: Andrea Minick Rudolph is an ordained Priest in the Zen Buddhist tradition, a Cognitive Behavioral based Mindfulness Counselor, and an Officiate for weddings, blessings, and life transition ceremonies. She is a Fellow with the American Psychotherapy Association, a Professional Member of the Pennsylvania Counseling Association, a Certified Master Chaplain for the American Board of Chaplains for Homeland Security, and earned her Life Coaching Certificate from the Life Coaching Institute in London, England. Andrea earned her Bachelor of Professional Studies in Human Services from Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA, and her M.A. in Buddhist Studies and Ministry from the Blue Mountain Lotus Seminary, Harrisburg, PA. As a Trainer for the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Public Health Institute, from 1996 to 2009, Andrea taught a wide array of workshops in Health, Wellness, and Stress Management for doctors, nurses, clinicians, social workers, and counselors. She was Founder and Director of AMR Wellness Associates in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from 1996 to 2011, offering a variety of wellness services, and has an extensive educational background in exercise physiology, anatomy, and kinesiology. A former professional dancer and teacher of ballet and modern dance, she is also a Certified Stott Pilates Mat Instructor, was a deep tissue massage therapist for 28 years, and holds a black belt in Sui Nagari Do Karate. For more information, please visit: oryokizendo.com