yesterday (Dec 8th) was Bodhi Day, the day Mahayana Buddhists commemorate the enlightenment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, 2600 years ago. as the story goes, the Buddha was moved by the suffering he saw in life and felt upon seeing sickness, aging, and death. disenchanted with the excess from which he came, and the practice of extreme asceticism which he practiced for a time, he set out to meet life face to face as it is. practicing the middle way of neither aversion or grasping, he sat until he woke up. in waking up he became the Buddha, which simply means awakened or awakened one. meeting life with an open heart, with clarity and balance, he found freedom from suffering. my favorite part of the story is when Buddha is tested by the demon Mara who eventually challenges Siddhartha’s ability and right to enlightenment as a mere human. the story goes – after not succumbing to Mara’s temptations, Mara challenged Siddhartha, “What right have you to be enlightened? Who will speak for you, who will bear witness for you?” sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha reached out his right hand and touched the earth, and the earth itself shook saying, “I bear you witness!” this wasn’t just for the historical Buddha – it is for all buddhas, for you, for me. we too can wake up, we too have within us the ability to be with life as it is, to live open-hearted with clarity and balance, to be free and at peace. may it be so.~j
“I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere. Because where I am folded, there, I am a lie.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
this quote very well may sum up enlightenment or waking up, for me – to live authentically, to be in authentic relationship with the arising and passing life around us, to not fold up or close up in fear or anger, but to remain open – both heart and mind – courageously loving all that is suffering.
we could all benefit from better listening. listening, is an undervalued quality and skill. I think, especially in an era where everything is so fast moving and immediate.
true listening, conscious listening, is an act of patience, an act of openness, and an act of generosity.
true listening is also an act of letting go and allowance. it involves releasing our own agenda, and truly listening to what is being said, what we are hearing.
our participation is one of silence, which is something most of us seem uncomfortable with. but, if we are willing to be curious – to be open, then when we truly listen, we learn new things and we grow, and our awareness is heightened.
true listening it’s not just with the ears, it is also with the heart.
“Let go of the illusion of control.” ~ Master Oogway
To “let go” may be the greatest teaching and perhaps the most challenging. We find security in control, but it is only an illusion. All things in life arise and pass, all things are changing moment to moment. And control, like all things, is fleeting. Holding on to that which by its nature will change, trying to keep it from changing, brings us suffering. We are chained to a self-imagined outcome. We are not free. Life is not free. This can hurt us and those around us. Letting go, staying open, brings some peace to us and those around us.
I have a phrase I sometimes use when meditating. Breathing in I say in my mind, “May I hold all of life in love.” Breathing out I say in my mind, “And in love, may I let go…”
The great teacher Ajahn Chah has said, “If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness. If you let it go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness. If you let go completely, you will be free.”
Letting go should not be confused with inaction or indifference. Especially in a time of activism, as we are in now. We are still called forth by the suffering in the world, from our empathy and compassion, to tend to this life and those in it, to relieve and end suffering where we can. We do the good work, the kind work, but we do so not dependent on the outcome. We do so regardless of praise or blame. This can be really challenging in a culture such as ours, so driven on outcomes and a particular vision of “success.” Can we do good and kind work, simply because it is good and kind? Can we do good and kind work, knowing that we may not see fruition in our day, but we are perhaps planting seeds that may bring benefit in the days ahead?
Today our friend Vu Dang passed. I write “our friend” because anyone who embodies love and light as Vu does is truly a friend to this world, to all life. I am holding in my heart his dear wife/partner Chris, his family, his friends, and all touched by his teaching at Dang Good Yoga. I sat and meditated today with Vu in my heart, practicing Metta (lovingkindness). Vu was a friend to anyone he encountered, a beloved teacher and Yogi. I would say (though he’d disagree) that he was also a Zen master. In the face of suffering, he remained the epitome of courage, of open-heartedness, of kindness and gentleness, of presence. He practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community and embodied Thay’s gatha – “I have arrived, I am home.” And to be in Vu’s presence was to surely feel that we had also arrived and were home.
A few years ago, I had created some artwork to be raffled at a fundraiser put together by wonderful friends to benefit Vu in his struggle with cancer. I also created a piece specifically inspired and for Vu, for his birthday. It took me a year to finally give it to him in person (he was so patient and gracious about that, of course). It is pictured below. It touched my heart deeply and with gratitude to see him post the art from time to time as a reminder to others that they too “are the sound of life, the song of love” to “just be” – most recently as his New Year’s greeting/post and another time with the note to “Please remember…”
I am grateful to have first met Vu in high school so many years ago, grateful to reconnect, grateful to learn from his presence – I know I will continue to learn from his presence as I continue the practice, of being open-hearted, kind, and brave. I hope to one day have his grace, his wisdom, his presence. I know a light like his doesn’t dim, that such a light is with us as we practice, as we live and love.
I will repost specific details on donations to the UCSD Moore Cancer Center, when his family provides them. In the meantime, please keep them in your heart, in your prayers, and let us live as open-hearted with love as Vu 😌❤️🙏🏻📿