|Posted on May 20, 2016 at 3:15 PM|
Saka Dawa: An Ancient Practice for A Modern World – Part I
--Orgyen Jampa Dorje (Rev. William L. Chamberlin, Temple White Lotus, LLC.)
If it can be said that Buddhists, particularly those of the Vajrayana variety, had a Christmas and Easter celebration/holiday combined, it would be the one known as Saka Dawa, which normally can last an entire month from the first week of May through the first week of June; the dates are sometimes fluid. The most auspicious day would be on the Full Moon day of the 15th of the Tibetan Month, which is May 21st on our calendars. It is upon this day that the birth, enlightenment, and paranirvana (death) of Shakyamuni Buddha is jointly commemorated.
The very name of this month long celebration is even named after this auspicious day: Saka is from Tibetan Astrology, meaning the Star called Saka which is associated with the full moon day of the fourth month; and, Dawa means month. Hence, Saka Dawa is the Saka Star Month of the Full Moon day of the Fourth Month.
This sounds all very interesting. But why should we, here in the West…those unwashed barbarians of us not from the Himalayas….even care? Well, I’ll tell you….and it’s all about Merit. However, first some background to set the scene.
The historical Buddha, at least the Encyclopedia Britannica version, is often called Shakyamuni Buddha….or, the Awakened Sage of the Shakya clan (his family, tribal name). Born sometime in the 5th century B.C.E., he was named Siddhartha Gautama, with Gautama being a more specific family name (immediate family) and Siddhartha meaning “one who has accomplished a goal”.
The Shakya were a tribal clan and ruled over a city-state with its capital in Kapilavastu, in modern day Nepal. Although probably more of a Tribal or Clan Republic than a powerful kingdom as normally depicted, it did exist on a major transit route for lucrative trade. Just south, across the modern day Nepal-Indian border, were very prosperous and powerful city-states and outright kingdoms which benefited from this trade. Chief among these was Varanasi (Benares)….The place from which the Buddha first began to share his vision.
Siddhartha’s father married two sisters, Maya and Pajapati Gotami, a princess of another city, the Koliya. Maya was his mother, but died at child birth, leaving his step mother, Pajapati, to raise him; hence, his family name of Gotama in addition to Shakya, his father’s clan name.
Now, there are various accounts of the Buddha’s nativity, some miraculous and magical, and yet others rather straightforward; I will leave it up to you to decide which version you accept and/or research more, if so moved. The main thing is that he was well off, sheltered, very skilled in all he undertook, including his training as a warrior (being a member of the warrior/ruling caste, a Kshatriya), but also very spiritually sensitive and searching, as if he were born with a mid-life crisis in full spasm right from the moment of his birth.
This striving/dissatisfaction with the status quo and the general, politically and socially correct explanation for the meaning of life, death, morality, politics, etc. were to drive him towards becoming the future Buddha. More on that later.
Besides being probably quite skilled in defense and warfare, including playing with disturbingly sharp objects (swords, as his father was known to be a master swordsman himself), Siddhartha was quite illiterate….he was, after all, living in a pre-literate age for the most part.
He was also skillful in the love department (Siddhartha, that is) by all accounts; and upon reaching the mature age of 16 was married, by arrangement of his father, to his cousin, Yasodhara, who was also of 16 years of age. She was the daughter of another chief, of Koliya, with her mother being the sister of Siddhartha’s father. She was also the sister of another cousin, Devadatta, who would be known later as the consummate thorn in his side during all his years of teaching….basically earning the reputation as being the Buddha’s equivalent of Judas Iscariot.
The royal couple eventually had a child, a son named Rahula (which translated means ‘the Fetter’), or as I like to call him, “The Ball and Chain”, which betrays a glimpse into that spiritual, psychic and emotional disenchantment the Buddha had with the status quo and accepted realities of the world. Now don’t get me wrong….he loved his family very much, and always did. It was because of this love, that he decided to strive onward, into the primordial wilderness and away from secular distraction, in order to find his answers. Eventually he would obtain these answers, deep within himself, seated beneath a tree, thereby obtaining the state known as Nirvana.
Essentially, the core of his discovery was that reality is not how we perceive/project it to be based on our ignorance/obscurations/habituated patterns, that this is based upon attachment to those patterns, that this situation can be re-habituated, and this is done via Ethics/Meditation/Wisdom.
Thus ends our crib notes version of history. I shall again leave it up to the reader to pursue the Buddha’s history more, if so lead; and doing so is not by any accounts a disappointing quest: His life and teachings are, indeed, very inspirational even for us in our modern day age.
So….Saka Dawa celebrates this Buddha fellow and his birth, teachings and death; where does Enlightenment fit in, and for that matter….what is the fuss about this Enlightenment thing about, anyhow?
I shall….enlighten you. (Yes….I went there…..)
In a nutshell, to be enlightened means to become a being who is one that has freed her or himself from negative Karma, its results, and subsequently coming to a complete understanding of the true nature of all Reality; and all this without any more projections, delusion, or disturbed emotions.
Enlightenment basically means, putting it quite simplistic terms mind you, that you no longer are bound or driven by any aversions or attachments based upon ignorance, anger, greed/jealousy, etc. Disturbing emotions and disturbances are no longer present, and ethics, meditative equipoise (concentration/purity of mind), wisdom…..and all with the motivation of pure bodhichitta (enlightenment mind steeped in pure loving kindness/compassion).
All of us have the innate potential or Buddha Nature within us, like a diamond, but it is covered with delusional muck and mire; enlightenment is when these layers of obscurations have been stripped away, leaving only the diamond behind…pure, luminous, and without limit.
To make a long story short, enlightenment involves the accumulation of Merit, or otherwise known as Potentials of Happiness made actual, without limit. In the meantime, as we are progressing on our path, we ‘accumulate’ merit, these potentialities of positivity, purifying our mindstreams and habituated patterns, leading us to happiness/fulfillment/nirvana. Basically, again being extremely simplistic here, Enlightenment is the full actualization of positive
potentials (merit), which no longer need accumulating or to be collected or striven for...we become, I dare say, Meritorious Beings, par excellence.
Another way to think about Merit is in terms of Karma; we reap the Karmic seeds which we sow, impartially, pure and simple. Positive seeds lead to positive results, and negative seeds lead to negative results. Meritorious actions of body, speech and mind are the seeds which accumulate, to sprout in fertile soil when conditions are ripe for them to do so. We sow the seeds of our own paradise, until no sowing is any longer required….for we ourselves become that paradise.
It is important to understand that this is not just emotive feelings of happiness that we are talking about, here…these potentials. It is not the warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing something proper before, during, or after a positive (or for that matter, a negative or destructive) act. The unique thing about Karma is that it is not linear (A leads to B in chronological order) but more like an atomic reaction, with results spinning off in all kinds of complicated ways. From moment to moment, these results become patterns, and these ripen based upon conditions in seemingly haphazard ways. Some seeds land here, some over there, some on fertile soil, some on rocky ground and eventually get blown onto another plot of soil, etc. It is a continuum, a process, non-linear, without discernable beginning or ending, moment after moment, lifetime after lifetime. It is, indeed, the lubricant which does grease the great wheel of life itself (Samsara).
Think also of Merit in terms of a matrix….a network of these seed-patterns which accumulate over time, like a web. Within each present moment, this entire web or network of potentials (Merit) exists…Karma is them ripening, becoming actual; enlightenment is being consciously aware and fully present to these potentials, and out of loving kindness,
keeping them all positive….allowing only the positive, as much as we are able, to actualize. When only positive potentials persist, and indeed become fully actualized…presto…Nirvana has been achieved.
Now I realize that this is all too simplistic and general to convey great meaning and understanding, but I hope it is enough to at least trigger the thirst within you to study these notions more on your own. In a nutshell, let’s just conclude by saying that Merit/Karma/Enlightenment are muy importante with respect to our life’s work of Enlightenment and spiritual progress.
So, having covered some basic and essential ground, we are back where we started: What were we discussing, again? Oh, yes….the month of Saka Dewa….I dare say, The Month dedicated to the accumulation of Merit.
Thus we reach the end of Part I.
Categories: Dharma Teachings and Events