Tradition has it that once the Buddha went to stay in Sakyan country, which happened to be the country of his birth. The Buddha had turned his back on his home and his life of wealth and power–he was to be the lord or warrior prince of the Sakyans–to live the life of inner and outer homelessness. No outer trappings of success. No inner attachments and identifications. He was not actually dropping out but tuning in to his life–doing away with all distractions so that he could pay close attention to life, to every breath, until he woke up to the nature of reality and the cause of our suffering. To a Sakyan named Dandapani, however, the Buddha looked like a kind of hippie bum. This Sakyan came upon the Buddha while he was out walking for exercise in the Great Wood. The Buddhas was sitting at the root of a sapling, having finished his daily begging and meal. After a little amiable small talk, Dandapani leaned on his walking stick, a very slouchy, disrespectful posture, and let the Buddha know what he really thought of the way he turned his back on his own people: “What does the recluse assert, what does he proclaim?” In other words, what are you all about anyway? What is this whole act about?
“Friend,” answered the Buddha (kind of like saying “Dude,” treating his questioner a bit like he himself was treated) “I assert and proclaim [my teaching] in such a way that one does not quarrel with anyone in the world…; in such a way that perceptions no more underlie the brahmin who abides detached…without perplexity, shorn of worry, free from craving for any kind of being.”
What the hell kind of strange, obscure kind of thing is this to say (or write in a blog)? Indeed, after hearing it, Dandapani “shook his head, wagged his tongue, and raised his eyebrows until his forehead was puckered in three lines. Then he departed, leaning on his stick.” You get the picture.
Later, the Buddha explained to his monks that what he was talking about was the way perceptions and notions come to limit and control a person. Thoughts proliferate. The moment we receive an impression, a feeling about it appears. It is pleasant or unpleasant; we like it or dislike it. This colors our perception, and then we think about what we perceive. And the thoughts proliferate, coloring and limiting our future perceptions–even our past perceptions. The Buddha saw that we are almost always lost in thought. We wake up for a nano second, only to have a thought like “Hey, I’m awake”…and away we go again.
How do we wake up? How can we break through this fog of thought and perception so that we can be touched by the Higher. According to the Buddha, the trick is to stop delighting in, welcoming in, and holding on to our thoughts. Make that those that flow from the underlying tendency to crave things or want to push away other things, from an underlying tendency to be ignorant or aggressive, to want to be this or that. Those thoughts that flow from an incessant preoccupation with “I, Me, Mine.”
You know what else might underlie us, support us? Another kind of question or wish or prayer…to be open to something higher or finer or greater than ourselves. Also there could be a kind of will that is not a kind of pushing but a willingness to try to see what really is and to be seen. It takes courage. But otherwise, a person could end up like that Sakyan, walking away, wagging our tongues, chuckling to ourselves, impervious to the fact that the Awakened One was right there, offering the way out.