by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Below is the script for the talk I gave as part of the day-long observance of Vesak Day held at the Buddha Center in virtual world of Second Life on May 29th. Before reading imagine this is the Buddha himself channeling a contemporary self-help guru so he can offer 2600 years of wisdom to his audience.
Greetings and welcome to the Main Temple at the Buddha Center in Second Life . . . my name is Sid . . . I am AWAKENED and I want you to be AWAKENED too!
All right I see some of you looking confused because you think you are awake. Others of you are looking at your neighbors and they don’t appear to be asleep either. Yes, you are awake but are you AWAKENED! Today I offer each of you the opportunity to become aware of the moment-to-moment reality you live in. You can come to see how you are in the world through a completely different lens . . . one that will empower you to make better decisions, be a better human being, and help others flourish!
You can take the first step to alleviate suffering. I am going to show you the way to get on the path to a more fulfilling existence . . . and who or what you are right now doesn’t matter. It is how you are right now and how you want to be that matters.
As I said, my name is Sid . . and like you I am a human being. I was born to a fairly well-to-do family . . . okay I was what some of you would consider a prince. Life seemed good, got an education, had a fine horse, got a wife and a beautiful baby boy, but something was missing. There was an emptiness. I thought I needed some me time so I left my home. Let me tell you now that what I thought was reality wasn’t even close.
I had no idea what was going on outside the walls. There were people starving because no one seemed to care. There were people maimed and ill because no one seemed to care. There were people dead and putrefying right on the street with family and friends wailing and crying. I’ll admit to you that this suffering was all a big shock to me. I felt compassion and wondered if others felt the same way. I was compelled to look deeper into this suffering that human beings endured.
It came to me then that surely the holy Brahmins knew about this and had a plan to alleviate suffering. With that idea in mind I went off to study and practice. I studied with some of the finest teachers around . . . Brahmin Arada Kalama who taught me about atman, the eternal soul . . . the guru Udraka Ramaputra who connected the soul, karma and morality . . . the Vedic scriptures and practice had a lot to offer but nothing about suffering . . . the Jains taught me non-action as a way for the soul to attain bliss . . . non-action and the alleviation of suffering didn’t connect for me . . . finally I choose to live as an ascetic for six years and nearly starved myself to death. One day I decided to cross the stream and so weak I fell and nearly drowned. A young woman, Sujata found me on the stream bank and brought me some rice . . . it was then I realized two things: there are compassionate people out there and starving myself just wasn’t working. I’d experienced being the pampered son of a rich and powerful man, and I had denied myself to the extreme and neither was useful in answering the question of suffering.
So, the Brahmins, the Hindi teachers, the Jains, and the ascetics weren’t able to tell me anything so what was left . . . me . . . I hadn’t tried relying on myself to find the answer. Coming across this beautiful pipa tree I sat down in it’s cooling shade and decided to sit for as long it might take and try being mindful of how I was, how the world was, and how I wanted both to be . . . I call that mindfulness meditation now. It took hours, commitment and effort before I had my AH HA! Moment.
Today I offer you the opportunity to have that same experience.
So, I was sitting under that bodhi tree and became AWAKENED but you’d be right to ask just what was I AWAKENED to? I came to the realization that there are two extremes of living that you’ve got to avoid. One is to ease up on the sensual pleasures. I don’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, or a movie . . . just don’t let the pursuit and indulgence control your existence. Don’t become so attached to the temporary feelings pleasures induce because that could lead to craving them when you don’t have them. Second is don’t deny yourself the basics of life or you won’t have the energy to find the path. Avoiding extremes is the Middle Path.
TO BE A HUMAN BEING IS TO SUFFER. That got your attention didn’t it . . . it sure got mine. I, and all of you are human beings and we will each suffer disillusionment, illness, unsatisfactoriness, and death. In this ennobling truth we are all the same. This a reality that you must be mindful of and accept before any further action can be taken. I once sent a woman out to collect a mustard seed from every home in her village that had not been visited by suffering. The proof of suffering is in the fact that there was no mustard for the hot dogs that day.
WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE GET ATTACHED AND THAT LEADS TO CRAVING. When material possessions, ideas, people and ourselves change we find it hard to accept, to be aware change is inevitable, and to take action to alter how we are. We develop a craving for sensual pleasures, pleasures that don’t last. We pursue things we think we want . . . get them and feel they aren’t enough . . . or they don’t last. It is a cycle of psychoemotional stress you bring on yourself.
SUFFERING CAN BE ALLEVIATED. There has to be an effort to apply rigorous self-honesty and become aware of what causes suffering, a commitment to accept our part in those causes, and the will to take the actions necessary to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others. It is a reality that suffering can be alleviated.
Did you notice the pattern in the first three Ennobling Truths? Walk the path . . . must be realized . . . become aware . . . accept our part . . . take the actions . . . all self-initiated behavior, what I realized is a true self-help philosophy. Only YOU can do it for YOURSELF. The great thing about being human beings is that we are empowered to take the needed steps on the path. You just need to learn the path and then to make some effort to walk it.
The fourth aspect of the Ennobling Truths is the Ennobling Eightfold Path, one of experiencing reality through your own efforts. Ennobling because it is the best way I have discovered to avoid the dangers of craving sensual pleasures and to find the realization that all things are impermanent, there is no permanent self, and that for everything there is a cause and effect. These are realizations necessary for a path to a noble life of service to ones’ self and their community. You’ve got to commit yourself to a practice that will lead to the cessation of stress and unsatisfactoriness . . . and that is the Ennobling Eightfold Path of appropriate view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. A view that does not fear seeing phenomena as they are . . . intention directed toward doing what is useful and productive in all situations . . . speech that promotes harmony . . . action taken that promotes human flourishing . . . livelihood that contributes positively to the Universe . . . effort made to improve your own personal character and the state of the world around you . . . mindfulness that what you do matters . . . concentration on the positive aspects and actions of moment-to-moment experience . . . these are the guides on the Ennobling Eightfold Path.
I understand that the Middle Path is now named Buddhism. Interesting choice . . . and that I am now called The Buddha . . . that seems a little pretentious but whatever works for you works for me. Whatever you call it and however you practice it, religion or philosophy, it doesn’t change the core goal of the alleviation of suffering through the realization of Four Ennobling Truths and the practice of the Ennobling Eightfold Path. It also doesn’t change the fact that I am a human being and I was AWAKENED . . . you are human beings too and you can be AWAKENED.
Normally at this point my friends would circulate with dana bowls. Here in this unique world of Second Life that won’t work. Any contributions made to me or to the Buddha Center are not only appreciated but they are your first step in practicing generosity of spirit and developing compassion that begins with you and then spreads to encompass all phenomena.
We’ve got time for few questions.