Menu Close

Buddha, the Wise

“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.” —Robert Green Ingersoll

I once thought that Buddha would be of a mind to forgive the trespasses that he would observe or that would be brought to him by devotees—seeing that he is the soul of compassion. I was thinking of him as compared to the Divine merciful judge Jesus. But there is no real comparison. 

There are two phenomena to be considered here: an unfortunate person and his unworthy act; and the Buddha’s response, which is as a passive, though possibly stricken witness. Also, I judge that the Buddha would have an upwelling of compassion; however no matter how great the compassion, it would have no influence on the karma of the transgressor, for karma is a law redounding only to the actor. 

Then I wondered if the Buddha would ever, unbidden, confront a person and counsel, admonish, apprise, observe and point out a flaw or fault.

I found my answer in Tsongkhapa’s Praise for Dependent Relativity. He tells the story of Prince Ajatashatru, who kills his father to take the throne. Then the father appears in a vision to his son, who became afraid. Ajatashatru “wondered whether to go to Buddha and throw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha was aware of all this and knew that if he told the king how intensely negative that act of patricide was, then the king would be plunged into such a crisis of despair that he might even die from it.”

The story continues with the king, full of torment, passing by where Buddha was teaching and heard the Buddha say that in order to practice Dharma, the first thing one should do is to kill one’s mother and father. “The real meaning of the teaching [which the shocked king finally deduced] was that one should eradicate the two root causes of cyclic existence—ignorance and karma—the ‘father and mother’ from whom all beings in cyclic existence are born.” Thus the Buddha avoided direct confrontation, but instructed the king obliquely. 

It is interesting that Jesus, like Buddha, also utilized a drastic image to teach his idea of the “practice of Dharma”—his idea to end “cyclic existence,” and to begin Life Eternal with Him. Set aside family ties and be liberated, says Jesus.

Matthew 10:35-38 King James Version (KJV): 

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

If the recommendations and teachings of these two high beings sound out of character, never fear. High teachings are couched in high exemplum and shocking extremes. In the Buddha’s case, “The king eventually came to understand that the superficial level of the teaching was merely a device to snare the attention of a mind distraught to the point of madness.”

Two Parts of Buddhist Practice, or as Bernie Glassman would say: “just my opinion, man…”

Path 1. Hearing the teachings  

Path 2. Meditation (sitting if in Zendo with others, or lying down at home if you want, or walking in a park by yourself.)

Meditation is the way to look into self, the way for the teachings to manifest in consciousness and daily life. “Being where I am” is the essence of Zazen as I understand it. I get that the lesson in the practice of meditation is the discipline of sitting still (physically) and recalling awareness over and over to my breath and five senses. This reduces to the mastery of being where I am right then and there during the sitting. If my mind wanders to what I will have for dinner, or “he shouldn’t have spoken to me that way,” all that is called for is to start over again and again and return to breath and senses, return to “being where I am” in the meditation hall. This process of coming back to the sitting, breath and senses over and over, I see as training me to pay attention to that particular time frame and what is in front of me while sitting, namely just sitting with stillness, breath and senses. 

       But here is the payoff—this lesson I take out of meditation (to the best of my ability) and practice being where I am, wherever that may be. This lesson is captured in what is called “the practice of the present moment.”   

       One more thing: I have discovered the power of the still body in meditation time. As least I can keep still physically (move of course as needed)—but just the thrill of that body stillness. 

Stephen Levine said, “The meaning of life is pay attention.” St. Francis de Sales said, “What is the use of building castles in Spain when we have to live in France?”

More ideas… for me to get more clear about my mediation…

Meditation has a way with our mind and memory. There have, indeed, been interruptions of my focus and awareness of breath and 5 senses during meditation. These can be painful, disturbing, demanding, scary, embarrassing, even threatening. Discomfort in the body may also be one of the disturbances as we attempt to maintain stillness. In any case, the recommendation is to acknowledge the distractions, and then let it go and return to the breath and the senses. All of this, in my understanding, is the way for me to go beyond these distractions and memories and come into the present over and over again. Just start over and return to the now.  

Intrusive thoughts and disturbances can slowly evaporate (which is something I have experienced). And these matters, or any questions at all, may be brought to a meeting for clarification with a teacher at the Zendo


“What is enlightenment?” 

Trungpa Rinpoche shot back without hesitation:
“Can you drink a cup of tea without spilling it?” 

(a personal encounter)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *