Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Buddha's Smile

My favorite Buddha statues are those that depict Shakyamuni with a faint smile. No blank- or serious-faced effigy for me, I really appreciate the wry smile playing across my statues' faces, enticing us to awaken to the reality of Buddhahood. If you ask me, Buddhist practice tends to be way too serious anyway.

What is he smiling about? I often wonder as a admire his countenance. That sly grin suggests that he knows something we don't; or rather, something we do know but have somehow forgotten or lost sight of.

So what is this thing we have forgotten? Our true face as Buddhas.

This reflects the Mahayana teaching of Original Enlightenment, which states that all beings are already enlightened. They need not go anywhere or do anything, besides of course realizing this quintessential paradox of the human condition. Nescience, ignorance, or delusion, is not our original nature; they are adventitious, and thus need not cause us any worry or distress.

No teaching has influenced my life or practice as singularly as the principle of Buddha Nature. Far from some abstract idea, I see Buddha Nature as absolutely relevant and accessible at this very moment.

Who and what were essentially are is Buddha.

Zen Master Seung Sahn's envisioned Buddhist practice as a circle, where the beginning and end point overlap. We end where we began, changed, transformed, and yet fundamentally the same. For all we have done is awakened to our universal nature that was present from the very beginning!

For me, there is no more important teaching than this. It's the Buddhist Gospel, the Good Word of Enlightenment.

That's what the Buddha's smile says to me. Come on, guys. What's all the fuss? Why are you fooling yourselves into believing you are deluded? Just wake up and recognize the game you're playing. We both know what you're doing.

When we think of it this way, as a kind of cosmic game of hide and seek with ourselves (what is called lila in Hinduism), then we can't help but let out a full-bellied bellow of laughter.

Come to think of it, that would make a good koan: Why is the Buddha on the altar smiling?

The above photo is of the Buddha on my home altar.