Awakening to the Sacred
I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:
When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas,
I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata’s never-failing essence.
Each particle of matter, each moment,
is no other than the Tathagata’s inexpressible radiance.
With this realization, our virtuous ancestors gave tender care
to beasts and birds with compassionate minds and hearts.
Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life:
food, drink, and clothing! Though they are inanimate things,
they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.
All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people,
particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language.
That very abuse conveys the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness.
It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions
we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginningless past.
With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves,
and the most profound and pure faith arises.
At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens, and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha.
Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty.
We see fully the Tathagata’s radiant light right where we are.
May we retain this mind and extend it throughout the world
so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha’s wisdom.
4 steps and right turn, say: Right thought
4 steps and right turn, say: Right action
4 steps and right turn, say: Right effort
4 steps and right turn, say: Right speech
4 steps and right turn, say: Right livelihood
4 steps and right turn, say: Right attention
4 steps and right turn, say: Right concentration
4 steps and right turn, say: Right understanding
I am going to read a list of words to you. As I do, consider the thoughts that come to you as you hear them; the feelings they bring, the pictures that appear in your mind.
Sacred → Holy → Blessed → Consecrated → Hallowed → Revered → Sanctified → Set apart → Honored → Valued → Respected → Venerated → Adored → Highly thought of → Acclaimed → Celebrated → Highly-praised → Distinguished → Great → Notable → Important → Significant → Momentous → Noteworthy → Earth-shattering → Vital → Meaningful → Consequential → Having an important effect
What is “sacred”? What do we adore, consider important, has significance for us? How do we separate our labels from that which is truly important, that which we should celebrate as holy? Many people live their lives thoughtlessly, going from one thing to the next with no real awareness of themselves, let alone that which is sacred and needs to be honored. Even those who follow an avowed spiritual path can find themselves wondering, “Is this all there is? Is there nothing more than this? Is this really a sacred path—and just what do I expect to gain from it?”
I point my finger at no one more than myself and I ask you the very same questions I am struggling to answer for my own spiritual life. I believe that this question, “What is sacred?” is the very heart of any concept of spirituality. Regardless of the path that you walk on, there has to be something set apart, something revered and respected, in order to create that path. We need to wake up to see the path and identify the sacred.
This journey to Awakening begins in earnest with the first tentative stirrings of right view — the discernment by which we recognize the validity of our spiritual Truths and the principles of our path. As a Zen Buddhist, I believe that my future well-being is neither predestined by fate nor left to the whims of a divine being or random chance. The responsibility for my happiness rests squarely on my own shoulders. For me, this means that my spiritual aim is to relinquish the habitual unskillful tendencies of the mind in favor of skillful ones. As this right resolve grows stronger, so too, does the heartfelt desire to live a morally upright life, to choose my actions with care.
Part of a morally upright life is the understanding of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: that Life is suffering, that suffering is caused by selfish craving, which can be overcome if you follow the Eight-Fold Path. The Eight-Fold Path is a practical method to attain enlightenment and the end of human suffering. What is the Eightfold Path? It is the meditation we just walked and is best understood as a collection of personal qualities to be developed, rather than as a sequence of steps along a linear path. These personal qualities can be developed within the context of ANY spiritual path as they are not a religion of themselves but a guide to recognizing the sacred wherever it may be for you. I offer them as a tool, nothing more. You don’t have to become Buddhist to use them!
So how does the Eight-Fold Path work? By striving to bring balance and thoughtfulness into every aspect of your life, to make it a habitual manner of thinking, acting and feeling. In other words, to awaken your soul to the sacred. The development of right view and right resolve (wisdom and discernment) facilitates the development of right speech, action, and livelihood (virtue). As virtue develops so do the factors identified with concentration (right effort and mindfulness). Likewise, as concentration matures, discernment evolves to a still deeper level. And so the process unfolds: development of one factor fosters development of the next, lifting the practitioner in an upward spiral of spiritual maturity that eventually culminates in Awakening.
But how do we start out? It begins with the desire to know, to realize that there are things to learn and to be the Consciousness that says, “I shall know the unknown, the Unborn, the Uncreated, ALL of what is to be known, THE True Permanent State of Reality.” By reading, hearing the words of wisdom from wherever it may come, by meditating and working with others who are also seeking, you gain knowledge to become the Consciousness of Knowing. And once you know, then you are the Consciousness of One who HAS the knowing.
This desire to learn comes with five specific powers to help you achieve the knowledge: the Power of Faith, the Power of Energy, the Power of Mindfulness, the Power of Concentration, and the Power of Insight. Each of these powers builds on the others to move you towards being that Consciousness who HAS the knowing. The Power of Faith is the very first step; you don’t have the knowledge, but you have the faith that it exists and that you can learn. You feel that there is something more to life than what we see; that there is more than just our mundane existence. With the Power of Energy, you begin to explore outside of yourself and your world—this is the time of effort and actual physical activity to go find the books or seek out a teacher.
As you gather the words from all these sources, you use the Power of Mindfulness to discern what is Truth and what is sacred—or not. Mindfulness lets you consider an entire thought and the feelings it may generate, to consider them as a whole and yet separate from other thoughts. Mindfulness is an awareness of the bias and preconceived notions we each carry and the declination to apply them to all that we think. It’s a dispassionate view of things we usually think of quite passionately.
As we apply Mindfulness to our thinking, it will generate the Power of Concentration, which lets us focus on the things that are important. And once we do that, we have the Power of Insight as the things we are focusing on open us to the awareness of the sacred—which is why we began this process in the first place!
These Powers are an inherent part in what the Buddhists refer to as “The Seven Links of Enlightenment”. In order to find Enlightenment, one should begin with MINDFULNESS, contemplating body and feelings, mind and mental states, thought and ideas, ardent, clearly conscious of them and mindful of them so as to control the covetousness and dejection common in the world; followed by INVESTIGATION of the Dharma, learning and remembering the doctrine that leads to True Reality, the Uncreated; followed by ENERGY of effort; followed by ZEST; then TRANQUILITY; then CONCENTRATION; and finally EQUANIMITY.
But of course we are only human. If becoming enlightened were easy, we’d all be Buddhas—and we all hold the potential to be Buddha, if only we can reach our Awakening. What holds us back? Ourselves, mostly. How do we do this? By being tied down, held back, restrained by our own minds, our own ways of thinking.
Still using the Buddhist terms, we refer to these harmful ways of thinking as the Ten Fetters. These are the things that “bind” Beings to perpetuating themselves in artificial, manufactured, fictitious realities. I would suggest that every spiritual path has some form of these, even if they use different words for the concepts. So let’s talk about what keeps us from awakening to the sacred:
1. Notions of a permanent individual personality, soul or self
2. Attachment to wrong views, rites, rituals, dogma, superstitions
3. Doubt and confusion
4. Liking, attachment, passions, sense desires, lust, greed
5. Disliking, aversion, hatred, malice, ill will, spite
6. Lust and craving for perpetuating forms and hereafter’s of Fine Materiality
7. Lust and craving for perpetuating formlessness and hereafter’s of Immateriality
8. Wrong views of conceit plus pride and arrogance, declaring “I am the doer”
9. Excitement for constructions and perpetuating artificial realities, Self-Delusion and Self-Illusion
10. Addiction to Self-Deception and a complete state of Self-Ignorance, necessary for the ILLUSION of artificial realities and individuality to seem real, necessary for not seeing the impermanence and ill for what it is, and the pain and peril associated with these addictive, ill-conceived, conditioned, fleeting states of fabricated fictitious existence.
So if we can let go of these things, if we walk the Eight-Fold Path, what will we find? What will we awaken to?
I believe that the sacredness for which I have sought is all around me. I could not see it before because I belonged to a religion that did not offer anything sacred within my reach or view. It held only a promise of eventually joining with the sacred after my death, as long as I followed the rules of the religion. But if I couldn’t see it now, how would I recognize it then?
So I have sought the sacred. I have redefined the concepts of holiness and that which is important, has significance and is often momentous—meaning of the moment, lasting only a moment of time. What do I find sacred? Every living being. And I do mean EVERY. Trees, people, animals, rocks, the Earth…even bugs. Do you know what is more amazing and holy than a sunset? How about the fact that it occurs every night, in splendor and gloriously earth-shattering colors—whether anyone sees it or not? And I find that the more things I identify as “sacred” or noteworthy, the more I see. And the more I honor that sacredness where I find it, the more I recognize of being important enough to honor.
My thoughts and actions become imbued with this cycle and I can more easily walk the Eight-Fold Path because it is a normal, natural, honorable response to the Divinity within my reach and in my view. As I have commented before, I do the right thing not because it is right, but because it is the only response when all is sacred. To do wrong denies the Divinity within me and others. Please don’t think that this means that I am perfect and do no wrong…I am human. I am a sacred human, but so is everyone else.
I would only offer you this thought: that the Eight-Fold Path is a lifelong journey, always taking us another step towards our Awakening to the Truth and the recognition of all that is Holy → Blessed → Consecrated → Hallowed → Revered → Sanctified → Set apart → Honored → Valued → Having an important effect → Respected → Venerated → Adored → Highly thought of → Acclaimed → Celebrated → Highly-praised → Distinguished → Great → Notable → Important → Significant → Momentous → Noteworthy → Earth-shattering → Vital → Meaningful → Consequential → Sacred.