When people ask me what my religion is, I stumble and pause for a second. A few short months ago I would not have hesitated. In fact there would be no breath between that question and my answer of Presbyterian. And now I pause. Not because I no longer believe in the religion that I grew up surrounded by, but now I have more questions that being Christian does not answer. I have questions about God and whether or not this ultimate being is omnipotent or malign.
I have questions concerning the plan of God and why and how this universe, this world, is the way that it is. I feel as though my faith has plundered into a spiraling whirl of thoughts and questions that the religion of Presbyterian can’t fulfill. So now when I get that question, I pause over my new found-thoughts. I pause over the questions I can’t answer and don’t even want to anymore. Then I take a deep breath and begin to explain my new spiritualism.
I tell the inquirer that I am not affiliated with any religion any more, I try to explain that I used to be Presbyterian, fully inner and outer, that I used to preach to little children that Jesus loved them, and now I am not so sure. But I quickly state that even though I may no longer be a Presbyterian with all my faith resting in the invisible hands of God, I am a very spiritual person. I see the beauty of the world now, the illusions of the mind, and the spirituality that rests in the folds of everyone.
So even though I am no longer secure in my religion of Presbyterian, I am positive that I have been, and always will be a spiritual person. Maybe one day I will find my religion again and take my children to Sunday school and church camp, and yet, maybe I will be taking them to monasteries and having them meditate on little cushions and teach them to believe in the impermanence of the world. Because if I have learned anything at all this semester, I have learned that my life is impermanent. Whether it is college, or my family, or my friends, I have begun to recognize the utter truth of that statement.
I have begun to comprehend that “everything is impermanent” (Gethin 61) and it only when “we begin to be affected by the reality of this state of affairs we may find the things that previously gave us great pleasure are tainted and no longer please us in the way they once did. The world becomes a place of uncertainty in which we can never be sure what is going to happen next, a place of shifting and unstable conditions whose very nature is such that we can never feel entirely at ease in it (Gethin 61).
At Hartwick, I have witnessed first hand the impermanence of things, relationships and loved ones. I have been through the impermanence of watching friends leave this school for various reasons. I have sat there while friends have come and gone, watched relationships dissipate into nothingness, I have held the hands of those who have eventually slipped through my fingers. And then, last year, my most intense year, I used to crye buckets of tears for the loss of what I thought would have to be permanent. I have tried to hold on to those I had premenitions of leaving me.
Now I just let go because Buddhism has taught me that “Nothing is worth holding on to” (Kornfield 31). The pain does not vanish as I let these people or things go, my tears still want to creep through the corners of my eyes. But I realize that they, relationships and cars, are not worth holding onto. No matter how secure I believe a relationship to be I no longer believe that it is permanent, I see the impermanence of the illusions that my six senses have created. I always have come to recognize that “everyone collaborates in everyone else’s forgetting” (Bachelor 22) that the world is an illusion.
Everyone has aided in creating and living through the words of our language that is not capable of defining the absolute truth of nirvana and the middle path. “Language is created and used by the masses of human beings to express things and ideas experienced by their sense organs or their mind” (Rahula 35) because the absolute truth is beyond our senses. It is “with your six senses that you’re fooled into believing not only that you have six senses, but that you contact an actual outside world with them” (Kerouac 33).
The absolute truth of a ceasing of the constant suffering is so comforting, but it can not be a goal that the six senses strive for. The absolute truth of Nirvana is the ceasing of the cycle of continuity through wisdom which sees the ultimate reality of truth. Nirvana exists as the silver lining to the usually pessimistic connotations that surround Buddhism. Yet the real nature of Nirvana is expressionless. It is not a thing or a place to be described but rather “an event or experience” (Gethin 75).
The Buddha would not “call this nirvana coming or going, nor standing, nor dying, nor being reborn; it is without support, without occurrence, without object. Just this is the end of suffering” (Gethin 77). And I have come to realize that this ease of the being is not unattainable. According to Buddhism, this state of the ‘Extinction of Thirst’ is available to all. Every lecture that I sat at in Anderson Hall made me appreciate that one of the central ideas of Buddhism is that anyone can attain nirvana. It is a possibility for all. There is sudden enlightenment and gradual enlightenment.
There is the greater path of the of the one who waits around because he/she wants to lead all sentient beings to nirvana and those who desire to become enlightened in this lifetime. But no matter what path is chosen, “within this fathom-long sentient body itself, I postulate the world, the arising of the world, the cessation of the world” (Rahula 42). The most difficult concept to grasp in throughout this semester was the other central idea to Buddhism. The concept of no-self and my utter emptiness. In the beginning I was frustrated, and complained about how it did not make any sense.
I wondered how I could be here, I could see, feel, think of my body and yet I had no-self. It was absurd to me, until our class studied emptiness. I got it. “I am emptiness, I am not different from emptiness, nor is emptiness different from me; indeed emptiness is me. There’d be a puddle of water with a star shining in it; I’d spit in the puddle and the star would be obliterated, I’d say that star is real? ” (Kerouac 138). I actually was able to understand the basic foundation of Buddhism. I had no self, no self separate from the other selves.
The three dimensional box was like a sort of savior to me. By being able to reverse the image of the box pointing out and the box pointing up, my jaw dropped and I went “oh. ” It was all coming together. My senses have led me into a false belief that I am an individual. My whole life I was taught to believe in Me, that I was special and unique. Now I understand that it is a crock of *censored*. I am not different from, nor am I not separate from the swirling cosmos that rest in between my fingerprints. I am the Buddha. (or at least I know that I can be). The lecture on Thursday was slow.
As Rinpoche rattled off in Tibetan, I waited with all of the patience that I could muster up before I was able to understand the translator. I listened as I heard about the Tibetan religion and the second school of Buddhism. I realized at the beginning of the lecture that I had gone to the monastery at Woodstock. In fact I even helped to build the shrine for Karmpay’s arrival at his headquarters in North America. I had spoken and served dinner to this monk. And as he spoke on the on the removal of the mental afflictions I began to ponder the immeasurable qualities that it takes to attain nirvana and permanent freedom.
I enjoyed his metaphor of the Buddha to the sun, and how the sun makes no judgements on who it will shine upon. He spoke on the Buddha as a refuge and I recalled the story of the raft and how when I or if I ever get to the other side of the river I must leave the raft of the his teachings on the bank. And in this lifetime I have discovered Buddhism, I have reveled in it’s comfort of not having to answer the infinite questions and realized that lifetime upon lifetime I depend on this same world and that I, along with everyone else does in fact innately possess the qualities of the Buddha.