You let yourself strike twice.
You give away your last shirt.
You look after the lost.
Your crown is not of gold.
Your throne is the street.
Your hands and your heart are broken.
How can we then live differently than sheep among wolves?
Most parents I know prefer to protect their children in front of the hardnesses of life. The little princess, the little prince shall not come in touch with poverty, suffering, illness, aging and death.
This utopian dream was also dreamed by the father of Siddhartha Gautama in India about 2500 years ago. As the legend tells us it was seemingly possible for him as rich ruler to shield as long as possible from the world outside and to give him the impression: Life is some sort of land of milk and honey in which exists neither poverty, illness, aging nor death. But you don’t do your children a favor, if you keep them away from the hardnesses of life and lay a paradise at their feet. A life which doesn’t know suffering remains superficial. Above all we don’t have it in our hands. The broken appendix or the broken skull through a bike accident come out of the blue.
And so it happens to Siddhartha, who is in the age of 28 confronted with illness, aging and death when he visited the city. The encounter with the suffering in this world must have shaken him deeply, for he leaves his parents, wife and child, and starts out to search for the meaning of life.
He joints different religious groups, fasts and lives in poverty. He leads a life, which is total contrary to the life he lived in the palace. But both lifestyles don’t bring him to the target of his wishes: Finding fulfillment or the meaning of life. Understandable. The by his father imposed never-never-land as well as the life of the Brahmin and ascetics remain foreign to him. A human have to find his own way. That sounds modern. But this is only a timeless truth.
Siddhartha finds for himself the “middle way” far away or better said: right through the extremes luxury and asceticism. In meditation he comes to enlightenment: The essence of life is suffering. You wrong the Buddhism, if you therefore call it as a negative religion.
Life is suffering. Causes of suffering are greed, hate and dazzlement. When the causes extinguish also the suffering extinguishes. The Noble Eightfold Path leads to the extinction of suffering.
The doctrine of the Noble Eightfold Path shall lead the human to liberation (nirvana). The Noble Eightfold Path consists of: Right view, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, consciousness.
Well, my long-term occupation with Buddhism exceeds the short quoted articles in wikipedia. Therefore I summarize Buddhism with my own words. According to Buddhas opinion suffering arises by a wrong self-image of the human. Because he / she understands himself / herself as an independent human. If he holds on to this wrong ego-understanding of himself he has to suffer. If he selfishly defines himself to be his body, name, reputation and possession, he / she has to suffer, when he / she is threatened by poverty, aging, illness, death or by other people. Finally in Buddhas opinion is the I, an independent self or an individual soul of the human an illusion. What becomes reborn after death is not identity but energy.
If he / she in contrast lets loose him / herself because he has discovered his true essence beyond name and form, he doesn’t have to suffer any longer. I indeed understand the logic if I’m not attached to my television any more, it doesn’t mean anything to me any more or every other possession, it’s easy to give it away without suffering – to name a simple example. Or when I’m in distance to my self – who am I already? – being free and detached, when another one in insulting me and drugs my reputation in the mud. But toothache are toothache. Dot.
There I can let loose myself and being loose from myself and without ego, they are hurting. I may look through their transientness but when I have pains here and now, I’m suffering. And that is only a small example.
What about everything else? What about hunger, suppression and tortures of the weakest? What about boat people just drowning? What about the maltreated and sexual abused? Can I such easily say them – sorry Buddhists – let go your suffering, you are not only your body but the whole universe?
But my maybe exaggerated statement and by Buddhist possibly judged as being polemic hits the spot: To say it like Buddha: Life is suffering. Yes. But life is suffering and is not so easy to overcome by letting go. Buddha may not only believed but experienced this, but my reality looks differently.
Someone else speaks of suffering and letting go 500 years after Buddha. He has been growing up in the Jewish tradition: Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will save it. For what does it profit a [hu]man if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own self?”
Jesus, who different than Buddha knows God and who examplifies us a human God, knows that we as humans are not alone on our ways. Finding your self means to him to forget your self. That could also Buddha say, but for Jesus means forgetting yourself to find God like he.
God, whose being is beyond a fixed concept of God, who is nameless, who is “I am who I am”. God, who is above-personal incomprehensible for us humans, but who also has become attackable and vulnerable human and who has taken shape in Jesus. God, who became a “You” for us. Because God became in Christ to a You, I can freed from myself more than ever be myself.
God doesn’t remove the suffering out of the world. But we experience by the suffering of Christ, that God isn’t apathetic or insensitive as an absolute being but quite the contrary: God shares the suffering of his humans in our crucified brother, Christ.
Let me be honest. Maybe I’m not the right one to tell you something about meditation. But indeed I’ve been dealing with meditation over 20 years. But more in a theoretical way. I have read a lot of books about meditation and especially about Zen-Buddhism. I admit that this is paradox, but I assume a lot of you guys out there “meditate” in the same way. Let me tell you now why I have had problems with meditation and let me show you a way to meditate practically.
At first I had physical problems with meditation. I learned Zazen, that is the name of the sitting meditation on a Zafu in Marburg in a meditation group (according to Deshimaru). A Zafu is a cushion stuffed with Kapok or filled with other eligible materials like buckwheat-shells. You sit on the Zafu with crossed legs, your knees shall touch the floor, that you have a stable position. By the way the so called “best position” to meditate is the full lotus seat.
But my physical problem already began in the easier first mentioned position. I’m all of 189 cm (6ft 2in) and my muscular legs aren’t very flexible. O.K., some say that pain is the “salt in the soup of Zen-meditation” but my pains have never felt very healthy. On the other hand my legs felt regularly asleep at the latest after 10 minutes of the 20 minutes of the meditation. At that point I wasn’t very relaxed or without thoughts and present, but I was full of sorrows how I could stand up to take part in the walking meditation (Kinhin), which all participants always did together. So I tried to tense or to move my legs a little bit to wake them up. I was very sad at that time that meditation seemingly wasn’t the suitable spiritual practice for me.
Secondly I had spiritual problems with meditation. As a Christian I wasn’t comfortable to fall on my knees in front of a Buddha statue, to recite sutras or to make vows to Buddha, or to say the so called 3 refuges : “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” how it has been practiced in other meditation groups I attended. The only “refuges” I could take as a Christian were: “I go to Christ for refuge. I go to the Christian doctrine for refuge. I go to the Christian community for refuge.” – if at all. When I spoke these Buddhist refuges in the chorus with the others I always only did it with my lips and not with my heart. I always had the song “You are my hiding place” (that means “God”) (cf. Psalm 18:3) in my mind. Hiding place is the same as “you are my refuge”. So what to do not to become a hypocrite?
I wanted to keep the advantages of meditation at all costs without betraying my Christian faith and without cheating the Buddhist community. The advantages I experienced through meditation are the following:
You cultivate an inner silence. By sitting you learn to penetrate the mix-up of your thoughts. And often thoughts consist of worries, sorrows and bad memories. They hamper you to become or to stay present in your current daily life. They are like a second layer over reality. They are often like shades who darken your view and constantly comment everything what or who you see with arising past emotions, fears or prejudices. Meditating means to step back and to look through this process.
In my opinion the target in meditation is not to avoid thinking, but to be able to become free of our thoughts to live a holistic life in the presence. How often are we involved in a serial of thoughts and emotions, which determine our actions in the current moment and our reactions to other people and to totally new situations in the now, which we try to handle automatically according to old pattern which may not fit in this current situation. (To be continued…)