April 16, 2014

We're All Buddhists

Dark, mad clouds had met over Geraneia Mountain as if there was no other mountain to solve their disputes. Perhaps they wanted to show off for the goddess, Hera, or maybe choose her as a referee.

The storm was spectacular, offering fantastic light and sound effects, abrupt and sudden just like the unwarned strokes of life that take you by surprise at first, then let you get use to them until it's as if you knew them from old times and then found them once again in one of Mother nature's wild beauties. They remind you of how small and weak you are, and how such huge and aggressive manifestations are a debtor of creation, of birth, and of death.

I was in rapture from the wonderful show, but, in the midst of it, a sudden thought popped into my mind: there was a hermit that lived in a cave somewhere on top of that mountain. I suddenly worried about him and the only thing I wanted to do was to go and find him, to see if he was OK. I am remembering the hermit only now! Knowing for years he had been living up there alone, yet only now having any concern for him! I rushed to my old car, Mitsos, to give him the news.

"Tomorrow we go to Geraneia Mountain Mitsos!"

The next morning my anxiety had increased, but the sun was showing its smile through the window, promising a good journey to the mountain. "You said we'd go to 'Geraneia' didn't you?" Mitsos asked hesitantly.

"Yes Mitsos. Why? Any problems? "

After some thought he said, "Many curves, many ups and downs, slippery mud…"

He was complaining and I had to agree with him. "Yea, you're right, you're not a 4x4 . . . but, it's okay, we'll go as far as we can together and then I'll continue climbing on foot."

After a while he said, "I'd like to know that hermit too, I wander if he's okay up there alone?"

I promised I would let him know everything when I got back from my visit to the old man.

After some dangerous slippery curves we finally reached Mitsos' endpoint. Growling and gasping but doing his best, Mitsos stopped, a bit shy. " I'm sorry . . .can't go any farther."

"Mitsos, you're a hero! No one ever reached as far and as high as you did!" I said, trying to make my old pal feel better.

I took the bag with some food for the hermit and went on my way into the woods. "Take care of yourself." Mitsos said parentally.

After an hour and a few turns I found myself on a level area in front of a cave. I was in awe. It was a peacefully, inviting, place. I went to the entry and called for the hermit but it seemed I was alone. I started worrying again as I looked around for him. After a short time he appeared from nowhere, proud, good-natured, his white beard flapping. "Welcome!" He said expectantly. "I went to get some leaves to make us a drink. I knew you would come. Let's go inside and have some tea, you look exhausted."

We went inside the cave and he took me to a trunk to sit. I had a look inside the strange cave; in the background was a nook with an old Murphy bed. The old man prepared the mountain tea and the aroma filled the cave with a strange stillness. He offered me a clay cup and sat in front of me on a straw mat crossing his legs. I felt bad sitting higher than he, so I sat on the ground trying to cross my legs too. He smiled and said that I would get stiff because I was too old to get comfortable with the Lotus position so quickly.

"Have you used this sitting posture for a long time?" I asked.

"For a very long time," he said, "since I was in Korea . . ." he trailed off.

"Yes, of course." I answered hesitantly, "But what has Korea to do with the Lotus position?"

The old man replied, "I'll try to explain. In 1952, when the war started in Korea, Greece sent a regiment just like other NATO nations. I was serving at the time. I didn't understand the 'how' and 'why' of the war. "I was wounded badly one night in the jungle and the next thing I remember I was in a dark cave with a Buddhist monk by my side. I think of him to this day as my savior."

I was surprised with the story and didn't even notice that my leg had become numb from sitting on it. I asked him to tell me more and after a short pause he did.

"I stayed almost three years with the monk and after many adventures finally returned home. Since then, everything changed for me. When I say 'changed', I mean my esoteric world changed. I saw things in a different way. I couldn't fit into society anymore, and didn't want to. One had to be ambitious, an informer -- there was so much hatred. The rule was: 'life is death.' So I found this place here. The tranquility and freedom of it invited me to practice what my beloved old teacher had taught me."

There was temporary silence in the cave. The tea was now cold. He put some wood on the fire and we stared at the flames. Then he said. "As Greeks, we carry in our DNA wisdom of our ancestors. Aristotle, Platoon, Socrates and in particular Diogenes elevated mankind, giving value to his potential just like Buddha did."

Hearing the Buddha's name I was intrigued and asked him to tell me more about Buddha and Buddhism.

"There were many Buddhas in the infinite past. Buddha means 'Enlightened One'. Siddhartha Gautama lived in the sixth century BC in Northern India. He was a Prince, but he abandoned his life of luxury to try to find an answer to the questions of human suffering. He adopted a life of poverty in an effort to find the answer, and after years of many types of rigorous and austere practices, he decided that those severe methods offered no real answers. So he decided to follow his own way until, one day, sitting under a tree, he attained complete enlightenment. He proclaimed from that time on that the essence of every person was Buddha Nature, and that there was no superior being that judges his fate. We are all Buddhas … we are all Enlightened, we just haven't all realized it yet.

"The Buddha taught a mystical, transcendental, path that leads a follower to enlightenment … he never proclaimed that he was inspired by God, or that he was an incarnation of God. He taught that each of us has God within, so it's within that we need to look. Buddha was only a human and only a human has the power to realize Buddhahood. But it requires faith, determination, and fearlessness.

"Ultimate Truth is beyond words." he continued, "Dogmas are words and not the Path. The Path is without words. Words are illusion. If you don't cling to what you see and hear you'll have broken all bonds and obstacles - you'll realize your enlightened nature.

"As to the Lotus asana," continued the old man "with that position I use to practice my religious meditation."

I asked, "What is your religious mediation?

"I examine and watch my thoughts so they don't jump here and there like a monkey. It is also most important to have right thoughts, thoughts of love, non-violence for all beings. Thoughts, with egoistic desires, violence, greed, jealousy and hatred, are all the result of a lack of wisdom -- ignorance."

"Of course, when we talk about meditation we don't mean prayers. A Buddhist will practice meditation with no thinking in order to in a receptive mode to Hear and to See. We rest our mind in one-pointedness, emptying our brain of random thoughts. We join our hands together, close our eyes and do not engage with anyone but our Selves.

"The temple is inside; ritual is in thought, and action; and joy and tranquility is in meditation." He smiled gently and continued: "In Buddhism we begin with the Self and move toward the divine. Not all religions teach this way."

"Tell me more about Buddhism." I insisted.

"Buddhism is more than a religion, and it's more than a way of living. We have ethical rules in the precepts which are part of the Buddha's Eightfold Path. But Buddhism goes beyond morality - morality is necessary to grow in the Dharma, but Chan, Buddhism's mystical school, transcends all things mundane, including morality. But to get to that level of transcendence it is essential to live a moral life … to follow a path of goodness, and "rightness".

Like a sponge I absorbed every word he told me. Then I asked, "Who is the Buddhist God?"

He smiled and said "Buddhism doesn't have any particular personality, face, or name to express God, at least not in the same sense that other religions do. The Buddhist conception of God is not one of a wrathful being laying judgment on us, or, in fact, of any sort of Being at all. God is Unity, and unity is all encompassing. There is no 'me' or 'you,' no 'him' or 'them,' no 'us' or 'it' … not in the Real World anyway. Everything is just an aspect of an infinite field of energy that extends everywhere. We think we're separate, but it's only our limited senses that make it seem so. We can't know God - Oneness - through our senses. We have to transcend our thoughts, and our sensory awareness for that. That's why we meditate."

"Mankind's problems living together must be solved my mankind, through inspiration for what is right and just - but mostly, by what is beautiful. There is no god who can do it for him. God provides the inspiration for greatness - great social deeds, great art and music, great parenting of our children, great literary works …"

"That's perfect!" I said with enthusiasm. "That must be it, man must solve his problems by himself through wisdom and not by passing the job off onto another!"

"The ancients taught, 'Gnothi S'eauton' - know yourself. Socrates supported the idea because, to get to know yourself, you must be sincere with yourself, and to do that you have to penetrate yourself deeply. That's why ancient Greek initiations, like "Eleusis's mysteries" were performed deep in the earth in a secluded area - they were in galleries, caves . . . in solitude and darkness for many days, far from the surface. Once alone with yourself, you could see the demons harboring inside and you could recognize them. Then you could leave them behind in the cave when you left and be rid of them forever.

"Plato said that we miss the essence of good and lose it with the meaning of beauty. He also said that only a wise soul, a soul who 'knows', has the knowledge of good. Wisdom is neither good nor bad, it just verifies; it asserts. To Plato there was no evil, only wrong action."

"So we are all Buddhists but we don't know it." I thinking, thinking about this some more.

"Of course." said the old man. "We are all Buddhists but not all of us know it."

A long pause followed before I said anything. "Thank you old man, You've clarified many things for me. At last my thinking is starting to get on the right track. For years I tried hard to get a hold of something I couldn't grasp or identify. Now you've come into my life and shown me the Real Target. What I had thought was the target I was seeking wasn't it at all!"

"The goal is One." said the old man. "To find Truth. Truth is beyond matter, beyond suffering, beyond life and death. To find Truth requires treading a path. There are many paths, each one a different religion, but the path is not the goal. Instead of loosing time glorifying the path, take the decision to walk right away upon it!"

We sat in silence for a while. Finally, it was beginning to get dark so I thanked the old wise man and told him I would visit again some day. He wished me well as I set off down the mountain … I hadn't felt so happy for a long time.

When I got back to Mitsos it was already dark and he demanded: "Why are you so late? You know I worry!"

"Mitsoooos! We are all Buddhists but we don't know it!" I said loudly with all the power of my soul and the echo just multiplied my happiness.

"Oh! Poor thing, the height has gone to his head." Mitsos said, laughing.

"The height cleared my mind and I now see more clearly my friend. We found at last a Teacher!" I added with enthusiasm.

"What Teacher?" asked Mitsos.

"Teacher of the 'Way for the great Target!' How many times did we found ourselves in dead-end impasse with our wanderings about esoteric matters, god, religion, faith, existence, who we are and what we are and where we go, and …"

"and ….?" Mitsos interrupted with interest.

"Man is master of himself, there is no other superior existence that judges or decides his fate. It is all One. The Target is us!"

Mitsos wanted more clarification and said once more: " . . .and?"

"Love all sentient beings and don't kill them."

Mitsos agreed and said once more "…and?"

"There is, Mitsos, Being and that's enough. It's everything. And most of all Mitsos, WE ARE ALL BUDDHISTS even if we don't know it!"

"How do you figure?"

"Because, dear Mitsos, because we're alive."

And with those last words we joyously descended the mountain.

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