The real Buddha is not limited to the body or mind of a particular person who has lived a long time ago. It is present today, says Jack Kornfield, in teachers who show the way to timeless freedom.
The teachings of the Buddha are called the lion’s roar, words of fearlessness and steadfast freedom. On the night of his enlightenment, the Buddha awakened to the vast and timeless peace of nirvana. He proclaimed that the cords of attachment and sorrow had been broken, the clouds of confusion and fear dispelled, the powers of aggression and doubt overcome. He was silently and happily free.
For forty-five years afterwards he wandered the dusty roads of India proclaiming this freedom and teaching the way of wisdom and compassion to all who had ears to hear. These teachings were ultimately written in the form of sutras, careful recordings of the teachings of Buddha. These traditional texts include his instructions, his dialogues with the students and the accounts of his words pointing the way to liberation. The earliest sutras date back to over 2,500 years ago, while others are teachings from the mind of Buddha written by enlightened disciples over the following centuries.
The words of the Buddha have great power. Ancient stories say that many people became awake just by hearing him speak. Ananda, the Buddha’s assistant, described these teaching scenes to us, describing how monks and nuns were seated in the cool wood of Tapoda or in the mango tree of Jivaka, or how a thousand devotees were gathered at the Peak of the Vulture. By listening to the Buddha, their hearts were freed from entanglement in the changing conditions of the world. Their understanding shifted from a limited sense of self, caught in the illusion of separation and attachment, to the peace of nirvana, open and free. They tasted the joyful freedom experienced when attachment, hatred and ignorance fell. Whenever he taught, the Buddha showed the way to this timeless freedom.
Dharma means both the truth and the way to find out the truth. Dharma is kept alive by all who follow the path.
Likewise, the freedom taught by the Buddha is brought to life by the awakening masters of modern times. When Zen master Suzuki Roshi first gave teachings on the minds of beginners, the hearts of many students who listened to him opened up to a freedom beyond the past and the future. When the Dalai Lama took the seat of teaching surrounded by thousands of followers in Madison Square Garden in New York City, he led the way to the same liberation and compassion as the Buddha. When Sharon Salzberg and Pema Chödrön address crowds of students about the benevolence and compassion, the human suffering and grief of all who listen, their conflicts and their judgment, are all contained within a vast space of freedom that is our true nature.
What makes these modern teachings authentic is the understanding that the true Buddha is not limited to the body or mind of one particular man who lived a long time ago. The Buddha himself explained this. In the ancient sutras there is the story of a devoted young monk who was so delighted that he spent weeks sitting at the feet of the Buddha, simply gazing at him with reverence as he taught. Finally, the Buddha rebuked him saying, “You don’t even see me. To see the Buddha, you have to see the dharma, the truth. Whoever sees dharma sees me.
Dharma means both the truth and the way to find out the truth. Dharma is kept alive by all who follow the path. In the forest monasteries of Asia, just before dawn, monks and nuns gather in the Buddha room to meditate and sing “”ehipasiko, opanaiko, paccattang veditabbho vinuhittii. “The dharma of liberation is“ immediate, freehand, timeless, visible to the wise, to be experienced here and now by everyone in their own heart. ”With each generation, this invitation is repeated in an unbroken line of voices, a a call to live with the great freedom of a Buddha and to discover for yourself the path of virtue, compassion and wisdom.
Adapted from the introduction to “The Buddha Still Teaches: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom,” by Jack Kornfield. Copyright 2010 by Jack Kornfield. Published by Shambhala Publications 2010. Adapted with permission from Shambhala Publications.