Vol XLX, No 12                               December, 2004

Bodhi is not about politics or religion

When Siddhartha became the Buddha, there was no such thing as Buddhism. There was
only the Buddha and a group of disciples who wanted to wake up to the reality the
Buddha saw. Religion, politics, how to raise children, what is morally right and wrong,
questions about an afterlife, what is healthy to eat and what is not, how to predict the future, etc.
– these were all highly developed and studied at the time of the Buddha.

Siddhartha was concerned with one central issue – Why we suffer, what
causes suffering, and how to remove it. His dissatisfaction with
life, even the life of ease and comfort that he lived, impelled him
to leave everything behind to confront his dissatisfaction, his
dis-ease with life. At the age of 29, he leaves his life of aristocratic
comfort to become a wandering mendicant.
For six years, Siddhartha studies and practices the religious traditions
of his time, only to be still dissatisfied. Then, at the age of 35,
Siddhartha sits under a peepul tree, enters into increasingly deeper
states of meditation, and at first light of the following day pierces
through the veil of delusion into the clear light of Truthreality. This
awakening, this Bodhi took place, according to Japanese Buddhist
calculation, on the eighth day of the twelfth month. From this momentous
event on, Siddhartha was known by many titles, the Perfectly
Awakened One (Buddha), the Sage of the Shakya clan (Shakyamuni),
the World-honored One (Bhagavat), and the Thus-come One
(Tathagata). Tathagata means coming from thusness. It means coming
from the as-it-is nature of reality. One who leaves the delusion of
selfness, waking up to the reality of Thusness, and returs from that
indescribable Thusness to the realm of self is a Tathagata.
For the past 2500+ years, Buddhists have endeavored to categorize,
clarify, organize, and methodize this singular experience.
Inevitably, viharas, chaityas, temples, monasteries, stupas, pagodas,
beaureaucracies, allegiances, alliances, loyalties, and abuses
combine to form an institution – and with it politics and religion.
As an institution therefore, Buddhism, like politics, must be
taken with a pinch of salt. If the institution first and foremost fosters
Bodhi, satori, shinjin as a transforming religious experience
– it can rightfully be called a temple. If not, no matter how active
the cultural program, the sports program, the youth program, the
Dharma School program, the social activist program, the help the
community program, the inter- religious dialogue program, it is not
a temple. Religious institutions over time lose sight of this, and like
everything else, are born-live-and die. This the Buddha knew and
predicted. Nobody is born Buddhist. Buddhism is an acquired
thing, an acquiring that is conscious and ongoing. If we could acquire
Bodhi by osmosis, by working hard at cooking, dancing, repairing, and
donating at the temple, we would not need a teaching or a practice.
But without it, teaching and practice become a vehicle for the
ego to indulge itself even more in the fine and subtle art of being a
control freak. For us, Awakening is the moment of seeing my ego self
and at the same time Thusness, it is the fleeting moment of real
Saying Namoamidabutsu is not a mantra that cultivates this
understanding, it is the vocalization of that understanding. My need to
be in control blinds me to the fact that I am already on the ship that is
taking me to ultimate clarity. And that deluded need only ends at
death. Hence absolute clarity is the reward of death – no shimpai.

Rev. Mas