Did I Lose It? Hosted by Jonathan Meyers

“A monk asked the priest Qingrang, “The Buddha of Supremely Pervading, Surpassing Wisdom did zazen on the Bodhi Seat for ten kalpas, but the Dharma of the Buddha did not manifest itself and he could not attain Buddhahood. Why was this?”

Qingrang said, “Your question is exactly the point.”

The monk said, “But he did zazen on the Bodhi Seat; why couldn’t he attain Buddhahood?”

Qingrang said, “Because he is a non-attained Buddha.

Spending time with this koan recently, a few things occurred to me. First, I took it as an invitation to relax.What’s wrong with being a non-attained Buddha? What’s wrong with being who I am, now, in this moment? Nothing, really. What a relief. This relief is a somewhat familiar feeling that I occasionally find in response to certain koans, and I don’t mind it one bit.

But then I got puzzled by the seeming contradiction. This is the Buddha of Supremely Pervading, Surpassing Wisdom. Or, in other words, a Buddha possessing a wonderful wisdom so great that it pervades the entire universe. And somehow, he feels like something’s missing. Feels like he’s not awake. A Buddha who so feels this lack so intensely that ten Kalpas of meditation seem like a reasonable attempt to remediate it. (By the way, a kalpa a really, really long time. I looked it up. It’s an immeasurably long cycle of creation and destruction. Here’s one way it’s described: “Longer than the time it would take to fill a cube that is 16 miles wide and 16 miles high with mustard seeds, at the rate of one mustard seed every 100 years.” Wow!) Anyway, our friend sat for ten of these, in a seemingly failed attempt to become something he already was. Huh. What’s going on here?

When I went looking for analogs of this experience in my own life, I found them. We all have them. Some are mundane, like searching all over the house for my keys which, of course, are in my pocket. Others seem bigger. Not too long ago I invested a lot of time and money and effort into creating a new career path for myself. It didn’t take me ten kalpas, but I went pretty far down this road before I woke up to the fact that I was in no way done with my current job. The appeal of then new role was the focus on service and support of hypothetical others. I was already working in service and support of real others. My team. And they needed me. A lot of effort to expend on finding something I already had.

So I realize that I that I have my own cycles. They are swirls of contentment and dissatisfaction that interplay with waves of striving and repose. I think that’s a helpful thing for me to know. I don’t expect the cycles to cease, but what’s wrong with being a non-attained Buddha?

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