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Lions Roar : March 2019
PHOTO:MARVINMOOREPHOTOGRAPHY WHEN I THINK OF the most impor- tant message that the Buddhist teachings might offer us in the decades to come, I naturally think back to the example of the Buddha himself. When he was still a young man, the Buddha realized that his privileged life, though filled with pleasure and all the advantages of his status, left him feeling incomplete. No amount of power and wealth led to lasting contentment. As we all know, he eventually left the palace and set out to find what was missing. For six years he sought out the great teachers of his time. He applied himself to their philosophies and subtle medita- tion techniques. He mastered them, yet was still unsatisfied. He had yet to find what he was looking for. Eventually, he found his way to the banks of the Niranjan river determined to meditate until he found the answer. He had come up empty after six years spent living in forests, fasting for long periods, and meditating night and day. He had searched so hard, for so long, that he was out of options. He finally let go. The Buddha discovered everything in that moment of letting go. He’d looked everywhere for lasting happiness. He’d studied every philosophy, mastered every technique, and pushed his body and mind to the very edge. But the one thing that had never occurred to him was that he didn’t need to seek. That he already had everything he was looking for. So he finally let go and let himself rest, probably for the first time in years. He remembered a moment he had as a small boy sitting under a rose apple tree. He was not doing anything. Not going any- where. Not waiting for a better experience to arrive. He was simply being. In the days and weeks that followed, the soon-to-be Buddha discovered his own awakened nature—what we now call “buddhanature.” He had great compas- sion—and always had. Timeless aware- ness and deep wisdom were already there. The deep peace and serenity that he’d sought so desperately was part of his basic nature. The message that I think Buddhism has to offer the world in this troubled century is the Buddha’s insight that we all have buddhanature. In so many ways, we are just like the Buddha. We too find ourselves striving desperately to find meaning in our lives, to experience a little peace, pleasure, com- fort, and security. We chase after fleeting experiences and place our full trust and confidence in them, with the hope that somehow, someday, they’ll lead us to last- ing happiness. We try so hard to find suc- cess in worldly endeavors that never seem to pay off in the end. Many of us then give up and turn to the spiritual path, but we approach it with all the striving and expectation the Buddha initially had. We assume that the problem is us, that we need a tool to rem- edy some basic flaw in our mind, and we then go to work using meditation to fix a perpetually imperfect present moment. The Buddha learned that all this effort, even when it comes in a fancy “spiritual” package, strengthens our deep-rooted habit to see the present moment as a problem. But when all our effort and striving is based on this belief, we can just get stuck in a better version of sam- sara. We seem to be doing all the right things, but we never find our way out of the maze. We all know what it feels like to be seeking and seeking, and never finding. It’s like drinking saltwater. It feels good for a moment, but leaves us even thirstier than we started. The example I’ve always loved is the image of a bird looking for its nest. The bird might fly far away looking for food, but it will always return home. As long as it hasn’t found its way back to the nest, it will keep looking, and searching. But when the bird finally arrives, it has no doubts. The bird knows it’s home. We are a lot like that bird trying to find its way home. We know that all the fleeting pleasures of life aren’t going to lead us to lasting happiness. We know our physical health is fragile, and our relation- ships and jobs will change. But no one is telling us where home is. All we can do is make our best guess, or keep looking in the same places with the hope that we’ll discover something new. The Buddha is telling us where to look. He’s showing us where to find our true home, the place where we can finally rest with the confidence that our search is over. The key to this journey is appreciation. It might seem that appreciation has no place in a world with so many challenges. These days we are constantly reminded of our problems. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, climate change is creat- ing disasters all over the world, and big changes in society are bringing to light so many things that have been in the shad- ows for many generations. How could we possibly talk about appreciation when we are confronted with such massive challenges? You Already Have What You’re Looking For by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 74