The Awakened One

December is a month of holidays for most of the major religions. Buddhism is no exception. On December 8 we celebrate Bodhi Day, the day Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment.

Born Gautama Siddhartha, he was son of the king of the Shakya clan. He had a life of luxury and privilege. Yet, Gautama was troubled. After having witnessed sickness, old age and death he questioned how one could have true happiness. Then, on one of his trips outside the palace, he saw a wandering holy man. With no more worldly possessions than his robes and a begging bowl this person exuded a radiant joy. Gautama wanted to experience this state of happiness.

At the age of twenty-nine, Gautama left his family and all his wealth to begin his search. During the next six years he followed many of the religious practices of his time but none brought him the peace he sought. His last practice was one of self deprivation. Weak and near death he revived when a passing maiden gave him sweet rice milk. Realizing that none of these practices had brought the joy he sought he vowed to meditate under a pippal tree until he found the answer. During the next seven days he had visions of temptations calling him back to his life of luxury. Overcoming these visions, demons assaulted and threatened him. Subduing one vision another appeared. From where were these temptations and fears coming? What was their source?

As the morning star brightly shone on December 8, Gautama Siddhartha realized that he was the source of all these temptations and fears. The ignorance brought upon by his ego centered self, his desire to find permanence in a world of impermanence, was the cause of all suffering. This was Gautama’s awakening. Only by stripping away this ignorance can one find peace. Escape from the duality of life, them and me, and understand the oneness of all things.

Shortly thereafter Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon in which he expounded the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, the basic teachings in Buddhism. For the next forty-five years, until has death at age eighty, he traveled throughout India spreading the Dharma.

How do we celebrate Bodhi Day? Do we have big parties? Do we give presents? We simply take the time to listen to the teachings and express our gratitude to Gautama Buddha for showing us that we too are capable of attaining enlightenment. Gautama Buddha was a human not a god. His awakening is an affirmation of the Buddha nature within all of us. He showed us the path. It is up to us to walk it. One day we will all certainly die. Until that day it is up to us whether we truly live.

Best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a happy new year.

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