To Be Aware

To be awake is to be aware. The title “Buddha” means “The Awakened One.” Shakyamuni Buddha was neither a god nor a prophet. He was simply a man who came to see life as it truly is, not thru the filter of his ego. He became aware of the interconnectedness of all things.

A teacher holds a piece of paper and asks, “Do you see the sun in this paper? Do you see the saw?” This classic example explains that without the sun, there is no tree. Without the saw, the tree cannot become paper. In our everyday life, often we fail to see this chain of relationships.

One example is a popular drink called Fiji Water. I have observed that most of the people who drink this are young and consider themselves urban and sophisticated. As such, this group usually professes a concern about global warming. The irony of drinking water from a plastic, oil-based bottle escapes them, as does the fact that this water has traveled over 10,000 miles by boat, train and truck to get to the place where they purchased it. Add to that the negative impact the pumping of this water is having on the long- term ecology of the island of Fiji, plus the fact that the natives do not benefit financially, and you have a product that this socially conscious group of people would want to avoid. Especially when you consider how readily available drinking water is in American cities.

Another example dominates today’s news. No one likes to pay taxes. I have never met anyone who says, “I really wish I could pay more taxes.” However, the current outcry by those who feel they should not have to pay any taxes bears a similarity to those who drink Fiji Water. The same people who do not want to pay any taxes expect the military to protect them, the police and fire department to come to their aid, the schools to educate their children for free and the roads they drive on to be kept in good repair. Somehow, they do not see how these things are all connected.

The question then becomes, are all these people stupid, naïve or hypocrites? From a Buddhadharma perspective, they are none of these. They are just human. In the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism that I practice, we use the phrase “bonbu.” This translates to “foolish, ignorant being.” We are all bonbu. However, this is not a cause for despair; there is hope for even the most ignorant among us. The first of the Eightfold Noble Path, the attributes of an enlightened being, is Right Understanding. Only when we are able to see deeply into every action are we able to begin to overcome the suffering in our lives and the lives of others. The Buddhadharma does not say we have to be perfect. It only asks that we be aware.

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