To Become A Buddha

“Your face shines with majestic light, awesome without limit. A flame as bright as this has no equal.”  These opening lines from “Sutra in Praise of the Buddha” express the inspiration for the desire to become a Buddha, an awakened one. Raised as a prince, Gautama Shakyamuni remained sheltered from life’s sufferings. Upon venturing from the royal compound, he observed sickness, old age and death. This caused him great distress. If life led to these outcomes, what was its purpose? Only when he encountered a wandering holy man, whose face glowed with peace and contentment, did he realize the existence of another path. Thus, his search began.

In this twenty stanza sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha tells the story of Dharmakara, a king who meets a teacher whose face shines with this great light. Dharmakara is now motivated to attain this state of mind.

“I vow to become a Buddha, a king worthy of Dharma, by transcending life and death, free from all attachments.” Here, Dharmakara recognizes that the main obstacles to his awakening are self –inflicted. Greed, anger and ignorance all grow out of our ego-based view of the world. Moving beyond our attachments, seeing the universality of life, and our place within it, is the only way to eliminate these self-imposed barriers.

“I vow to become a Buddha. I will completely fulfill this vow and change all doubt and fear into great peacefulness.” Uncertainty fills our lives. Even though we may see our suffering clearly, we often are afraid to act. Dharmakara understands that the only way to overcome suffering is to free himself from his attachments. Rather than hiding his fear, he will confront it, and transform it into great peacefulness.

Although Shakyamuni Buddha uses Dharmakara as the main character in this sutra, most agree that he is telling the story of his own life. By using a fictional character, he is expressing the potential for anyone to become a Buddha. There are fundamental differences between Buddhism and the other main religions, but this feature is one of the most radical. You cannot become Christ. You cannot become Mohammed. You cannot become Moses. You certainly cannot become God. Even suggesting such a thing is blasphemous. However, the fundamental teaching of Buddhism is that we all have the opportunity to attain the same awakening as Shakyamuni Buddha. He was neither a prophet nor a god; he was just another human being with all the same shortcomings.

“Even if my body undergoes eternal pain and suffering, I will continue my efforts with no regret!” Thus concludes this sutra. Dharmakara is committed to his path. The road to awakening may entail even greater sufferings than he currently experiences. Yet, he has the awareness that the final goal is worth whatever he must endure. With single-mindedness, he presses on; never regretting the quest he has undertaken. As we strive to overcome the suffering in our lives, are we too willing to continue our efforts with no regret?