I know this is a long post, but I really think the message is worth it. Living Dharma is a powerful thing!
I am a Buddhist, but I prefer to leave the Dogma out of it. I choose to not be a member of any particular tradition, but I do tend to enjoy Zen study and mediation.
To me the most valuable thing I get from Buddhism is the story of the Buddha's life. I do enjoy many of the Sutra and I find value in all Dharma, but it the life of Siddhārtha Gautama that rings in my heart.
People forget, the Buddha was a man, and really Buddha means "Enlightened." He was not the only one. Many people throughout history have earned the title Buddha.
This post is not about the whole life of Gautama Buddha. Just the end of it.
Although the death of the Buddha was very hard on his followers, for him is was a moment of great peace. He was an old man, and ready for his journey to end.
It was said that he was 80 years old. Have you ever met an 80 year old person? They are often frail, sore, and move very slowly. The Buddha was no different, and he still traveled to teach. He did so less often because of his age. His last trip it is written that he hurt his hip, and had a lot of complications due to age.
Yet he still often went out to beg for food. It is important to understand that begging for food is different for a monk. They don't just beg waiting for handouts all day. They only eat before noon. If they do not get anything they accept that they will go without.
When offered food, the monk never turns it down, because he knows it is given with a loving and compassionate heart. He accepts it understanding, that might be all that person has to give. In return he blesses them and offers them teachings and guidance. Sometimes he may even help with housework, and sometimes will stay with the people rather than sleep on the road.
The Buddha did these things, even though he knew it would cost him his life.
He was not a martyr, nor did he die to prove a point. He died because he believed in living the way he did. It is written that he knew he would die, that he had dreamt out his whole life.
Sometime after his hip healed he left his grove to beg for food. Being who he was it was not a hard thing to do. He accepted the the food, and ate it. The food was bad, but the person who gave it to him did not know it.
Seeing that the Buddha was old, and he recently recovered from an injury, his body could not handle the spoiled food. After eating, the Buddha gave a teaching about the importance of forgiving people for things they did not know that they did. He then blessed the man.
When the man asked why the Buddha chose that teaching, the Buddha replied because he had killed him. He then explained that the food was bad, but it was okay. He forgave him, and told him how he knew he would die that day, and that he knew how he would die. He chose to eat the food anyway because the man only had love in his heart.
The death of the Buddha was not fast, and I am sure very painful. After a certain point it is said he went into a meditative state and found peace. The image above is a statue of the death of the Buddha surrounded by his monks. It is in the grove where the Buddha died.
I understand the man died so long ago, that not everything may be 100% fact, but the lesson is there. There is deep meaning in his death.
How does this affect us today?
Let me now tell you a story that makes me proud of my oldest son.
Memorial Day weekend was recently here. I know, in Texas at least, that means you grill. Our family was no exception, and neither were the families who live near us.
We have a very nice older couple who live across the street from us. We exchange garden tips, and help each other out the way neighbors should. My boyfriend was sitting outside enjoying the brief moment of sun we got that day (it rained off and on,) and our neighbor came over offering a gift. It was grilled corn, a Texas summer staple.
Well we don't eat corn in our house because of GMOs. We don't buy it and we try to avoid foods that hide it on the label. He could not say no, this man is a friend and neighbor, and it would just be too rude. He did not bring up GMOs and just accepted it graciously. That's what good neighbors do.
I told the kids since it was a gift, we would not waste it, but no body really wanted to eat it. We pretty much got used to not having it.
My oldest son sat right down at the table and ate it. He said thank you and seemed to enjoy it. I did the same, but more because I would hate to see it go to waste. He and I were the only ones who did, and we ended up eating it all. He looks at me and says, "I know this is really bad for me but I am going to eat it happily. Do you know why?"
"Why?" I asked
"Because of the way the Buddha died." In that moment I was so proud of him. My thoughts when eating it, was that I do like corn, and I would hate to trow it away. Not Dante though, he thought much deeper into than me. He understood the meaning of the Buddha's death, and he chose to "eat the bad food," and forgive a good man for not understanding why it was bad.
Dante knows he is young and healthy and that it will not kill him, but he understood that message. I wish I had thought of it that way too, but I am so proud to have a son who does.
I see enlightenment in all of my kids at times, and I smile. Perfection only lasts an instant, and I am always happy to see it in someone else. When I see it in my own kids I am reminded that sometimes I can be perfect for an instant too.