Time to organize the odds and ends in preparation for a new start here. Really there isn’t much hanging fire, and what is there is rather intense and related to Buddhism. There is an unfinished post from last May about missing Vesak 2010 that has sat in the draft bin all this time, as well as a project I have wanted to do since I saw a certain video and at about the same time read the biography of the Sangha member who has most strongly influenced in my own practice. That will be for the next post, something about death and transfiguration.
For this one, just the little incomplete post about Vesak 2010; I didn’t really know where to go with that back then…maybe this is the most honest post one could make about such a thing. (Of note, a look around the Web shows that people are apparently calling this holiday “Wesak” now; I’m not sure why. But there will be much more about that in future posts.)
There’s a saying we have here in America about being “a day late and a dollar short.” It came to mind today, when just as I started to go forward with my private plans to celebrate Vesak–the biggest Buddhist holiday of the year–for the first time in quite a while, I learned that the Thai sects whose online calendar I follow actually celebrated it yesterday, May 28th. Oops.
Did setting aside May 29th for the celebration also make me “a dollar short”? No way.
The Benefits of Being A Day Late
Besides the reconnection with my faith and its people (none of whom live near me, so this has always been a solitary practice and therefore one in which other people cannot be taken for granted and so are of great importance), there has also been much insight gained from the immersion in the atmosphere of a major secular holiday (Memorial Day weekend) that a Saturday celebration brings for someone who is personally wrapped up in another, religious meaning for the day.
Had I celebrated Vesak on Friday, it would have been very easy to set it aside this morning and get on with the three-day-weekend party. Well, partying is nice, and so is remembering and showing respect for those who have given their lives in service to the country, but something less easily described and very important would have been lost.
And too, frankly, I just needed to set aside my worldly burdens and relax, which is one of the major reasons for any religious holiday (just as the sense of self-importance those burdens give us is the major reason why most of us get all tense at holiday time and try not to think too much about “the real meaning of _____ [you name it]”).
The Conquest of Everest and the Culasunnata Sutta
But this is starting things in the middle. If you’re not a Buddhist, you’re probably wondering how a self-styled Yankee got involved in Buddhism, and what is a Vesak, and all the time you’re waiting for the New Age stuff to hit the fan. If you’re a traditional Buddhist–either Theravadan, like me, or a follower of one of the other major lines of the teaching–you’re more likely to be wondering what new heresy, misunderstanding, and/or assault on your cultural heritage, traditions, and practice is going on here. Or perhaps you’re just curious.
Well, I have no dhamma to give you and no insight to pass along, for I am a beginner and can only point, as others do more effectively, to the suttas and the great plumb line that is Theravadan Buddhist teaching and practice. This just happened to me, over the last 14 years or so, and all I would like to do here is set down a brief, coherent, and (hopefully) interesting and not too personal account of how it all started and I got to this point.
This is not so easy to do off the top of one’s head. Some sort of a model is needed. Recently at Hulu, I saw an excellent documentary, made by the expedition itself, of the first successful attempt to reach the top of the highest subaerial mountain on Earth, The Conquest of Everest (1953). This will work pretty well.
As a substitute for that beautiful and challenging peak, and to serve as the valid exposition of Theravadan Buddhism that’s needed here but can’t be given by a layperson, there will be excerpts from this version of the Culasunnata Sutta. It definitely isn’t one of the simpler suttas that can serve as useful introduction to Buddhism; however, it has been rightly called “the quintessence of Buddhism,” which is why it’s the first sutta I ever read, early on, in the late 1990s when everything was just starting for me. Most of it went over my head, of course, but nonetheless there was and continues to be something in it that fascinates me and keeps drawing me into Buddhism.
Truth can do that to you.
All the non-sutta and narrative parts that follow are just various shots of the trek up to this particular point, where I am now resting for a moment and chatting with you before continuing on to the higher altitudes above us, so to speak, from which I shall eventually begin my main approach to the summit and eventual release from the Wheel of Life.