The Moon in Water

Tuesday was Bodhi Day, a celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. I mentioned it only in passing because I wanted to focus on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death.

According to legend, after renouncing extreme asceticism, Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation beneath a Ficus religiosa tree until on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month (Jp. rohatsu) he attained enlightenment and became Buddha.

In early Buddhism, individuals could only achieve enlightenment after engaging in Buddhist practice over the course of many lifetimes. In contrast, Mahayana Buddhism came along centuries after the Buddha’s advent and said that because all people inherently posses Buddha-nature, enlightenment was attainable in this very lifetime.

There are several different accounts of what happened under the bodhi tree. Because the Buddha’s time is so remote to us, it is unlikely we will ever know the facts. Bodhi is the state of awakening.

Naturally, there is diverse opinion as to the nature of enlightenment. In his writing, the Genjokoan, Dogen, offers this beautiful explanation:

moonlight2bAttaining enlightenment is like the reflection of the moon on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. . . For all the breadth and vastness of its light, it rests upon a small patch of water. Both the whole moon and the sky in its entirety come to rest in a single dewdrop of grass, in a mere drop of water.

Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot obstruct enlightenment any more than the drop of dew obstructs the moon in the sky. *

The analogy of “the moon in water” appears frequently in Buddhist literature. It symbolizes emptiness. Enlightenment is empty, in that it is not a fixed state of mind or being. Nevertheless, we say that enlightenment reflects the true reality. It does not divide us because reality is non-dual, there is nothing to divide.

Nagarjuna called the undivided (advaya) being the true nature of reality. Advaya is a Sanskrit word that means ‘not-two:

The ultimately true nature of enlightenment and the ultimately true nature of all things are in truth but one reality, not two, not divided.” **

Another way to express this not-twoness is harmony. Enlightenment or bodhi is realizing the world of harmony that has always been present within and without you.

– – – – – – – – – –

* Waddell, Norman and ABE, Masao, trans. Shobogenzo Genjokoan. The Eastern Buddhist, 1972, 136

** Venkata Ramanan, Nagarjuna’s Philosophy as Presented in the Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1987, 268


Not Everyone Wants It

Happy Bodhi Day.

In December 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono launched a media campaign for peace by renting billboards in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Helsinki displaying the message: WAR IS OVER! If You Want It.

This was the same message as the Buddha’s, who said in so many words, “Suffering is over, if you want it.”

The problem is that not everyone wants it. That is not to say that we can’t do something. It’s ordinary people who are the victims in this world.  It’s ordinary people who can raise the consciousness of others and turn the world around.

John and Yoko’s “slogan” was also used as the refrain for the song Happy Xmas, recorded on October 28, 1971 in New York city. 

Happy Xmas Yoko and I wrote together. It says, ‘War is over if you want it.’ It was still that same message – the idea that we’re just as responsible as the man who pushes the button. As long as people imagine that somebody’s doing it to them, and that they have no control, then they have no control.”

John Lennon, 1980 quoted in “All We Are Saying” by David Sheff

Today, on the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, a picture is worth much more than further words.






Another Day in America, Another . . .

The Inland Regional Center, scene of yesterday’s horrific mass shooting, is a state-run center for people with developmental disabilities. Mostly it helps families of disabled children. They provide housing and work programs, and therapy and social services. They send out caseworkers and therapists to work with kids who have autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other intellectual disabilities. According to the IRC website, the center serves more than 31,000 individuals in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. And it has been doing this for 44 years.

The Washington Post calls it “inspiring work.” You can get a better feel for how the IRC touches the lives of disabled kids in this article by Colby Itkowitz and Emma Brown.

Yesterday, December 2, was the 336th day of the year. According to what I heard on CNN last night (and they got their info from a mass shooting database called, there has been more mass shootings than days in 2015. The San Bernardino incident was the 355th.

Some years ago for my birthday I received a book, 365 Buddha, a collection of Buddhist quotes, both ancient and modern, for every day of the year. The quote for December 2, the date of the deadliest mass shooting in 2015, came from the Dhammapada:

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

Another day in the United States of America. Another mass shooting. These events have risen to a level the President says has “No parallel anywhere else in the world.”

As the quote from the Dhammapada suggests, peace starts with us. Some folks are now saying that an end to gun violence “starts in your town.” I live 65 miles from San Bernardino, but it’s SoCal, so it’s still my turf.  If you have had enough, you can do something about it by joining Everytown for Gun Safety‘s movement to end gun violence.