Understanding the central message of the Buddhist traditions can be a complex undertaking. I have met several people who have dedicated their entire adult lives to studying the sutras in the original languages.
While their ability to synthesize complex topics into understandable English is impressive, I did not feel their hearts were liberated from what we all go through: everyday anxieties, fears, frustrations, and disappointments. They seemed to react to like we all do, caught in the grips of negative mind states.
On the other hand, I have met folks who were illiterate, and only heard bits and pieces of the Dharma orally, whose hearts were free, their countenances bright and shining, and their laughter easy and infectious.
I particularly remember one forest monk in Sri Lanka, who insisted the meditative path was actually quite easy. “All you have to do,” he said, “is feel you breath at the nostrils. Everything else happens by itself.”
He was fond of reciting certain scriptural passage he had memorized. One of his favorites was from the Angutarra Nikaya: “Luminous is the mind, brightly shining is its nature, but it is colored by the attachments that visit it.”
“You just have to relax and keep meditating so the attachments fall away” was another of his admonitions.
He lived the power and simplicity of this message. It was a relief I didn’t have keep struggling to comprehend all the complex ideas I was taught in the monastery.
He insisted that nibbana, the ultimate freedom the Buddha talked about, was experienced here and now as ease, as loving-kindness, as joyful connection with others, and as simple mindfulness in all we do.
Many years later I came to savor the teachings of the Thai forest monk Ajahn Cha. I had never met him, but I felt uplifted by the words that were translated into English by those who lived with him in the forest. In particular, he spoke about this luminous mind my Sri Lankan teacher loved to talk about, calling it “the unborn nature of consciousness.”
Here is a short passage from his teachings, describing this luminous mind:
“The original heart-mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. To know this we must go beyond self and no-self, birth, and death. This original mind is limitless, untouchable, beyond all opposites and all creations.”
He insisted this heart-mind is to be experienced here and now, by dropping attachment and grasping.
The path, then, is to become acquainted with the essence of who you truly are, here and now. You are inherently open, at ease, wise, loving and compassionate. And this acquaintance only happens now, in this moment.
I’ll close with the words of Thomas Merton, who was speaking about seeing the inherent nature of all beings:
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart. The depths of their hearts where neither sin nor knowledge could reach. The core of reality. The person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time there would be no more need for war, for hatred, for greed, for cruelty.
I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
May we all know this “secret beauty of the heart” and fully live from its healing depth.