May 25 was the celebration of Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and final state of Nirvana. Shakyamuni Buddha is the Buddha of this age and Buddhism begins with his enlightenment. Buddhists believe that all humans have similar potential for enlightenment in this lifetime, or over many lifetimes. Enlightenment is learning how to go beyond the birth-death cycle, which is the manifestation of the root of all suffering (the root of all suffering is ignorance, specifically the ignorance of how things exist). Essential to overcoming suffering are things like loving-kindness, compassion, and emptiness. There are many teachings about achieving this; the Buddha himself left 84,000 of these teachings.
The festival that celebrates this event is called the Saka Dawa Festival. It is held on the Full moon (15th Lunar Day) of the 4th Lunar month of the Tibetan Calendar and this year, the date fell on May 25th, 2013, in the Western Gregorian calendar.
On this day, Buddhists perform purification activities and generally “do good”. The merit that is achieved on this day is increased by the mindful intentions of collective effort. It is kind of like a world-peace day or a world prayer day. All goodness enriches, enlivens, and increases as more people participate.
I didn’t know any information regarding Saka Dawa the morning of May 25th when I woke up.
I woke up uncharacteristically grumpy and cranky…very cranky. I could feel my thoughts burdening me, my emotions on edge, anxious, tainted from feeding on thoughts of how much there is to do, how much isn’t done, how little time there is, how angry I am there is so little time to get things done…I recognized the past in many of these thoughts and emotions: past habits, past situations, past emotions. But when steeped in the encompassing emotion, even recognizing its origins does not help in yanking my consciousness free of it.
I often turn on soft/meditative music when I begin activity, after the period of silence when I first wake up and direct my thoughts. This day, May 25, I was inclined to listen to chanting. I have a YouTube playlist with about 14 different healing, peace, and in-light-ening chants.
Cranky as I was, I needed the vibration of healing, peace, and light! Somewhere within me I knew this, but certainly, not consciously. The actual thought to put on the chanting was quite buried. My thoughts were in a stupor, my decision and actions were thoughtless; there was just something in me, moving me, telling me that chanting would be very nice to listen to.
The YouTube playlist I chose had very special meaning, for a very specific purpose. I had taken some time last October to cleanse my house (a sort of a Native American smudging ritual), bless the space (inviting healing and transformation to all who enter), and to draw loving and healing energy to the land for the past, present, and future. In this ritual, the bodhisattva Kuan Yin was invoked as the Mother-Goddess-loving, healing, presence. The playlist was called “Kuan Yin”. It contains the chants “Om Mani Padme Hum”, the “Heart Sutra”, the “Gayatri Mantra”, “Om Kriya Babaji Nama Om”, “Om Vajra Sattva Hum”, as well as several other such chants.
When I started the music, I also decided to pause to light a candle at the sacred space in my house. The sacred space is a place that acts as a reminder to me of all of the beings who bring or brought love, healing, and kindness into the world, and who serve humanity– Jesus, Babaji, Shakyamuni Buddha, Kuan Yin, White Tara, Green Tara, Sarasvati, Vajrayogini, and several others.
In reminding myself of their deeds and love, I see my own potential for deeper love and kindness… usually. Not the morning of May 25, though! Crankiness, funkiness, tiredness, and stress abounded and the fog in my mind was thick. But I paused anyway to light a candle.
Blankly, dimly, incoherently, tripping over thoughts that were fragments, my offering of light was weak and poorly articulated. I think I ended up just saying something like, “To Divine Love, Light, and Life; you know my heart, accept my offering”. But I didn’t feel it; all I knew was the stumbling along.
Then I went on with my day– chores felt like chores; I felt burdened and put upon. Work usually feels like an offering of devotion, like works of love. Somewhere in my fog–and I really could call it a dark cloud–I wanted to transform, offer up, bring clarity to those feelings.
Faintly the syllables of the chants hit my eardrums as I worked—dishes, laundry, floors. When I could manage, I intentionally direct my thoughts away from cranky and toward transformation; I silently and to the best of my cranky ability kept the mantras in my consciousness as they played. The vibration filled the space, recalling the original blessing of transformation and healing to all who enter (including me).
All together it was almost four hours of chanting, four hours of chores.
At some point… because I didn’t even notice that it happened… everything was just “fine”. My mood was fine. The cranky was gone. I was happy and peaceful and rolling along. It was so very subtle; it was like I was “normal” again, back to my ol’ self. I didn’t give it a second thought.
The rest of the day was spent in peace and playfulness with friends and family, cooking and socializing, as though that was all that had ever existed.
I went to bed around 10 and (uncharacteristically) checked my email before lying down. My friend, Karma Jinpa Tarchen had emailed me with information about the day of Saka Dawa. He wrote:
“So on this day as is clearly taught by the World Conquering One himself Shakyamuni Buddha, merit is increased 100 million times on this day. Do good, think of and apply discipline to your activities and involvements of your body (things you do), speech (things you say) and mind (things you think), being as aware as possible with right and gentle effort towards kindness, understanding, patience, and to stop from engaging, as much as possible, in self centered interest in what you do, say or think especially this day. At the close of this day offer all that may have been virtuous no matter how small or great to the benefit of all others, to the ending of famine, to the ending of illnesses, to the relief of all sentient being’s suffering. Just taking to mind on even this one day these things in this very other motivated way such offering and generosity of care and compassion is extremely vast in benefit for you and all.”
At first, I thought, “Damnit!, I wish I had known about the significance of this day when I woke up, rather than when going to bed; had I known, I really would have ‘done’ something with the energy of the day.”
Then I realized…I had…or, rather, perhaps that the energy of the day did something with me…and I was very, very thankful.
For More on Saka Dawa visit: http://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-buddhism/saka-dawa.html
Herman Hesse’s Siddartha can be found for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page