Last night I tweeted this question to all my geeky Buddhist cyber friends.
“to all geeky Buddhists out there, here’s a question: What did the Buddha awaken to?”
I’ve received a lot of interesting answers on Twitter and Facebook.
erisb: The realization of his own mind.
SamTheButcher: Things as they are instead of how we want them to be.
majidrazvi: I’m not sure that question is truly answerable from this side of the dream.
thedazman: I think he basically decompiled reality.
nivarasa: To the nature of suffering, and to the path which leads to its cessation.
MonstrousVermin: The four noble truths.
crazywisdom: imho he awoke to the truth about our existence which is fundamentally one of suffering: the diagnosis,cause,prognosis & treatment
VincentHorn: Can’t say.
ZenDirtZenDust: A Hangover
dkcarey: ME a cup of coffee?
hokaisobol: A useful answer must be 2fold. Conventionally speaking, to dependent origination. Ultimately, awakening has no distinct object.> >jointly thus, one is directly awake to suchness, allowing recognition of dependent origination everywhere, in many ways.
fivedirections: no self… no separation…the emptiness that’s fully of everything.
Replies on Facebook:
Eric Calhoun: identity
Gary Sanders: Freedom from clinging….freedom from suffering.
Adam Richards: The 4 noble truths & his own nature
Mila Jake Stetser: being.
Ryan Oelke: this discussion wouldn’t be fun without paradox, so let’s reword the question – What did the Buddha awaken from? in, out, in, out.
Tara Bisgaard: the reality of now
Mike Redmer: to what he couldn’t not be.
Eileen Workman: what is.
Joel Morrison: the integration of the relative and absolute
Aley Crooker Martin: Now, being. Both sounds right.
Scott Zimmerle: mu
As you can see, the responses range from the ineffable (“Mu”), to reality, to “a hangover.” At first glance the answer to the question should be very straightforward. The Buddha, after all, is the icon of awakening. So how come geeky Buddhists have different concepts and assumptions with regards to the question?
Frankly, I don’t know the answer. I would’ve probably answered, “self as no thing,” or as a corollary to that, the Buddha awoke from “separation.”
So what is the “right” answer to the question, “What did the Buddha awoke to?”
I would refer to Stephen Batchelor for the “right” answer to this question. According to Stephen the Buddha awoke to the Four Noble Truths. He has an excellent discourse on this. Listen to the audio below from Upaya Dharma Podcast.
Stephen looks at the Buddha’s central metaphor of “awakening.” According to early Pali texts, the Buddha awoke to the Four Noble Truths. Often, we are taught that the Buddha awoke to original nature, or the Truth. The Four Noble Truths are alive, and they challenge our lives to act appropriately at every moment. In this seminar, Stephen also discusses the meaning of “dukkha,” and that the Buddha urges everyone to fully know it, to go directly into the darkness, where we may ultimately know a deep beauty.
So a few of my geeky Buddhist cyber friends nailed the answer to the question. Nice. Very geeky.
I highly recommend listening to the entire Godless Religion or Devout Atheism series for more context on Stephen’s discourse. I think mainstream Western Buddhists could learn a lot from Stephen’s careful reading and radical interpretation of the original Buddhist texts. In addition, Martine Batchelor (Stephen’s wife) presented a very heart-warming and insightful dharma talks in the series, with emphasis on lovingkindness and compassion.
Readers who are not familiar with Stephen Batchelor might ask why I consider his interpretation to be the “right” answer. First of, I don’t know if there’s even a “right” answer to the question. But given Stephen’s background — long-time practitioner of different Buddhist traditions, scholar, translator of dharma texts — I think he deeply knows what he’s talking about. To me, Stephen’s interpretation is the most probable and logical answer since he carefully quoted, analyzed, and cross-checked the sources from the earliest Buddhist texts.
Finally, Stephen’s interpretation of the recursive and fractal nature of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path appeals to my intellect and my intuition. For Stephen, the Four Noble Truths lead to the Eightfold Path, and the Eightfold Path leads to the Four Noble Truths — hence its recursive and fractal nature.
In short, the Buddha awoke to a process, not to a static metaphysical transcendent ultimate absolute nature of reality. Nirvana is not some ultimate state or stage. Nirvana is a verb. Nirvana is a continuous process. I like that.
Here’s to all our awakening to the Four Noble Truths.