By ordinary I'm not referring to things being plain and simple, though those qualities are certainly present. Instead I'm referring to the root sense of the word, which is to be in order. But this is not an order that you have to maintain or protect or keep from being disturbed or disrupted, but rather everything naturally finding, falling into, resting deeply in its own place. And this is not a stopping place but instead a continuous active happening, an endless unfolding. Perhaps a familiar expression that conveys the sense of it is "being in the Tao". Or, even more, "cultivating the Tao,” which speaks to the active quality of the experience. And perhaps what conveys the opposite of it is "feeling out of sorts" or "being off kilter." Regardless of the expression, I think we can all relate to the feelings and experiences themselves, just as Siddhartha did. This emphasizes the notion that his experiences before, during and after his enlightenment are simply happenings that come along with having a life, accessible and available to all, no miracle required.
Seeing the Buddha's enlightenment experience as ordinary, I found myself holding that up to what his life was like before that moment, and that's where I find the extraordinary, coming across in few different ways. In one sense "extra" refers to things being more ordered and orderly than they need be. This is Siddhartha's life growing up in the palace, being protected and sheltered, his father manipulating and orchestrating the environment and events in hopes of guiding Siddhartha down the path of becoming the next king. It was extraordinary, beyond the usual, an order disconnected from the natural flow of things. I always find it ironic that everything his father did in hopes of keeping Siddhartha from pursuing the path of a sage is in fact exactly what led him to pursue that path, stemming from his experience of seeing life beyond the palace and the shock of encountering, for the first time in his life, sickness, old age and death. Through this encounter he realized that his own life, how ever wonderful it was, was very much off kilter. And because of that he leaves the palace and sets off to get to the heart of the matter, which is where I see Siddhartha entering the next extraordinary phase of his life.
The extra in this case refers to thinking that following a certain order of things is going to lead to some ultimate thing. It's not necessarily that one is disconnected from the natural flow and order of things but that one sees them as a means to getting somewhere else, and as a result the connection with the natural flow of things is not as deep and intimate as it could be. So we find Siddhartha pursuing and even mastering various spiritual and ascetic practices of his day, and some accounts say he was invited to be the next leading guru or yogi of each of those practices. Yet each time he declined, feeling that regardless of what he had accomplished he still wasn't there yet, he still felt out of sorts and hadn't settled the matter. So he kept pursing other paths and going to extremes far removed from the luxury and comfort of palace life, eventually coming to the brink of death. At this time some very ordinary things happen. He hears someone giving instructions for tuning a sitar, "If the string is too slack it will not play; if it is too tight it will break." A young maiden offers him milk and he accepts it, though his ascetic companions abandon him because of it. He becomes nourished and strengthened, begins to fall back into the natural order of things, finds himself a tree to sit beneath and simply pays attention to the unfolding – the unfolding that is awakening itself. Abiding deeply with this continual and endless unfolding, it seems he could truly begin living his life fully – the very life he had been living all along, yet no longer trying to get anywhere other than where he was.
How ordinary. How simple. How profound.