Sitting near a river in this near-death state, a passerby in a boat was explaining to his student how to tune a sitar, and it was exactly what Siddhartha needed to hear: “If the string is too tight, it will snap; if it is too loose, it won’t play at all.” These words brought clarity to the life he had known up to this point – that the answers he was seeking weren’t to be found in extreme indulgence nor in extreme denial – and opened up a new possibility. Much to his ascetic companions’ dismay, Siddhartha accepted an offering of sweet rice milk from a young maiden named Sujata, a beginning to being nourished and returning to good health.
Soon thereafter he felt a renewed determination to address the suffering of life once and for all, along with a sense of assurance that he would accomplish this. He sat in meditation beneath a tree, committed to remaining there until he had resolved this great matter of existence. It was a long night, throughout which he was visited by enticing temptations and frightening threats, by alluring beings and fierce beings, and, having not succumbed to any of these, even by the opportunity to believe that he had accomplished what he had set out to do. Yet still he sat, patient and attentive.
As the morning neared, Siddhartha looked up and saw the morning star. And perhaps the morning star saw him. As the two met, there was a recognition that the light within each of them was the same light, shining everywhere, within and throughout everything. And thus a tradition is begun.
When I contemplate and teach about awakening, I see it as an inherent part of existence, the birthright of everyone and everything. As such, there is not one way to encounter and realize it, so the lifework for each of us is to find and follow the path that nourishes and encourages the realization of this awakening. When awakening is realized by you or me or even the Buddha himself, this awakening does not belong and isn’t limited to the individual experiencing it. Rather, the individual is touching into the timeless awakening that is endlessly woven into the fabric of what is, touching into the awakening of all that is.
With all of this in mind, I find myself curious about how and why Siddhartha’s story has come to be the quintessential awakening story. Not that it shouldn’t be kept alive and passed on generation after generation, but I simply wonder why his awakening and not so much anyone else’s. With awakening being inherent to existence itself, people before and after Siddhartha have realized it; in Buddhist teachings it is acknowledged that he wasn’t the first buddha nor was he the last. Yet it is his story that we tell again and again. So I wonder, was he special? Did his possess abilities and have a capacity for awakening beyond what anyone else has or possesses? Again and again, the answer I come to regarding all of these wonderings is no.
As I see it, it was the circumstances of Siddhartha’s life and the times in which he lived that were key factors. What most stands out is that he was a prince, and because of that people were paying more attention to his life and what has happening, especially when they witnessed or heard about him renouncing a life of luxury to set out on a spiritual quest. Imagine the stories and rumors that began to circulate, the buzz that was created, piquing people’s interest and curiosity about what will happen next and how it will all end. All in all, it was a good PR move on behalf of awakening, and thankfully so. Because of the general circumstances of Siddhartha’s life that caused the world to pay attention, and because of the unique, personal experiences he himself went through, the possibility of realizing awakening was brought out of the shadowy caves and uninhabited forests where anonymous buddhas practiced and dwelled, and brought into the ordinary light of day, showing that anyone and everyone can realize this awakening for themselves. Even a prince.
So enjoy the awakening of today, touching into it and allowing it to find you. And do the same tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Moment by moment, it is here. And it is yours.