December Eighth is the day when so many people across the globe celebrate Buddha’s Enlightenment.
To put you in the spirit of this extraordinary holiday, we’re attaching a copy of the story of this great event. Although this version, originally written by our dear friend and dharma brother, Rafe Martin, has been altered a bit over the years, it is essentially what we’ve been reading every December for decades during this beautiful candle-lit ceremony. Since at Windhorse we hold the ceremony in sesshin, we wanted to offer this wondrous story to those of you not attending–in hopes you too may find inspiration in its timeless message.
We hope you’ll join at times, from your own homes and places of practice, to do zazen together with us and all our dharma kin around the planet. If ever the world needed this unified field of the healing energy of practice, surely it is now!
At the age of twenty-nine, the Prince of the Shakya Clan, Siddhartha Gautama, saw, for the first time, an old person, a sick person, a corpse, and then a monk. And with that he was plunged into a struggle for Truth that was to continue until Buddhahood
itself had been attained.
Having come to the painful conclusion that the worldly life was in fact meaningless, and deeply troubled by the suffering that he now saw all around him, he took the first decisive step of renunciation. Severing his long hair with a sword’s stroke, the young prince passed from the ease of the palace into a life of hardship and unrelenting
exertion in forests and mountains.
For six years he held fast to this painful course until at last, exhausted and near the point of death, he collapsed, more a skeleton tightly wound with sinews and veins than a living man. Siddhartha’s great effort had failed, and for all his willful suffering, he had not been able to achieve the Enlightenment for which he so deeply yearned.
But just at that point, when he had come to the ascetic’s dead-end of exhaustion, and the anguish of his six years’ apparent waste of precious time and strength was tearing at his mind, there suddenly flashed into his consciousness the memory of a certain festival day during his youth when he had been sitting quietly under a rose-apple tree, watching his father and all the other men plowing the earth together.
And he had become aware of: the earth, breaking open in even furrows; the heat shimmering up off the freshly opened soil and shining on the sweat-slick brows and straining bodies of men and oxen alike. And the sun, flashing off the gilded traces and horns of the oxen; and the plodding rhythm of hooves and cowbells rolling in a
solemn wave beneath the shouts of the people, and the shrill cries of birds as they dove to devour the hordes of insects, blind, glistening grubs, and the broken bodies of worms, mice, and toads, which men, oxen, and plows left in their wake.
The terribly obvious laboring, devouring, suffering, and dying that went on ceaselessly beneath all the light-hearted, surface tinseling of those festive days had broken in upon him, and weighed heavily upon his mind.
Seated there under the sweet-smelling rose-apple tree, reflecting deeply on the scene before him, he had suddenly found himself to be as vast and