Skip to main content

Passing Through the Fence

Imagine for a moment that we are trapped at the bottom of a great chasm. For a long time, we don’t realize our predicament, and we wander in the darkness, struggling through muck and grime. 

One day, a ray of light from far away flashes in our eyes, and our thinking changes. 

Suddenly, we realize that we’re at the bottom of a very deep hole, and we decide that we don’t want to be here anymore. The more we think about it, the more we dislike being down here, covered in filth, and we begin working to find a way out. Finally, after a good deal of searching, we find a ladder with three rungs on it.

Carefully, we jump up and grab the bottom rung of the ladder. We pull ourselves up and begin reaching for the next rung on the ladder, but at the last moment, we slip and fall back into the bottom of the hole! Undeterred, we reach for the bottom rung of the ladder and pull ourselves up again.

It takes a few tries, but eventually, we climb all the way up the ladder, and we get out of the chasm. But our journey isn’t finished yet. There is a giant fence around the hole we just came out of, and there are no ladders in sight. However, there is enough room between the fence and the chasm that we can sit and rest comfortably.

We spend a few moments just taking it all in. Our situation is much better than it was in the chasm. There is fresh air and sunshine up here. For the first time, we feel like we can think clearly, and our mind feels calm and peaceful. We look through the fence, and on the other side, we see a huge mountain of treasure! There are gold coins, gemstones, and pearls piled as high as the eye can see. Even better, there is a sign in front of the treasure with our names on it!

Now, if only we could get past this fence…

When our minds are clouded by greed, anger, and ignorance, it is very much like being at the bottom of a dark hole. We chase after sensual desires with no thought of the consequences; blind to the inherent enlightenment that lies within us. Thankfully, the Noble 8-Fold Path provides a method for climbing out of the darkness.  The teachings of the path can be broken down into three parts for easy reference:

Wisdom- Right View and Right Intention

Morality- Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood

Meditation- Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration

In the above story, the light that flashed in our eyes was the light of Dharma shining through the millennia via Buddha’s teachings. The filth that we wallowed through was the negative karma that we created through our actions. When we were able to clearly see the crisis that we were experiencing, that was right view, and it was right intention that helped us gain the resolve to escape.

The three rungs of the ladder represented right speech, right action, and right livelihood; the moral tenets that pull us out of the darkness created by greed, anger, and ignorance. The resting place at the top of the chasm was Nirvana, the state of peacefulness created when our minds are no longer clouded by desire.

When we got there, we saw a giant treasure with our names on it. That treasure was our inherent enlightenment. Now, it’s important to note that the treasure was always there. We were/ are always enlightened; however, we didn’t realize that fact until we climbed out of the hole.

That’s why I always tell students that we attain Nirvana, but we realize enlightenment.

Because we don’t naturally have Nirvana (a peaceful mind free of greed, anger, and ignorance), but that is something that we can work towards and attain through effort. However, we can’t attain enlightenment because it’s something that we already possess. Rather, we have to calm our minds enough that we can see our enlightenment and manifest it in daily life.

But before we can do that we have to get through the fence. The fence represents the limits of intellectual thought on the spiritual path. Our brains can certainly move us along the path, and moral actions can give us a glimmer of our enlightened natures. But to fully embody our enlightenment we have to experience it directly.

This is where the meditative tenets of the Noble 8-Fold path come into play. The practices of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration help us to study the mind, sit with our thoughts, and temporarily let go of our intellectual ways of thinking. This allows us to experience our enlightened natures more fully, which results in us engaging in moral/ enlightened actions in daily life.

Thus, the practice is not a straight line. It’s a circle. Enlightened action creates the necessary conditions for enlightened experience, which then results in us performing more enlightened action. It’s an endless cycle. That’s why when Buddhists walk the Way, we walk it for a lifetime. 

That’s also why when the Buddha realized his own enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, his response was to keep practicing and teaching for the next 45 years until his death. Even for the awakened one, there was always one more step to go, and one more fence to push through.

Check out my YouTube Channel!

Passing Through the Fence


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Dharma of Online Trolls

The greatest troll of all time was a man named Andy Kaufman.  Kaufman was born on January 17, 1949, and he made his living as a performance artist, professional wrestler, and self-proclaimed "song and dance" man.  
Kaufman had a show in vegas for a while, and he appeared on both Saturday Night Live and the popular sitcom, Taxi.  He died of lung cancer at the age of  35.
As part of his act, Kaufman would go on stage and act in a strange, anti-social manner in order to get a response from the audience.  He'd wear mismatch clothes, hurl insults, and occasionally ask for money while he was on stage to make the audience laugh, jeer, and boo.  In this way, he made them an unwitting part of the performance.
Of course, this didn't always go well for him.  Once, he was slapped in the face by Jerry Lawler, a professional wrestler, after calling him "poor white trash" on The Letterman Show and he lost his job on Saturday Night Live when audience members called a 1-800 nu…

The Buddhist Pureland and Living Under Curfew

In Pureland Buddhism, we're taught that the world is both a land of suffering and a wish-fulfilling jewel.  Through the grace of Amida Buddha, and teachings like those found in the Meditation Sutra we're able to see beauty in the midst of our pain.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we no longer experience suffering.  Rather, it means that our relationship to suffering changes.  We see every hardship as a teaching, and we learn to appreciate the many gifts (healthy food, clean water, indoor plumbing, etc.) that we experience every day.

For example, until recently I didn't realize what a blessing it is to go outside; to leave my apartment and just stand in the sun for a while.  But that changed when my city was placed under curfew.  We had a large protest for George Floyd recently, and the entire area is on lockdown.

Checkpoints are set up on all of the streets leading out, and no one can come in unless they can prove residency.  Police officers on horseback and motorcyc…

Accepting the Unconditional Love of Buddha

Growing up, it was important to my mom that all of her kids learn how to swim.  So, I spent four weeks out of every summer taking swimming lessons at the local pool.

The pool was broken into five sections with level 1 being the shallow end and level 5 being the deep end.  Naturally, the deep end was where all the action was; it had a diving board and a waterslide!

Everyone was required to start at level 1 and work their way up to level 5 by showing proficiency in various skills ranging from holding your breath underwater to doing the backstroke across the pool.  But it wasn't just about learning new skills.

Children who successfully climbed through the ranks were rewarded with prestige and additional privileges.  For example, the waterslide dumped kids out on the deep end of the pool, so only level 5 swimmers were allowed to use it with one exception.

If a kid could swim to the middle of the pool, tread water without assistance for two minutes, and swim back to safety, they could …