Vassa: A blog for SCUBA

Awakened to what? by Oz
September 8, 2007, 2:03 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma


During one of our meetings, a question was raised, “What is Buddhism to you in one word?”

We went around the room and came up with about three general answers: compassion, awareness, and awakening or enlightenment.

After that we went around explaining our answers. Compassion, although definitely a part of Buddhism, was thrown out as not being exclusive to practice. We can be compassionate and be Christian, atheist, or whatever faith we want to bring up. There really wasn’t such a thing as Buddhist compassion, as much as there was simple empathy for our neighbors.

The other two, awareness and awakening were generally agreed to be unique to Buddhism, but we were unsure exactly what it meant. I went with awareness, awareness of my actions, impulses, compulsions and how they affected myself and others. I was pretty satisfied with this answer for a while but felt that it still wasn’t complete. With such an awareness, I could choose to be more compassionate, although it was not necessary. Without the goal of compassionate living, a person can be very self-aware but still act maliciously. Awareness or awakening in itself was only part of the answer.

So now I’m wondering, aware of what? Awakened to what? What was it that the Buddha was awakened to, that led to his freedom from suffering, his turning of the wheel of dharma, and the beginning of his teachings that still persist 2500 years later?

I put off answering this question, but came up on something during my summer reading that could answer it. On the night of his awakening, the Siddartha Gautama awakened over the three watches of the night. In the first watch he gained knowledge of his past lives and of the cycle of death and rebirths. In the second watch, he awakened to karma and the effects it had on people’s rebirths. In the third watch he awakened to dependent origination. Since I don’t have much of a penchant for the supernatural, I only garner significance from the last two. Gautama, in the second and third watch of the night, became aware of the karmic conditions of suffering and to dependent arising, or dependent origination, or the contingency in everything. From there, Siddartha was awakened and declared himself the Tathagata.

These conditions of suffering came from the karmic result of our actions, of which the Buddha put emphasis on our intentions. He puts so much emphasis on intention that he equates it to karma. Awareness of our selves, of the mind, then becomes of prime significance to living a good life. Ethics and morality are centered more in the quality of our intentions, which we each can have control over, rather than in ritual deeds over which a priest-class has monopoly.

The third watch makes the most sense to me, not only because it is lacking any overtly supernatural cause, but because it puts the whole message of Buddhism in an understandable context. Karma, emptiness, impermanence, interdependence, the four noble truths, and other things make sense in light of the awakening in the third watch. They all seem to be ways of stating the doctrine of dependent origination which is nothing more than this:

When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

What could be simpler than that? So this is what I think the Buddha awakened to. Of course, I could be overlooking something. But that’s what this blog and teachers are for.


5 Comments so far
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When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

action / reaction

Comment by dir7y

The title is “awakening to what?” I believe, from my own personal experience, that the awakening was to a new state of consciousness, a higher state of consciousness. Ethics and morality are quite important but are just part of the picture of a person whose highest aim in life is enlightenment. Enlightenment or awakening is completely experiential. A person must experience it to have any real knowledge about it. It is useless to speculate about it unless you have had at least a brief experience of it, just a tiny taste.

Not all people have the temperament to care about enlightenment. I believe it is something a person is born with. It is part of a constelation of characteristics of a certain personality type. These people often are very compassionate, people oriented, idealistic, peace loving, idea-oriented, intelligent, warm, friendly, curious, and inspiring people. Not everyone has these characteristics, the world takes all kinds to function properly.

It is my understanding that a shift in consciousness occurs because one’s brain waves change in a manner that cause consciousness to emerge from the neo-cortex or frontal lobes rather than where it normally emerges from, deep in the center of the brain where evolution has placed it thus far. The next leap in evolution, if humans survive long enough, is a permanent shift in consciousness to the “new brain.” For now, the only way to experience our next step in evolution, if you are not already there, (I currently am not) is to meditate, do yoga, etc. To be in the state of enlightenment is the greatest source of inner peace, balance, health, and harmony one could possibly imagine. Take a moment to imagine what your life would be like if you woke up with zero problems in your life and you knew that if any “problem” ever came up you could easily handle it. On top of that, imagine that you also have true happiness, a happiness that simply is. A happiness that doesn’t depend at all on anything external. No stress, no thought or care about what others think of you, just happiness for no good reason. It’s attainable.

Comment by Votica

I realize this is an incredibly old post, but it is very relevant to my existence at this moment. Your post along with the two comments and very inspiring. Thanks for sharing 🙂

Comment by Moses

As Above, So Below.

Comment by Felipe

shellac nails – shellac nails shellac nails –
shellac nails are the hottest hit of 2010.
I can see myself having them on at least another week.

This pampering session is finished off with a relaxing Shampoo and
Blow Dry to complete your new look. So now I am nearly 3
weeks in on the shellac nails – shellac nails I had done original post here so they are
at the end of it. I love nice nails, but I just wanted
them clear so that I could change the colour as I liked.

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