By Kellie Schorr
I love the story of the Buddha’s life.
Every time a teacher or speaker says, “Let’s start with the story of the Buddha…” I settle in and smile. It’s better than Cinderella plays the Hunger Games and discovers Camelot. I enjoy the rich descriptions of the opulence of his youth, wince at the starvation and deprivation of his seeking, and rejoice when he rises from the Bodhi Tree to tell his students the way to stop suffering.
My favorite part, the one that makes me lean forward in anticipation and excitement, is when the Buddha is challenged by Mara the Tempter. Distractions and delights, flaming arrows and dancing girls—who wouldn’t lose it at some point? The Buddha, that’s who. I break my meditation when the dog barks to save me from being murdered by that scary leaf blowing around the front yard.
My inability to place my attention on the breath at the first bark, finger snap or stomach growl— (especially the stomach growl: “Can’t sit now, I’m starving to death”)—used to have me worried. If I can’t ignore the most common distractions, how am I going to achieve enlightenment or even enough inner peace to get through the express line when the woman in front of me pulls out a change purse and says, “I think I have 72 cents,”? I’m doomed!
I would feel significant stress about my inability to do the smallest things on a consistent basis if it wasn’t for the most beautiful word in all of mindfulness.
Not “Namaste.” The word I’m talking about has more raw power than that.
Not “Prajnaparamita.” The word I’m thinking is easier to spell.
Not even “Metta”—the divine blessing of loving kindness.
The most beautiful word in all of Buddhism is this:
In Buddhism we do things until. We don’t have to be perfected. We are not expected. We practice and persevere. We laugh, accept, and try, try again—until we can. Until is the ultimate antidote to the daunting sense of personal failure that, like Mara, attempts to keep us from our enlightenment. Got a case of “I can’t…”? Get a shot of “until.”
Kellie: I can’t say the loving kindness mantra for someone who has hurt me. I don’t care if they are happy. I don’t want them to be well. I can’t feel compassion for them.
Dharma: Say it until you can.
Kellie: I can’t meditate for 30 minutes. My head will explode.
Dharma: Meditate until you can. Sit for 10, until you can sit for 15. Baby steps, baby.
Kellie: I’m too full of self, of story, of desires. I grasp and cling and then cling some more. I can’t even see a future where I’m remotely able to be fully awake.
Dharma: Practice until you can.
The first time I encountered the magic of until was in a meditation session where we had a substitute leader. Instead of ending the session as our regular leader did (“We offer this merit to all sentient beings.”) this new leader ended our time by asking us to say this with her:
“Until we become enlightened, we take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher; Dharma, the teachings; and Sangha, the taught.”
UNTIL we become enlightened. That means all we have to be—right now, in this moment, on this cushion (or anywhere else) is exactly who we are, where we are. If we’ve acted with compassion and managed to consistently meditate, we need to keep doing it until we stop needing so much praise about it. If we’ve acted unskillfully and caused harm to ourselves or others, we need to practice and make course corrections until that changes.
There can be a lot of pressure about time in Buddhism.
We are encouraged to practice all the time, making big strides and thinking deep thoughts, because the world is collapsing, the dharma needs teaching and we could die any minute.
The idea of impermanence is supposed to encourage and inspire us to live our best lives. In western culture with our constant doomsday clocks and addiction to productivity, it simply sets the stress-o-meter to “Boil.”
* “The trouble is you think you have time” we see on memes all over the social mediasphere. The quote is falsely attributed to the Buddha, but was actually from Jack Kornfield’s lovely Buddha’s Little Instruction Book. It was a phrase he took from fictional character Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan.
* “Every minute you spend now is a karma seed of tomorrow” some teachers say with encouraging smiles. Wow, doesn’t that make the 15 minutes you spent in the Starbucks drive thru seem crappy?
*“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.” – The Buddha. This is a correctly attributed quote from the Buddha found in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta.
Yes. Yes. Yes. The only moment is the present moment. However, our lives which can seem both infinitely long and incredibly short, depending on our perspective, are made of many moments. We may not be promised the next one, but before we hit that last one we owe it to ourselves to be authentic, not panicked.
Until means we have plenty of chances. It means we have time. It means we are okay today and we’ll be okay tomorrow, even as the definition of okay transforms over time. If it’s one of those days we are really not okay? That’s okay too, until it changes.
How long did the Buddha sit under the Bodhi tree?
Until he became enlightened.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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