Right after Buddha’s enlightenment, a man saw him and became confounded by his presence. The man asked the Buddha if he was a god, an angel or a saint, but to each question the Buddha answered “no”. Then the man finally asked, “Then who are you?” The Buddha replied: “I am awake”. In this story, the Buddha never referred to himself as a person. Instead, he embodied a moving presence, of being and becoming awake. Awakening is highly coveted by many Buddhists, as much as salvation is by many Christians. Awakening has been seen as a lofty spiritual ideal, which makes difficult for many to glimpse it, let alone gain it. Awakening as a concept is difficult to reconcile and its quality is nearly impossible to achieve.
Awakening and enlightenment often describe a particular state, which in Buddhist language is termed as nirvana. It is a state indescribable and unbound and unconditioned by human experience. If such state exists, how could any human be possibly reaching it? The Buddha himself assured everyone is capable of attaining nirvana. He taught that each human being has an awakened nature deep within oneself. He demonstrated the why and how of this process. Yet if the concept of nirvana still baffles anyone who tries to reach it, how can its experience will bring clarity?
Whenever I read or hear this word, the wisdom of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh always crosses my mind. In his book Being Peace, after giving an example of a man who is able to free himself of rage and anger, he described him in this way: “At that moment, there is budh (Sanskrit: awakening) in him. He understands, he is awake. When you understand, you cannot help but Love.” (p.24) In the previous page, Hanh writes: “Understanding and Love aren’t two separate things, they’re just one.” How come such wisdom connects Love to awakening? Hahn understands this basic purpose of our human lives. Love is essentially the nature of awakening.
Because in each of us, Love is always awake.
Our society has an estranged relationship with Love. We know Love as a romantic concept, an emotional experience, or a social obligation. But it has never occurred to us that Love is an awakening. We have been in slumber of our true nature. Our behavior has always been against each other and for our selfish ends. We deliberately use Love to keep ourselves asleep. And we misunderstand Love as we equate it with many unbelievably misguided and preposterous meanings.
For many logical reasons, both Love and awakening are quite hard to comprehend and even harder to describe. We confuse ourselves in our attempt to understand them. To keep on decoding these concepts precludes true understanding. We would eventually realize that it is not really about understanding these concepts, but to understand ourselves that we cannot understand. By seeing our limitation to comprehend Love is the moment we awaken to it. Our brains may be unable to articulate the rationality of Love, but at least they are capable of redirecting our attention. To be open enough to understand ourselves and others is a noble task of Love, a genuine awakening in its right.
Each of us is not a lone being in this world. Each of us strives to find answers to the endless problems of the world, to rectify these abominable conditions in the best way we can. Love is the bottom line of this. To Love is to understand our own human inabilities as well as our many abilities to share Love. In this acknowledged suffering, we are awakened to a shared Love through compassion. With our received blessings, we are awakened to a shared Love through gratitude. Amid our recognized differences, we are awakened to a shared Love through deep understanding. Awakening is a matter of Love, of expressing it in our most personal and unique manner, bearing its most universal essence. Love is our shared humanity. To awaken in it is the fulfillment of our ultimate purpose.
The Buddha once prophesied that his successor returns centuries after his death and the death of his teachings. He called it the Metteya (or Maitreya) Buddha. The return of the new Buddha brings awakening to many. No one knows when, not even among the Buddhists. But it is promising to know that metteya, derived from the word metta, which in Pali language means “Love” and buddha means “the awakened one”. Guided by this meaning, we can now begin watching the world more keenly. Across all races and nations, the experience of Love for oneself, others and the world has now been awakened and continues to awaken. To be awakened in Love is not just found within the Buddhist thought but in the very root of human existence, regardless of our diversity. It might be the whole humanity instead of just a single person. Because in each of us, Love is always awake.
- Finding My Path (thistimethisspace.com)