BHUTAN: Buddha’s Final Teaching – Freedom Lies beyond Change
The great Buddha passed away two and a half millennium years ago. Under the twin sal trees, on his bed, which Ananda had made for him, lying down in his reclining lion pose, he asked his disciples, “Do you have any queries for me. After I am gone, I do not want you to regret not having asked me something.”
No one replied.
Buddha asked the same question thrice, on that fateful night when the moon was full. It was under the same full moon, in the Vesak month that he was born, he had acquired enlightenment and he knew he would pass on to the Higher realms on this same night. He sighed. Buddha knew it was out of respect that his disciples were silent.
In the third quarter of the night, he drew his disciples close once again, and said, “I would like to share one final teaching to you all.”
“Impermanence of beings is the basic nature of all things – animate or inanimate. Continue to work hard for your freedom.”
Having said this, Buddha slipped into meditation. He went into deeper layers of consciousness, and finally, he came out, bid farewell to the monks, and attained parinirvana. He left behind nothing of his karma which could cause him a rebirth again.
As our chauffeur Sonam recounted the above incident from the life of Buddha, I was magically transported back to that tiny village in Uttar Pradesh where Buddha breathed his physical last.
“Buddha’s teachings left behind is what matters most, his life is but a mere inspiration. It is for us to get enthused to follow what he has left behind for us,” continued Sonam.
“There is this painting called wheel of life and it enables us to contemplate on the entire cycle of life and death, and eternal existence,” said Sonam.
“So it does,” I thought, “but where is it?”
As we arrived at the Punakha Dzong (Fort), we had an assault on our senses. It is the most beautiful of Dzongs in all of Bhutan. Look at the picture, how its beautifully perched on a small island, at the convergence of Pochu (male river) and Mochu (female river) with a lot of purple Jacaranda flowers beautifying it further than impossible. It is the administrative and judicial house of the city of Punakha.
It is also the most ethereal of all places on earth. There is only one entry into the Dzong, where you have to walk through the Bazam (bridge). It is a beautiful wooden bridge built on the confluence of the two chus (rivers).
The three courtyards inside the Dzong transports you back to heaven. Sitting there, you can slip into deep peaceful meditations.
Wheel of Life (Bhavacakra)
Sonam showed the painting of the wheel of life inside the Dzong.
“When we examine this wheel, we see that there are six divisions. These are the realms of God, demi-god, human, animal, ghost, and hell,” said Sonam.
Well, let me not explain in detail the elements of this wheel. Suffice to say that as our karma drops away, we travel from the inner most point of the wheel, outwards. We attain liberation, and this is indicated by Buddha pointing to the pristine full moon. You can read it in detail here on wiki if you are interested.
Experiences and Perceptions
As we walked out of the largest courtyard housing the Bodhi tree, we explored the grounds of Dzongs, the colourful flowers adorning the slender Jacaranda trees, we were left wondering about the wheel of life – from the inner to the outer, from the outer to the inner, about perceptions, about impermanence, about Nirvana and so on.
We walked out of the Punakha Dzong, as dusk was creeping out shyly. The mauve Jacaranda flowers set across the winking pink sky, made us hold our breath in our hearts.
“Let us hurry, perhaps it is about to rain,” we could hear Sonam urging us to move on.
We walked back on the Bazam (bridge) and felt a deep inner peace settle in our hearts. The experience of understanding the wheel of life helped me reflect on my own meditative process.
March to Freedom
What exactly is freedom?
There are so many definitions for this word from so many people. For people subject to colonization, it is to make their land free from the oppressors. For a student under a strict teacher, it is different. For children, it is still yet so different.
Daaji quotes Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur and says, “The natural yearning of the soul is to be free from bondage.”
He further says, “This yearning or craving for freedom is the core of our human purpose. You could say, in fact, that the march to freedom is our true human purpose.”
Buddha said the same thing too in his final teaching – to move beyond and towards true freedom, by breaking free of the shackles of this perception of things and people. I use the word, “perception” because when we speak about change or impermanence, what exactly changes?
Does the nature of things change?
Or does our perception change because of our own growth or evolution?
Or perhaps both…? I don’t know yet, let us explore together.
On a typical day, you get ready for work, the sun is shining bright and leaves you with a cheerful hum on your lips, you arrive on time to the work place, attend meetings, things go smoothly, go home, and have a relaxed and restful sleep. You feel content, at peace, and in the perfect state of mind.
Now consider the scenario where you wake up, to find that the wifi is not working, and you cannot check your friends’ social media updates, the coffee machine has broken down and you cannot have a cup of your elixir, your car refuses to start, and your cab arrives late, the same sun feels scorching hot on your back, and trickles of sweat leave you with a frustration. The meetings are a disaster because you lose your cool, and finally, you come back home, to find the internet not restored and dinner burnt. You decide to go to bed because you have no more energy to get things to work.
Now, what is impermanence?
Your perception of this second scenario helps create your experience of that day. Have you seen these Zen monks? No matter what happens around them in the world, in their lives, they walk unfazed and with a peaceful face and serene smile on their lips. That is ‘perception’, according to Buddha. They know the impermanence of things. And by the word, ‘know’ I mean, really ‘know’ as in they have experienced that the reality of things is beyond change or lack of it thereof.
When you reach the stage in your personal spiritual evolution, where you can be left unfazed in the second scenario, and your perception remains what it ought to be, your perception leads you to change. Your perception allows you to grow.
Your perception is the source of your spiritual evolution, leading you to freedom from bondage.
In my opinion, that could be the most profound transformational process in the Universe. The understanding and perception that we are the whole, and not part of the whole, that is when our freedom is achieved.
When I shared this article with a friend, he asked, “What is beyond the whole?” I didn’t have an answer, because I didn’t think there was anything beyond it. And then he said, “Anything man can conceive of, there is always something beyond it.”
I wonder, if even the whole is not permanent, what of freedom?
For the philosophic curios, I leave you with a question – What do you think is true freedom?
Photo Credit: The Author
This is part of the series of Featured Articles, written by #WorldMom Purnima of India during her travels to Bhutan. This article first came up on WorldMomsNetwork.com.