Thursday, January 10, 2013

Update on My Quest for Enlightment

“ ‘You may seek it with thimbles — and seek it with care;
 You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
 You may charm it with smiles and soap —’ ”
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

It’s just too cold and gloomy outside. I love the winter weather in So Cal, and I love the rain: almost 4” in my backyard since rains began in mid-December. That’s almost a year’s worth. But it’s not inviting outside, so here I sit in an overheated house – bored with dehydrating fruit marinated with spices and liquor. (Although I should mention that my pears seasoned with crushed anise seeds and infused with violet liquor are awesome.)

So, trying to reach enlightenment seems like a worthwhile diversion.

And my search has been a qualified success. I have had a revelation. The search for enlightenment is what separates man from animals.  Cooped up with me when it’s too cold and rainy for a walk or a romp on the rocks in the front yard, my dog prefers to search for trouble. Or a place to pee, or  for something of questionable edibility on the floor.

I have also realized that my dog’s definition of edible – plastic objects like medicine jar lids, rubber canning gaskets, pencils, dropped silverware – is somewhat broader than hungry humans might consider possible sources of food. Perhaps that’s another thing that separates us from animals. Although I haven’t verified this by checking with Wikipedia, I am confident that humans generally don’t eat jar lids or forks. 

So is that sense of certainty on the basis of no thoughtful study or research another sign that I’m becoming enlightened? Or, in the alternative, is it a sign that I’m more like Todd Aiken than I ever suspected?

But I have learned another thing in my quest for enlightenment, and I will share it with you.  I thought that the term Bodhi Tree referred to a single tree beneath which Gautama Buddha attained supreme enlightenment. The species of his tree is generally understood to be a sacred fig (Ficus religiosa).

But it turns out that Bhodi Tree means Tree of Enlightment and may or may not be a sacred fig. According to Robert Beer, Tibetan Buddhist Symbols there have been Six Universal Buddhas, each of whom “are believed to have attained enlightenment under different trees”.   They are:

Budda              Tree
Vipashyin        Ashoka (Saraca indica)
Shikhin            Pundarika or edible white lotus tree
Vishvabhu       Sala tree (Vatica robusta, Shorea robusta)                
Krakuchandra  Shirisha tree (Acacia sirissa
Kanakamuni    Glomerous fig tree, or undumbara (Ficus glomerata)
Kashyapa        Banyan tree (Ficus indicia)

I have an abridged version of the above book by Beer: The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Strangely it lists only 5, skipping Shikhin. Either there is something about the “epochs preceding Shakyamuni” which I didn’t bother to read and would explain this; or the abridged version is abridged because it only lists 5 of the 6. From the Handbook, I was left with the impression that Gautama Buddha and his sacred fig was the sixth of the Six Universal Buddhas.

Clearly, I’ve got work to do before I will be ready to sit under whatever tree I select to be my tree of enlightenment. By then, I hope the weather improves.

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