First, understand, this is not about worshipping the Buddha. We respect, admire, are even in awe of what the Buddha accomplished and the great gift of his teachings. But it doesn’t do him or anyone else any good to just sit and praise him. Remember, the Guardian Contemplations are all about putting US in the right frame of mind to live the good life and have great meditation.
Instead, this is about reflecting on the admirable aspects of the Buddha to arouse inspiration to meditate. For example, you might contemplate his incredible determination to live beyond suffering. He literally worked night and day for years, 100% focused on the spiritual life. That’s an inspiring story!
Let’s say you sit and are just feeling lazy. You’d really rather be watching TV or having a nap. Or whatever. That’s the time to use the contemplation on the Buddha’s determination and focus. He worked for years and year! He starved himself (because he didn’t know better). He went from teacher to teacher. He tried everything. He didn’t give up! Sure I can sit for 30’!
You can choose a contemplation here that is the antidote to what you are experiencing. You might instead contemplate his amazing compassion for all beings. His willingness to devote the last 45 years of his life to teaching. He didn’t have to do that. There are beings call Pacceka Buddhas that are fully enlightened, but for whatever reason don’t teach. There might be some out there now! But the Buddha didn’t just have wisdom and peace for himself. He worked to share that wisdom and peace with everyone that he could.
Let’s say you are trying to meditate, but you are just filled with seething anger at your spouse for forgetting to take out the trash. Or maybe you’re filled with anger at Obama for blowing the first debate. Or whatever. That’s the moment to contemplate the Buddha’s compassion. Maybe a couple of minutes of true reflection on that can help us reset our goals. Even if just for 30’. Remember what is really important here. It’s our heart and mind.
There’s another aspect of Contemplation of the Buddha that is important. Here it is: this is real. It’s real. There really was somebody (in fact, many people) who have completely gone beyond suffering in this very life. It’s not an abstract principle, or something that might or might not happen in a future world. It’s real. It’s easy to forget living in a world far away from the center of Buddhist life, far away from places where there really are arahats striding the world.
I see this with music: when a composer asks a musician to try something new, the response is almost always the same: “That’s too hard.” On the other hand, when a musician hears another musician doing something new, the response is much more likely to be: “Hey, I can do that too.”
It’s a shame we don’t have a local arahat that we can go to for inspiration. My dream is that someday America will be such a center of Buddhist activity we will have arahats. I don’t think there is anything better that could happen for the world than if we were able to foster even a few truly enlightened beings. But for the moment, just remembering that the Buddha was a flesh-and-blood suffering young person. Just like you. He got hungry, he got frustrated, he had failures. But he stuck with it and followed the path all the way to the end.
Here’s something I like to consider: imagine the Buddha when he was going off on his own for the first time to meditate. He had studied with the two most respected teachers in India and found them lacking. He had practiced austerities for years with 4 other supremely dedicated spiritual seekers. He decided that wasn’t the path. He set off on his own, not really sure what to do. He had an idea that the kind of jhana practice he had tasted when he was young might be the key. He went to an empty spot in the forest. It was hot. He just had on an old robe, but he was sweating. There were insects everywhere, crawling on him, occasionally biting him. There were animal sounds. He finished his food. He found a little shade under a tree. He folded up his spare robe to sit on. He didn’t have the experience of the Buddha to inspire him. He didn’t even really know if what he wanted was possible. But it was worth trying. It was worth throwing away all the comforts of home because he knew they wouldn’t last. So he sat there. A little sweat trickled down his back. An animal hooted in the trees. He turned his attention to the breath.
We all have the same virtues as the Buddha. Truly! We are all compassionate, we are all virtuous, we are all dedicated. We just haven’t developed those qualities enough yet. If he could do it, we can to.
That’s really encouraging!
There’s an Alec Baldwin/Anthony Hopkins movie (written by David Mamet) called The Edge. At one point Anthony Hopkins starts yelling, “What one man can do, another can do!” He’s talking about killing a bear, but it’s still a good point.