Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Three Buddhas

I recently finished Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra (HarperCollins, 2007), a feat stretching over several weeks of intermittent reading. The reading times occurred in relatively bigger chunks toward the end of the book, a reflection of perhaps my resolve to get to the author's conclusion as regards the epic journey of one of the greatest spiritual beacons there is.

At the outset, Mr. Chopra makes it very clear that this is a story, as evidenced both from the subsidiary title and his note right before the story unfolds when he writes “I wrote this book as a sacred journey, fictionalized in many of its externals but psychologically true ...”

In that respect, Mr. Chopra's Buddha is not unlike the unique manga work by Osamu Tezuka, entitled simply Buddha (English translation, Vertical, 2006) in which Mr. Tezuka took liberty with his own imagination manifested in graphic details.

I started with the first volume, Kapilavastu, which I bought from Barnes and Noble, but have yet to go beyond the first quarter. I used to like reading comic books, or graphic novels to be politically correct about it now. I think I made the switch, unconsciously though, to the written word, when I was in high school. I find that imagination is a very powerful ability, conjuring up myriads of scenarios, possibilities that a picture/drawing can hardly evoke. A mental movie would start to weave through my mind, in consonance with the flow of the author's concoction laid out in words.

Another namesake of the book is by Karen Armstrong (Penguins Group, 2004), which I checked out from a local public library a few months back. This book is much more matter-of-fact, and is a bit dry for my taste. That would explain why the book was returned hardly touched. However, I tend to have the same problem with most non-fiction works, or shall we say, books read for knowledge as they normally put a demand on your ability to understand. For fiction, one just hops along mirthfully, oblivious to the stumps/chasms that may cross the path.

Of the three Buddhas, I only finished Mr. Chopra's. Since I already have some familiarity with Sakyamuni Buddha, both the man himself and his teachings, gleaned from reading, usually only several sections, the buddhist texts that wify brought home after occasional visits to temples, Buddha did not leave a lasting impression in, or resonate, with me. I did enjoy some of the details that have eluded me in my intermittent reading of the subject, especially his interaction and characterization of his sometimes nemesis, Devadatta. Buddha's parting words (or rather Mr. Chopra's) on Devadatta is meant to be directed at the Devadatta in each of us:

When you're obsessed with hatred for someone, it's inevitable that you will return one day as his disciple. He [Devadatta] will still be arrogant and proud. But it won't matter. The fire of passion burns out eventually. Then you dig through the ashes and discover a gem. You pick it up, you look at it with disbelief. The gem was inside you all the time. It is yours to keep forever. It is buddha.”

May we all find the gem that has always been within us.

In terms of my personal benefits though, it has to be the six pages of questions and answers at the end of the book. Entitled The Art of Non-Being, Mr. Chopra expounded, albeit concisely, on the three ways to live the wisdom of the Buddha: social (forming groups of disciples into a Sangha), ethical (centered on the value of compassion), and mystical (taking to heart the message of non-self, necessitating ego death).

Admittedly, despite Mr. Chopra's valiant attempts, some notions are still too nebulous to sink our teeth to, so to speak. Example are the negative phrases such as “non-doing” and “no desire”. The former, in Mr. Chopra's words, “isn't passivity but a state of openness to all possibilities". Similarly, the latter is to be understood “in a positive sense, as fulfillment” whence “desire is irrelevant”. Then there is non-self, which does not mean that you lose yourself at all. Rather, “it's who you are when there are no personal attachments.”

It seems fitting to end this blog with an excerpt from the last page of the book (pg. 278):

Buddhism is a do-it-yourself project, and that's the secret of its appeal in the modern world. Don't we all ultimately concentrate on personal suffering and what our individual fate will be? Buddha asked for nothing else as a starting point, and yet he promised that the end point would be eternity.”

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