|The Buddha reclining into final nirvana, Rangoon, Burma (Chaukhtatgyi/flickr.com)|
One of the most important words behind Indian spirituality is samsara, the Wheel.
The question is, Why is Buddhism special? That is, what's so special about what the Buddha rediscovered and taught?
At some point, India realized that there is a problem. Of course, half of the solution to any problem is a well formulated question.
Samsara is the endlessly revolving or cycling of rebirth and suffering. What is the solution?
Buddhism, Brahmanism (which later became Vedantic Hinduism), and Jainism propose three solutions: Each states that there is a way to liberation (moksha) from suffering and rebirth. But each defines "liberation" differently.
Brahmins say it is rebirth in the company of Brahma. Jains say it is rebirth in an unconscious plane (asaññasatta). The Buddha alone saw beyond that, even beyond beyond, seeing that those were still rebirths well within samsara. And he claimed to have not only found but also to be able to show the way -- in this very life -- to actual permanent liberation from rebirth and suffering. He called it NIRVANA, unexcelled freedom, the ultimate liberation.
So why does Zen -- like Hindu-saturated Mahayana -- say "Nirvana is Samsara"? Maybe it is because to say otherwise would posit a goal. Let us ease into the truth naturally rather than trying to force an outcome. Older Buddhist schools staying closer to the historical Buddha's words speak of the necessity of effort setting up a duality that we are here and there is a there to go to.
Anyone who sits for meditation soon realizes that it is far better and far more effective not to "strive" too hard, not to have a vigorous goal in mind. There must surely be one, but the way to success is to drop that and go. Making a goal or building up an expectation keeps one right on this shore.
Now there may or may not be a "further shore." Let's see. Buddhism is not about believing; it is about knowing-and-seeing. One can see that other shore, can reach it, and doing so seems more effortless in the doing than effortful. If yoga (union with the ultimate, whatever one posits as the ultimate) is about effort, it will be an inferior yoga. Effort-ease (sthira-sukha) is better understood as, in English terms, "flow."
- Neuroscience Lessons of Freestyle Rap (Scientific American)
When a good rapper raps, it is good precisely because one has reached a state of flow, skill, and natural ease rather than effort. The same is true of a pianist, ballplayer, driver, and so on. In foreign terms, "basic goodness," "beginner's mind," Tao (the way, the path of least resistance, flow), Zen (absorption), chi (moving energy), and "just sitting" begin to make a great deal of sense.
It is not the case that we are perfect just as we are and so there is nothing to do but sit. That would be like wearing a muddy misshapen stone on a ring finger. Hinduism, and therefore Mahayana-Buddhism, can point to our original or basic goodness because finding it, we realize it was always right here to be found. There was nothing to add. In fact, there was something to take away. That muddy misshapen stone, when polished, reveals a glistening diamond. This muddy rock was a brilliant gem!
Getting somewhere would take effort, effort opposes ease, and without ease there is no absorption (zen or jhana).
Therefore, Being Nobody Going Nowhere might be effortless, ease abandons effort, and with ease there is absorption. So it could work in practical terms even if it may be confounding philosophically. This Dharma, these things the historical Buddha taught, are ehipassiko -- "Come and see" -- inviting and worthy of investigation.