In Bodh Gaya, past shimmering water, rice paddies, and red-clay hamlets I found Buddha sitting crossed-legged beneath the distinctive heart-shaped leaves of the Bodhi tree. Eyes closed in seeming meditation, he said, “Welcome, sister. I can tell you have a lot on your mind.”
Trembling at being plucked out of my reality and finding myself in 6th century northeastern India, I took a deep breath and sat down in front of Siddhartha. For some reason, I knew exactly where I was and who was in front of me. A part of my mind wanted to question that, but a larger part of me didn’t care how I knew. Buddha looked nothing like the pictures I’d seen, but his radiant energy left no doubt. I had so many questions I didn’t know where to start.
I blurted, “You should probably know I’m not Buddhist.”
Translucent amber eyes opened. I felt a waterfall of love wash over me. “Buddhism, Christianity… they’re just words. What’s in your heart? Don’t think about it first.”
I flashed back to what brought me here, sitting in front of this awakened holy man. One moment I was at the cash register of a vegetarian café, about to place my order, and the next I found myself in this ancient forest. It must have happened after I saw the laughing Buddha statue and rubbed his belly for good luck (I was just following the instructions on the sign at the register!).
Coppersmith barbets, small birds with green bodies, yellow cheeks, and throats, and redheads called out in metallic tuk, tuk, tuks, reminiscent of a copper sheet being beaten. The scent of what I swear was Nag Champa incense wafted in the breeze. If this was a hallucination, it was a damn fine one.
Feeling my stomach tighten, I leaned forward. Either way, this was my chance to get some answers. “Can you foresee my future? Or are you just going to tell me to look within? I’ve tried that. It was a bust.”
“So, you think there’s a ‘you.’ No wonder you feel so dissatisfied!” He giggled.
“You just used the word ‘you’! This right here is why religion is so confusing. Eastern religion most of all.” I scrubbed my eyes. “For once I’d just like a straight answer.”
“Hmmm.” He tilted his head. “I can see the future sometimes but since we’re breaking the rules… Here’s the fortune in your fortune cookie: You’re going to live a long life.”
I tightened my fists. The burning question was what kind of life.
He continued. “Yes, a long life. You’ll make some bad choices, some smart choices, and then you’ll come to a ‘big decision.’ I’m not talking about a new job or how to grow your 401k.” He settled deeper into himself. “You’re going to decide if you’ll become … me. And that question will come up again and again until it gets answered.”
“What does that mean – Are you saying I need to become a Buddha?” I was so lost.
“Are you happy?” He countered.
“If I’m being honest, it feels as if something’s missing from my life. Like I’m hurrying toward a bus stop but never finding it. I just keep running, searching, knowing that if I could just catch this bus, I’d get to where I’m supposed to be. Or doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s a muddle.”
“I see you know what unhappiness feels like. You’re not alone. Human beings can’t help but think it’s all about ‘me’.” He reached out his index finger and touched the spot between my eyebrows. “Me, me, me… so much misery from this little word.”
As he spoke, I felt my sense of self drop away. Without any label, I saw life expressing itself. Just life. There was no sense of loss, no sense of right or wrong. Chaos had its place. It was so clear. Peace also had its place. And nothing was personal. Yet everything was intensely part of my experience.
In a few short minutes, it was over. I felt myself return to my body. To the small self which constantly fought for answers and control. It was weaker now, less dense. I could continue to struggle, try to wrestle life into my limited understanding of it or I could learn to let go. Like the Buddha. Like Jesus. Like nature itself. Effortless effort a yoga teacher once called it. I never understood that at the time.
The incense started to burn my eyes. A vibration started at the base of my spine like the singing of a Tibetan bowl. Our time was almost up.
The light around me grew brighter and brighter. I could barely see Buddha’s outline as I became engulfed in golden flame. “Om mani padme hum, sister. Learn to be compassionate to your amazing self.” He opened one eye and winked. “Just remember… being the Buddha is no excuse to let loose on the donuts. A big belly is optional. And one more thing… I believe in you.”
The buzzing sensation grew louder until I couldn’t think. As quick as a snap, I was back at the café. “Well, miss, have you decided yet?”
Photo by Alice Popcorn