Photo by Author, Botanical Garden in California
Yesterday over 2,500 years ago, the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, passed away, entering Nirvana, the ultimate enlightenment state.
At his death bed surrounded by all his disciples, sentient beings, and deities, the Buddha expounded his last teaching, the Great Nirvana Sutra. In the last teaching, he preached for the first time the essence of his enlightenment- wisdom and loving-kindness & compassion- would never extinguish but be found in the ever-present Dharma Body. The inner goodness all sentient beings possess connects us with the dharma body, enlightenment.
In this way, the Buddha opened up its possibility, we too, find all-encompassing interconnectivity and attain the state of bliss and enlightenment like him, here and now.
My answer is Gratitude.
Gratitude is the first door to open a path to Bliss and Enlightenment.
It is also the last door to keep us stay open to bliss.
Humility invites us to Gratitude.
Gratitude is not given in an accident or a chance.
Gratitude is not a conditional but conditioned state, a cultivated state of mind.
Wholeheartedness empowers its process of cultivation.
One night, I was engaged in my daily, often semi-daily, ritual and service to my beloved cats, Tommy and Omi. They are nine-year-old tabby siblings, a ginger-orange boy, and a blackish grey girl, respectively. My late husband Patrick and I had adopted them from the local humane society. They were little kitten weighed only a couple of pounds. Back then, Patrick and I had been deeply grieving for our previous cat, Toto, who we’d lost a few weeks earlier. While we’d gone back and forth with tons of unused in-kind donation items to the society, Patrick had spotted Tommy in the shielded viewer window.
Let me tell you about their brushing rules, rituals. When I brush Tommy and Omi, two identical brushes in my hands, I brush them “intently” and “attentively.” Please don’t laugh, but I do this every single time wholeheartedly. If my heart is elsewhere, they become a mirror of my attitude. They are no longer interested in brushing, or me, then leave. Our brushing time becomes my test of how sincere I could be to them.
Another rule is that I usually brush Tommy first. Tommy is my baby, hanging around me very closely, waiting for his brushing for hours. So, I do him first. This is “the must,” the unbreakable rule. Then Omi comes in the next and the last. She is a smarter one. With patience, she gets more than what she wants in the end.
That night Tommy got brushed first as usual. I applied one stroke with my right hand and the other with the left, repeating them. I was modifying the ways of strokes as he wished with the two brushes on his orange coat. He was constantly purring and drooling a drop of saliva at each stroke. He stretched his throat, asking the brush to be there at that right spot. He was in a state of ecstasy, melting away and having such a blissful moment.
Then, Omi walked by, almost gently rubbing her body against me. She is in a full figure, bigger than Tommy, always giving him a bit of threat. All of a sudden, Tommy stood up, snorted once, and walked away. Upset! It was so abrupt. “Tommy?” I called. But he couldn’t fix his mood.
Well, too bad. I began the next, brushing Omi. I did the same way to Omi. She walked away as I finished with her. As I looked at him, Tommy was already in his tree bed but still having difficulty forgetting what’d happened or regaining a better mood. I was sure that he would be better after a short nap.
This was just my cats’ story.
But I see this “bliss turning into the hell” situation quite often in our lives. The best blissful moment could go into the garbage, depending on what we perceive and attach to it. Happiness is derived from unique, personal, yet sharable spiritual experiences. But it can interfere with the ego-centered mind, particularly, comparison with others in ways of opportunity, wealth, possessions, or even ability causes us sadness, disappointment, lack of confidence, greed, and even anger.
The world we live in is never and will never be perfect. In this pandemic situation, it is evident that more and more existing underlying problems in our society have come to the surface. But in this uncertain problematic world, are we simply making ourselves more vulnerable to the outer world or keeping ourselves more grounded? When we train ourselves to stay in the present moment, we can be more grounded, humble, and grateful, and vice versa.
The recent second injection of the COVID vaccine gave me serious reactions all over my body. I hadn’t previously searched common adverse effects from the second vaccine to become a bit of a surprise.
It started with severe pains on my left arm, where the injection was rendered. My arm became too stiff and swollen even to lay it on the bed. Followed by nausea, severe aches on muscles of the extremities, joints, back, and even stomach. On Day 2, it’s worsened with additional symptoms like occasional chills, electrified headache, and nighttime coughs. I was so amazed the second vaccine could develop various inflammatory reactions so quickly.
While coughing, I thought about those who had suffered from the Covid infection and the victims who had died from it. During the sleepless nights, I prayed sincerely for them. I didn’t know what might develop next, but I didn’t have fear. I experienced all pains and any symptoms as if I were floating in the river without any resistance.
On the third day, when I woke up from the short night’s sleep, I knew I was better. I was welled up with immense gratitude. It wasn't because I'd got better, but because I’d had the opportunity to experience the Covid, though it was an attenuated version of sickness with the vaccine. My symptoms were short yet severe enough to imagine how dreadful the Covid infection could have been to me and those who had suffered and/or died from it. I appreciated the experience of the suffering I’d had for two days.
Later, I’ve found myself in much appreciation of just being alive and life for its entirety.
Life is precious just as it is- here and now.