A friend recently commented during a conversation we were having about this blog that it didn’t seem necessary to use other people’s quotes, that what I have to say is enough. I very much appreciated that comment and have considered it a good bit since. Why do I love quotes so much? What is it about quotes?
What I’ve seen is that while there are hundreds of quotes I’ve found and love from as many people, there are a small number of individuals—my spiritual heroes—from whom I’ve collected just about every word they’ve written. There was my big clue!
When the Buddha spoke, the wisdom behind his words transformed his listeners. A person, finally-tuned and ready, would be transformed simply by being in his presence. The words of the Buddha communicated the wisdom, love, and compassion of a being awake in nonseperate reality. The Buddha was an expression of the wisdom, love, and compassion that animates all. His existence demonstrated what is possible for those of us not so far along the path of awakening, assuring us repeatedly of our authentic nature and ability to awaken and end suffering in this very lifetime.
We conditioned humans are taught to focus intently on the content of life (the differences) while missing the process (the sameness). We will tend to see the Buddha as very different from ourselves, special, other, and in that way believe conditioned voices arguing that his attainment is an impossibility for ourselves. But, if we focus on process we begin to realize that the wisdom, love, and compassion the Buddha so beautifully demonstrated is being expressed all around us all the time. Once we know what we’re looking for, we realize we are feeling it all day, every day. We get confused because we think it has a particular form, shape, color, and texture; we don’t expect to find it in the call of a bird or the tiny, fragile bits of green emerging in the spring. And we certainly don’t expect to find it in the wrinkled face and gnarled hands of an old person or in the faces of the poor or the hungry. But it is there, too, and it moves us.
Which brings us back to quotes. Years ago someone used the image of a water well in attempting to explain the transmission of the experience of nonseperate reality that we experience as wisdom, love, and compassion in our lives. Water is water and it doesn’t matter who draws the water or where that well is located; all water is water and, depending on the purity of the source, will be pure and will quench the thirst. That well could be in Alaska or Afghanistan, China or Rio. The person drawing the water might be of any color or culture, might speak any language and call the liquid by any name, but the water is the same water, made up of the same properties, and will do the same good job of slaking the thirst. In just this way a person in any age, from any culture, with or without any particular religious or even spiritual affiliation, who, if just for a moment, experiences and then communicates the transcendent potential of a human incarnation, gives us the means of following the clarity behind the words back to the source of inspiration.
And so I give you Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 120-180, emperor of Rome from A.D. 161, who wrote in his journal this conversation with himself two thousand years ago!
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
----But it’s nicer here….
So you were born to feel “nice?” Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and the spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
----But we have to sleep sometime….
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.
Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?
Why do I love quotes so much? Because these quotes are from my teachers and guides. Because they express the awakening I live for. And because they expand exponentially the inspiring, comforting, encouraging presence of Sangha.