The Elegance of Suffering & Awakening: A Journey into the Unknown – on taking Retreat & the Buddhist Middle Way.
By: Kali Basman
Tathagata, Gautuma, Siddhartha, were all name for the Buddha and I want to share a story of this enlightened beings quest into the home of the heart.
The Buddhas journey into seeking began from a very prominent privileged stance. He lead a royal life- was given women of his choice to never feel lonely, lotus flowers were thrown before his feet before he would take a spot so that he never had to touch cold hard ground, and he was spoonfed delectable cuisine long before a rumble of hunger ever erupted from his belly. Sheltered from suffering, Prince Siddhartha was blind to the state of suffering until taking a walk outside the palace walls one day he saw a man at the end of his life. Upon seeing the suffering that leads to death for the first time, he realized even he was susceptible to the ills of the body and the emergence of pain and decay.
That day Siddhartha posed a self-inquiry that fueled a revolution, the same question that you whisper to yourself in the fold of trauma and loss, when you feel alone or in despair:
“What is meaningful in this brief flash of life?”
His ache for an answer became so great he left a newborn son and wife to seek out a way to approach suffering. This was 2,600 years ago and at the time Siddhartha Gautama was 29 years old. He then spent many years alone, on pilgrimage, in seeking, just as we do when we seek out spiritual retreat away from the comforts of home and familiarity of every day patterns.
For forever, insight seekers has been leaving the daily routine & comforts of home, the everyday circulation of events to instead open into wonder, and to keep asking:
“What are the roots of my suffering? What are the roots of Human suffering?”
And so the Buddha traveled- along the way he found sages and teachers, experienced formless dimensions in different wisdom traditions, meditated with many communities, saw death, saw birth, kept wondering how to alleviate suffering. Nobody had his answer, but one day he found a community of Jains- stringent ascetics. They believed to avoid suffering one must renounce all worldly pleasures. They thought the only way to release suffering is to distance the self from the body as much as possible. At this time the Buddha devoted himself to the practice of asceticism and lives in a cave for 5 years. It is said he lived off of 1 sesame seed 1 drop of water and 1 grain rice. Committed Self-flagellation daily. The body of the Buddha was hanging on by a thin thread of life…
One day he was washing in a river, and weak and emaciated he slipped and almost drowned. He found himself fighting hard for his life. He felt his precious body grasping for the bank of the river. When he finally pulled himself on to land, he had a flash of insight: he had been delusional. Life is sacred and precious. This human body is a gift.
Tathagata had to be drowning to have found this out. He had to have been starving to get to the bottom, from this deep cave he was living in, to uncover this. So too the personal insights that need to dawn in our life’s phases often come after suffering or feeling lost. Sometimes we have to go all the way to feeling what it’s like to be malnourished within ourselves – to see where we are able to take ourselves next.
As the Buddha dried his emaciated body on the banks of the river, a woman fed him a sweet bun. Imagine- after years of starvation- how he felt to take in nourishment, sweetness of life. In his quest to figure out where freedom was he forget inner wisdom that’s pre-personal- comes before we are born.
The Buddha left the Jains that day and found a plane of existence where everything is already free. Nothing is a mistake. You are here to walk through a portal of your own opening. That takes Living into your question, the unknown, the suffering, the mystery more fully. Trust the obstacles that come. The psychology of the human spirit thrives off of inquiry, reflection. You will keep dissolving deeper levels of delusion, and opening more hidden doors in the home of the human heart..
Our lives are determined by the questions we are, or are not asking. What are we willing to risk to know deeper truths?
Want to practice with Kali and learn more about buddhism philosophy?
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International yoga teacher Kali Basman enriches the paradigm of Yin Yoga to integrate distinct aspects of Self into an innate wisdom practice to awaken a rich inner life and radiate with ritual. Her offering honors Yin Yoga as a tool to surrender to our intrinsic wholeness.
On the textured path of mindful healing, Kali is celebrated for her integration of the 5 Elements and Chinese Meridian Theory with self-inquiry, embodied Anatomy, Buddhist Philosophy of Equanimity, and sharp intellect.