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A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries
The path of the spiritual revolutionary is a long-term and gradual journey toward awakening. If you are looking for a quick fix or easy salvation, turn back now, plug back into the matrix, and enjoy your delusional existence. This is a path for rebels, malcontents, and truth seekers. The wisdom and compassion of the Buddha is available to us all, but the journey to freedom is arduous. It will take a steadfast commitment to truth and, at times, counterinstinctual action.
You have at your disposal everything you need to undertake this journey. There is only one prerequisite: the willingness to do the work, to follow the path through the darkest recesses of your mind and heart, to stand up in the face of great resistance and fear and continue in the direction of freedom. For those who are willing, ability is a given.
The Buddha isn't a god or deity to be worshipped. He was a rebel and an overthrower, the destroyer of ignorance, the great physician who discovered the path to freedom from suffering. The Buddha left a legacy of truth for us to experience for ourselves. The practices and principles of his teachings lead to the direct experience of liberation. This is not a faith-based philosophy, but an experiential one. The point of the spiritual revolution is not to become a good Buddhist, but to become a wise and compassionate human being, to awaken from our life of complacency and ignorance and to be a buddha. In order to do so, it is helpful to study the life and teachings of the original rebel, Sid—the Buddha.
Sid—The Rebel Saint
Let's go all the way back to the origin of this teaching and tradition—that is, to the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. How is it that we are still studying and practicing what he experienced and taught more than 2,500 years later and on the other side of the planet?
He was born by the name Siddhartha Gautama, but for the purposes of sacrilege and brevity I will refer to him as "Sid" until the point in the story when he wakes up—that is, the point at which he reaches enlightenment and becomes the Buddha.
Sid's father was the ruler of a small kingdom in northern India (now southern Nepal). Sid's mother, that ruler's first wife, died shortly after Sid's birth. His father then married his dead wife's sister, and Sid was raised by his father and his aunt.
There was a sage, probably a fortune-teller or astrologist, who came to the birth and said he'd had a vision: he had seen the coming of a future enlightened being. The sage foretold that this baby would grow into that being, and prophesied that he would become either a great enlightened spiritual master or a powerful warrior-king.
Sid's parents did not want their son to leave them and become a spiritual master, because spiritual masters do not hang out with their families much and rarely go into the family business. He was their only son and they wanted to keep him. They wanted him to inherit the family dynasty and become ruler. Fearing the truth of the sage's prediction, they kept him secluded. The family had three palaces, and he rarely had cause to leave them. Growing up in these palaces, he was surrounded by young, beautiful people all of the time. He never saw anyone who was old, sick, or dying. His parents were really trying to set it up so that he would have no reason to ask the big questions of life and seek answers through spiritual practice. If he thought life was perfect, there would be no reason for him to try to transcend it, right?
Their strategy seemed to work for quite a while. There was an exception, though: it is said that one time in his childhood when he was feeling a little uneasy he decided to chill out under a tree and watch his father, who was plowing a field or perhaps overseeing a groundbreaking ritual. Relaxing as he watched his father, he had a spontaneous experience of serenity. As a kid of only eight or nine, he had an overwhelming experience of peace. Though he went on with his adolescent years as before, he later recalled that experience of mindful relaxation, which I think is best described as an experience of total satisfaction—not needing or wanting anything to be different.
It is said that as a youth he was excellent at everything. Since his father was the king in a warrior caste and Sid was a prince, he was most likely a spoiled kid. There were periods in his young adult years when he was surrounded only by beautiful women; he was the only guy in his part of the palace. It is said that his life was one of access to constant pleasure. He reflected on this later, saying that during that time he sensed something was missing.
Though Sid's parents tried to keep their guard over him subtle, Sid eventually figured out that he was not allowed to leave the palaces on his own. He had everything he wanted in terms of physical needs, but he never got to explore the city without a retinue of guards and royal courtiers. What's more, while he was traveling from palace to palace or on the occasional procession through town, his father had guards clear the streets of anyone or anything that might be unpleasing to the eye. This included all of the elderly and sick.
By the time he was in his twenties, Sid had started to feel like a prisoner in his own home. One day he talked his attendant into sneaking him out of the palace. The two men slipped out and went into the nearby town. Walking for the first time in his life without a royal escort, Sid experienced what Buddhists call "the Four Messengers."Against the Stream
A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries. Copyright © by Noah Levine. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries by Noah Levine
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