What if Enlightenment was like a Cookbook?
Laozi would be like a Master Baker, the Buddha would be the one who wrote down the recipe for others to follow...
Recently I’ve been delving much deeper into Buddhist philosophy: reading books about the Buddha’s teachings, further exploring concepts of mindfulness and meditation, visiting historic and important Buddhist sites throughout China, and of course trying to put into practice the principles I’ve been learning.
Last week, whilst on a phone call to my mum, she asked me that if studying Buddhism meant I was no longer interested in Daoism. I have been pondering this question since she asked it, and think I have come to an answer that she will easily understand.
I believe the question comes from the notion that many religions ask us to believe in their concept of the world, to take a “leap of faith” if you will. This then leads to two different religions asking us to make two different “leaps” and thus their fundamental beliefs may clash and cause conflict.
Buddhism and Daoism differ from this. The core ideas that a Buddhist or Daoist practitioner reach, do not come from instruction but from insight. Looking deeply at the nature of our being, our consciousness, our interconnectedness: the teachings are discovered and verified by the practitioner. There is no need for a leap and it is for this reason I believe there is no conflict in their core beliefs.
Let me explain it like this:
I want you to imagine a Cookbook, full of delicious recipes for cakes, cookies and desserts. Laozi, the fabled Daoist sage responsible for writing the Dao De Jing, is like a Master Baker. He has the wisdom and experience to create to most beautiful cakes that could make even the most prudent of mouths salivate with sweet tasting water.
Lots of people don’t know how to make cakes but they can look at his desserts, with their wonderful patterns and delicate designs, awestruck by their beauty. As I’m sure you know, looking at pictures of cakes doesn’t teach us how to bake them, just as looking at pictures of desserts doesn’t let us truly know how sweet they can taste or how rich they can be.
Laozi’s cakes are his poetic, sometimes cryptic versus of the Dao De Jing. A layperson can read the words and appreciate their wisdom, but they become no closer to creating that understanding in their own minds, or to truly experience how deep and rich the teachings can be.
This is where the detailed road map of the Buddha’s teaching come in. They are like the recipe for making the cake. They give, almost step-by-step instructions on how to develop the three essentials of practicing Buddhism, namely: loving-kindness and compassion, mental discipline, and wisdom. It is through the development of these three elements that ultimately lead us to baking our own cake.
Let’s take Laozi’s description of the 12th “cake” in the Dao De Jing:
The five colors blind the eye. The five tones deafen the ear. The five tones deafen the ear. The five flavors dull the taste. The chase and the hunt craze people’s minds. The master observers the world but trusts his own inner vision. He allows things to come and go. He prefers what is within to what is without.
From this we can get a feeling for the wisdom hidden in the words. We can grasp the idea that we often focus exclusively on our sensory data to try and understand the world. This can create and world of appearances, a world of illusions that we convince ourselves of to try and give meaning and understanding. So, what about the Buddha's instruction for us to deepen our understanding.
The Buddha’s recipe to “Baking Laozi’s 12th cake”
Time (the Buddha’s own recommendations):
o Some need to practice for seven years.
o Some need to practice for seven months.
o Some only need to practice for seven days.
o A quiet place to sit and meditate
o One body
o One mind
o One consciousness
1. Sit in the lotus mediation posture, hands gently resting on your lap.
2. Breathe and focus on the breath: when breathing in, think I am breathing in; when breathing out, think I am breathing out.
3. Contemplate the six sense organs: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.
4. Contemplate the six objects of the senses: form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and objects of the mind.
5. Contemplate the six consciousnesses of the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and thought.
6. Contemplate on the interdependent and impermanent domains of sense: each depending on each other for their existence; forever changing and never constant.
7. Put deep contemplation aside, stretch your body and take a break until capacity for deep thinking has recharged.
8. Re-take the lotus meditation posture.
9. Breathe and build concentration on the breath. Once focus is reached move onto the body.
10. Bring concentration to the body: focus on any area of pain, or pleasantness, notice where your body makes contact with your surroundings, notice the sensations in your limbs, what you can hear or smell, the wind on your skin, your organs operating in your body and eventually even your cells. Once focus is reached move onto feelings.
11. Bring concentration to the feelings: focus on any emotions you have, work through why you have those emotions and slowly let them go. Once focus is reached moved onto perceptions.
12. Bring concertation to your perceptions: how do you view yourself, your relationships, your position and place in the world. Contemplate why you have these views. Once focus is reached move onto mental states.
13. Bring concentration to your mental states. Be aware of the states of mind that bring your suffering, such as fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed and ignorance. Contemplate until your reach the understanding that all these states of mind arise due to ignorance.
14. Continue deep concertation on the body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations until you come to the realization that they do not possess a permanent and unchanging nature. There is no single consciousness within you. A permanent and unchanging nature would be an independent self. Come to the insight of the impermanent and non-self-nature of all things, including yourself.
15. Meditate on these aspects until you come to see the intimate and wondrous connection between yourself and all in the universe.
If only it were as easy as following instructions….
I am Full.