On Sunday, December 2 at 9:30 a.m., we welcome you to join us at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple for our Bodhi Day Service celebrating Sakyamuni Buddha’s awakening at the age of 35. Sakyamuni dedicated the remaining 45 years of his life to sharing the Dharma—the absolute truth to which he awakened seated beneath the Bodhi Tree. In time, the Sangha, or community of the Buddha’s followers, grew and the Buddha was revered by common people, kings and queens alike.
The Buddha’s cousin Devadatta had joined the Sangha, but was resentful and envious of the Buddha’s renown. Eventually he set out to split the community by calling for a more austere lifestyle, with the intention of building a large following of his own. During this period of conflict, there was a man who snuck up on the Buddha with the intention of assassinating him one day while he was sitting quietly in a forest. As the man approached and prepared to attack, the Buddha continued to sit in unwavering concentration.
The would-be assassin found himself unable to go through with the act and bowed down at the Buddha’s feet confessing his ill-intent. The Buddha calmly spoke with him, but the man refused to divulge who had sent him for fear of retribution. In his wisdom, the Buddha instructed the man to take a different road home and escape with his mother.
Concerned by the escalating conflict, the Buddha’s chief disciples, Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana, decided to visit the breakaway Sangha and reach out to those who had been misled by Devadatta. Devadatta eagerly welcomed them, thinking that it was a great coup to have the Buddha’s two leading disciples in his community. While he was among Devadatta’s followers, Shariputra gave a series of Dharma talks with eloquence and penetrating wisdom. Having inspired the assembled bhikkhus, he declared, “The Buddha is the only true teacher I have ever known” and departed with Mahamaudgalyayana. Several hundred disciples realized they had been misled by Devadatta and returned to the Sangha of the Buddha.
Devadatta was enraged and a series of troubling incidents followed. One day, a large stone was rolled down a hill onto a path where the Buddha was walking. The Buddha dodged the stone but his foot was badly cut. His disciples were naturally upset, but the Buddha counseled them to remain calm and instructed them to summon the great doctor Jivaka to treat his injury.
A little over a week later, the Buddha’s foot had healed enough that he could join the other monks begging in the local capital. As they were walking along a busy road, Ananda looked up to see an enraged elephant charging at the Buddha. Everyone scattered and shouted at the Buddha to run away, but the Buddha calmly stayed right where he was standing, with only Ananda remaining at his side. When the elephant laid eyes on the Buddha, it immediately stopped charging and knelt down before the Buddha. As the Buddha gently patted the elephant on its trunk, its madness vanished and it became calm.
In these stories from the life of the Buddha, we see how his enlightenment emanated in his presence, subduing any anger and aggression in the minds of those he met. I am particularly struck by the image of Ananda standing calmly with the Buddha as the charging elephant approached. The Buddha with his enlightened mind knew there was nothing to fear. Ananda, however, did not realize awakening until after the Buddha passed into Parinirvana. Even though Ananda had yet to realize complete liberation from fear and anger, he was able to remain calm because of his deep entrusting in the wisdom of the Buddha.
In his great compassion for those of us would come after he had already passed into Parinirvana, Sakyamuni Buddha taught the Pure Land Sutras, so that we who are unable to stand in his presence can encounter the power of the Buddha’s wisdom through the Nembutsu and birth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. Like Ananda in the presence of Sakyamuni Buddha, we are able to realize the unperturbed diamond-like mind through our encounter with Amida Buddha in the Nembutsu. Shinran Shonin writes that entrusting in the Buddha’s wisdom and reciting the nembutsu, one becomes a “. . . practicer who has realized the diamondlike heart and mind. Through this shinjin and practice, one will without fail transcend and realize great nirvana . . .” (The Collected Works of Shinran, p. 117)