|An 18th c. Tibetan representation of the Buddha's paranirvana|
At our service yesterday, we held a brief Nehan Service. Nehan is the marking of the final passing on of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha and founding teacher of our and all Dharma lineages. Although he had his awakening experience may years earlier, and it was this that set him on his many decades of presenting the Dharma all over North India, this was referred to as his nirvana. This is described as the “blowing out” of his conventional self-identity, his recognition of the 3 conditions and the 4 truths which inform our practice and teaching. His death marks his para-nirvana, (nehan in Japanese) the end of his time as a human body. His body would simply decay and disappear, as all of our bodies do.
During the service I read a short memorial verse from the chanting collection of the White Wind Zen Community which I have always found moving. Then, for our contemplation we reflected on who this being, this Shakyamuni was and is to us, nearly 3,000 years later. For myself, I have found it challenging to understand my view of someone from the ancient past of the world. Its like asking how to relate to Pythagoras or Confucius. Even more recent personages like our Dharma grandfathers, Saicho or Kukai, remain shadowy, distant and shrouded in legend. How much more so the historical Buddha?
Who is he to you?
in the dharma,
om namu shaka nutsu