The first song goes, “When you’re down and out... when you’re on the street, when evening falls, it falls, so hard, I will comfort you. I’ll take your part, oh when darkness comes.
And pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water... I will lay me down.”
Twenty-seven years after that song was recorded, actor Leonardo DiCaprio would very much depict the down-and-out. He played the role of Jack Dawson in the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.
With not a penny to his name and little more than the clothes on his back, he saved a young woman from suicide.
The two fell in love and, when he was treated to his first-ever luxurious dinner, his wealthy patrons asked for his source of optimism. He eloquently replied, “I figure life’s a gift, and I don’t intend on wasting it.”
In this pop-cultural mix, there is a bit of Buddhism to be found, but it can be hard to know where to look for it. I think a good place to look is actually in Korea.
A thousand years ago, there was a towering, snowy mountain in the land of Songgwongsa (now known as Mount Songgwangsan) and in those days a wise old monk lived atop the mountain.
He built a temple and was widely known as Zen Master Jinul. He had recently moved his retreat from a place called Mount Kong and sought a secluded area for him and his followers to find enlightenment.
Originally from Pyongyang, Phra Jinul was ordained at age 15. The 13th Century Chinese book known as the Memorabilia of The Three Kingdoms recorded that Pyongyang was much the same then as it is today: a major cultural hub steeped in eastern knowledge.
A young Buddhist monk wrote the book shortly after the old monk’s death and it is recorded that Jinul was educated at the Sagulsan Mountain School of The Nine Ancient Schools of Seon.
He turned down a good job to follow his faith and to spend years deeply immersed in meditation. One day, a bit of enlightenment struck him much like the apple that had struck Newton’s head. Jinul had an epiphany.
He discovered that all human beings were once enlightened Buddhas and that the human mind has an un-destroyable pureness.
However, once our souls occupied the bodies of men we became beclouded by bad stimuli. In other words: Garbage in = garbage out. While the Theravada Buddhist in me may not agree with all of the Jogye-Mahayana ideas that Jinul had, this was a point with which I could not disagree.
One need only look to modern times to see that the human brain does, indeed, adapt to whatever climate it finds itself in. There are routine outcomes resulting from both good and bad stimuli.
The difference is all about input. The minds of young men and women adjust to input and so bad influences or stimuli are – in the old monk’s view – why most human beings are not in “Buddhahood”.
Not because they are inherently bad people, but because they exist in a human world, where one bad phenomenon props up yet another bad phenomenon. Put simply, no matter how down-and-out you are, no matter if you’re on the street, there is Buddhahood in you.
Buddhahood means the ability to find a particular two-fold wisdom. One side of the wise is that of “ideal wisdom” and the other side of the wise is that of “phenomenal wisdom”.
Only the enlightened can find phenomenal wisdom and it is phenomenal wisdom that Westerners often think of when they think of Buddhist monks.
This wisdom is often taken out of context in movies but, for example, my teacher is on a level where he knows when I break a precept.
He can see it from the other side of the world and he can see it in my dimming aura.
I know what you’re thinking – you want to know if I believe that this old monk was right and how to find this Buddhahood in you.
I suspect Jinul was largely right and I do know the general path for us to find out if this is true. I have spelled it out in my previous articles, which are available online.
The Path is this: First, learn of Buddha’s life story and obey his five precepts at all times.
Second, meditate often and preferably for short periods several times a day. Third, anytime you are sad, angry, or depressed, think of something happy.
Fourth, take care of your finances but give generously to the poor. Don’t fall for a temple that tries to tell you that can buy your way into salvation by giving money to them.
Finally, find a good teacher who agrees with and teaches this path – for free, by the way. Then, keep apprenticing until you start reaching the more advanced paths which we will talk about in future articles.
By doing this, you’ll notice that your life will start to improve as the months go by. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself, and see where you are in a year.
I used to think that I was the “worst” person in the world, but no longer, and by going this way, you’ll find that you are not the “worst” person in the world either.
The heart of Buddha is very much in you, you just have to know where to look for it.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email email@example.com, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.