Turn on the Light, March 18, 2009

Jeff Wilson

In our normal, unenlightened experience, we go through life as if stumbling around in a dark room. We bump into the table and cry out, "Stupid thing! Who put that there?" We knock over the lamp: "Argh! Somebody should've bolted that down!" Flailing about, we crash into the ottoman. "What an idiotic place for a footstool!"

Unawakened, we continually encounter unseen difficulties, and compounding our problems, when we encounter such difficulties we curse and blame all those things on others.

Yet all we need to do in order to remedy this tragicomic situation is . . . turn on a light. Once a light has been turned on, we can avoid bumping into the table, lamp, or footstool. The furniture doesn't go away, of course, just as illumination in this life does not eradicate our humanity and foolish passions. Aided by the light, we navigate through our lives more smoothly, and feel thankful that we are out of the dark.

This is a story that I have heard Dr. Taitetsu Unno use to show how when we awaken to Amida's grasp, nothing really changes—the furniture (our karmic limitations of greedy attachment, hostility, and self-centered delusion) is all still in place, but we are no longer threatened by it or curse it. He calls this "understanding that this life is a good life." This life becomes a good life when we realize that it is a good life, that we are given all that we need and that we are never abandoned by great compassion and wisdom.

Yet there is a further point about all this that occurs to me: the furniture doesn't become just relatively harmless when we receive this illumination—it actually becomes useful. In the light, we can see to use the table to eat at, read beneath the lamp, rest our feet on the stool. Discovering that this life is a good life means waking up to the truth that both our difficulties and our gifts are opportunities, that even our deep karmic limitations are great teachers for understanding reality and experiencing the joy of liberation.

-Jeff Wilson, from Buddhism of the Heart

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