Let it go: lesson from Buddhism

By Jt Knoll, The Morning Sun, Jan 27, 2008

Pittsburg, Kansas (USA) -- As I knew I was in for a long day on the road before I left on a trip one morning last week — Pittsburg to Kansas City to Newton and back to Pittsburg — I took along a set of audiocassette tapes from The Teaching Company on Buddhism.

It's a religion (some call it a philosophy) that holds that a state of enlightenment can be attained by a path of moderation. By moving away from the extremes of self-indulgence and opposing self-mortification.

The Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince in Nepal, in approximately 566 BC. When he was 29 years old, he left the comforts of his palace to seek the meaning of the suffering he saw around him. After six years of ascetic practices, Siddhartha realized that these extremes were leading him nowhere, that, in fact, it might be better to find some middle way between luxury and asceticism.

So he abandoned the way of severe living and instead sat in mindful meditation beneath a fig tree. On a full moon in May, with the rising of the morning star, Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, the enlightened one. The Buddha wandered the plains of northeastern India for 45 years, teaching what he had realized in that moment.

As I drove along I was especially listening for a way to find some solace, as I had been experiencing a mixture of grief, anxiety and disappointment over the previous week. The Buddha's answer, the tapes said, was to "let go" — of craving, anger, and other afflictive states.

At a little convenient store on Hwy 50 just outside Newton, Kansas, I drove away from the gas pump with the nozzle still in the fill hole of my Trendy Explorer. Luckily it pulled free and I didn't rip the hose from the pump. Nevertheless, I felt my body tense with frustration and I white-knuckled the steering wheel as I pulled back on to the highway.

As I headed east for Pittsburg a couple of hours later, a flaming orange, full moon rose on the east horizon as I reflected on what are said to be the Buddha's final words, uttered when he died at the age of 80, "Impermanent are all created things; Strive on with awareness."

Those words got me thinking about Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent — a time of fasting and prayer that culminates with the celebration of Christ's Resurrection at Easter in the Christian calendar — which will be observed next week. More specifically, the words that the priest says as he makes a cross of ashes on worshipers at the Ash Wednesday service: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."

It struck me that they both speak to the same concept. Everything and everybody is impermanent, transient? dust. And, further, we need to stay awake if we hope to come to enlightenment or, in the Christian way of thinking, experience the Christ consciousness of the Resurrection; the enlightenment of love, compassion and forgiveness put forth by Jesus.

Embracing this thought, along with a cell phone call home to connect with Linda, brought some much-needed peace of mind.

An hour later, I was driving through the picturesque Flint Hills on Hwy 400, beneath a full, abalone moon, when another wave of angst overcame me. This time, I involuntarily began honking the horn — long blasts, short staccato riffs, and railroad rhythms (two longs, a short, and a long).

The honking, I found, was therapeutic. After a while, I began wondering what the occupants of the occasional farm or ranch house I passed were thinking about all the beeping, tooting and sounding out on the highway. Not to mention the coyotes stopping to listen on a distant rise in the bluestem grass, tilt their heads to the moon and howl a response that said, "We hear you, man. It's good to let it go."

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