The Picture shows the Bodhi tree, where Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment, in Bodh Gaya with Alayasri in the foreground.
We started the session with the Four Reminders and then both in meditation and with a session of "sticky hands" we focused on balanced effort. We then heard the story of the Buddha's enlightenment and then after refreshments finished with the Metta Bhavana and the Transference of Merit.

 

The Four Reminders


This human body is precious

An opportunity to awaken.

But this body is impermanent

Ready or not one day I shall die.


So this life I must know

As the tiny splash of a raindrop.

A thing of beauty that disappears

Even as it comes into being.


The karma that I create,

Shapes the course of my life.

But however I act

Life always has difficulties.

No-one can control it all.

Only the Dharma

can free me and others

From suffering forever.


Therefore I recall

My heart's longing for freedom,

And resolve to make use

of every day and night

to realise it.


The Enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama


The Full moon day in May is the traditional time to celebrate Buddha day since this is the anniversary of the day that Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened. This took place 2556 years ago. After his enlightenment he was known as the Buddha or the awakened one.


We will skip quickly through the early part of Siddhartha's life. He was born the son of the ruler of a small republic in what is now Nepal. Despite a lavish and luxurious life, he left it all behind in order to find the way to end all sickness, old age and death for all people. Not just for himself but for his father, his wife, and for his son; all of whom he loved very much.


He became a wanderer without a home and excelled at meditation. He became an ascetic surviving on the smallest amount of food. On the point of despair he made the ultimate breakthrough.


What follows is taken from a book called Meeting the Buddhas which was written by Vessantara.


Out of the darkness came a memory. He was quite young, sitting outdoors, under a rose-apple tree. From its shade he was watching his father ploughing. Relaxed by the slow steady movements of the ox-team, and enjoying the coolness under the tree, he had gradually become deeply content, and his mind had become concentrated, lucid and buoyant.


The memory may just have come to him as compensation, a pleasurable experience to escape from his pain-racked state, or it may have been thrown up as Siddhartha ransacked his past for some hint or clue to find a new approach to his quest. Whatever it was he saw the significance of it.


In his early life everything had come easily to him. He had been relaxed to the point of slackness, lulled into dullness by pleasure. Then after seeing through the surface glitter of the palaces, he had left home and sought out not pleasure but pain. Both life-styles had left him empty-handed. In his palace he was always distracted. After leaving he had forced himself to concentrate, to bend his will to storm the gates of higher states of consciousness.


Distraction and forced states of concentration had both played him false. Suppose he were to let go of pleasure and pain? Suppose he were to concentrate in an easy and relaxed way?


He walked alone, searching now not for a harsh environment for his austerities, nor for people, dancing and laughter, but for a beautiful place in nature like his rose-apple tree, which would calm his mind and give him helpful conditions in which to meditate steadily. He was still very weak, so he accepted some milk-rice from a woman called Sujata. The effect after years of severe fasting, was to pour new life into his emaciated frame.


He came to a peaceful place near to the banks of the river Nairanjana, found a tree with spreading branches, and sat down beneath it. Though he planned to meditate in a relaxed way his determination was greater than ever. He was not going to leave that spot until he was Enlightened, or dead. It was May, the hottest month, and walking further was not easy. Anyway there was nowhere else to go. This was his last throw.


He sat calmly under the tree, enjoying the scene. Then he closed his eyes and allowed his mind to become still. Hours passed, and his stillness gradually deepened. Gently and steadily his concentration gathered momentum. His mind became like a great beacon of light. It was intensely pleasurable, but Siddhartha knew not to cling onto pleasure. He just allowed all the energies of his being to keep on flowing together. As the process continued he felt healed. No longer ground down by asceticism, he felt zestful. The beacon which was his mind became so brilliant that it began to light up his past. He remembered his whole life back to his earliest childhood. Then it was as though a door opened in his mind, and he could recall his previous life. As the river of his mind flowed on, door after door opened, until he could recall endless past lives. Here he had been born, with this name, had lived in this way, died at this age, and been reborn in that place. On and on. There was no end of it.


As time passed the details of his lives, which had seized his interest at first began to pall. He was left with a pattern, an endless repetition. It was a rhythm of birth,growth, disease and death. The rhythm never faltered; death's drummer never ceased. Birth and death, birth and death; it was like listening to suffering's heartbeat.

Still Siddhartha allowed his concentrated mind to illuminate existence. The doors of his own continuum of existences had opened, now the walls which separated him from others began to fall away. He saw the lives of endless beings, saw their struggles, successes and failures. He heard the unfailing rhythm running through their lives. Birth, death and another birth.


Siddhartha searched to find the laws which governed this ceaseless flow of change. He began to notice a rising and falling pattern within the flux of rebirth. He saw how those beings who had based their lives on love, kindness and generosity had been reborn in happy circumstances. Those who succumbed to hatred, jealousy and greed invariably found themselves in states of suffering. Watching life after life, he could predict the outcome of people's actions in their future rebirths. If you spread happiness then you received happiness; if you caused pain and separation then you found yourself alone in a hostile world. It was so clear. Yet beings were too caught up in their own concerns, their petty schemings to see it.


Finally, seeing all space and time laid out like a canvas before him, Siddhartha identified step by step the process by which the endless rhythm of birth and death was set up. Birth and death were born from craving. It was the momentum of the desire for existence which led beings from life to life, lambs to the slaughter. With the ceasing of desire, birth and death died away. Siddhartha lived out the process he was seeing. In the beacon of his vision, craving withered and died. The drumbeat was silent at last. As birth and death dissolved away, time and space vanished. All limitations whatsoever fell away. There was just light, total clarity, perfect understanding.


'Siddhartha', the limited human personality had disappeared. He had awakened from the dream of suffering, of birth and death. There was just infinite freedom. When he opened his eyes, to see the morning star hovering above him, he gazed at it all with the total comprehension of a Buddha.



Transference of Merit


May the merit gained in my acting thus

Go to the alleviation of the suffering of all beings

My personality throughout my existences,

My possessions, and my merit in all three ways,

I give up with regard to myself

For the benefit of all beings.


Just as the earth and other elements

are serviceable in many ways

to the infinite number of beings

inhabiting limitless space;

So may I become

That which maintains all beings

Situated throughout space,

so long as all have not attained

To peace.

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