December is the traditional time that we in the West celebrate the great enlightenment of the Buddha some 2,500 years ago. The enlightenment of the Buddha is good news for all beings. Why is that?
The Buddha practiced with great effort and sincerity for six years. Then one morning he saw a star and attained a great enlightenment. The first thing he said after his enlightenment was, “How wonderful, all beings have it; all beings have Buddha-nature, they just don’t know it.” A person once asked the Buddha what the difference was between the Buddha and himself The Buddha said, “There is no difference, only I am awake and you aren’t.” Good news! It means that you are already saved… you just need to wake up to it. This is why enlightenment is likened to “waking up” — awakening from a self-centered dream.
On the evening before his enlightenment the Buddha sat down with great determination, vowing not to get up unless he answered the great question of life and death: What is a human being? Why do we suffer so? Why do we walk on this earth? During the night. he experienced everything in life as continually coming and going, always changing. He was also tempted by desire — Mara — but realized that there was no satisfaction to be found anywhere through desire. Desire could not control him. These two experiences mean emptiness, the essential substance of everything.
In the morning his mind was clear. As Venus, the morning star, appeared he attained enlightenment. This means truth. Everything was just as it was.
Next, he got up from under the Bodhi tree and went out to teach the release from suffering. He had completely awakened from the dream of anger and desire. The attachment to desire — ignorance — could no longer control him; he was free to help the world. This is the function of our original nature-to help take away the suffering of the world.
Once the monks of Kung Dong Zen Temple asked Zen Master Man Gong, “On December 8th, in the early morning, Buddha saw a star and got enlightenment. What does this mean?”
Man Gong said, “Buddha saw a star and said he got enlightenment. This is sand falling in the eyes.”
Zen Master Seung Sahn’s comment on this is very interesting: “Does this star come from your mind, your eyes, or the sky? If you attain this point, you attain your true self.”
If we attain that, we understand “… sand failing in the eyes” and can help this world. That would be truly good news.