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Introducing the Buddha Family

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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It may seem strange to have a wisdom family named after the founder of the religion, but it helps to understand what the word "Buddha" means. When people asked the Buddha why he seemed different from ordinary people, he replied, "I am Buddha". This meant, "I am Awake". So the word Buddha means Awake and the Buddha Wisdom family is about Wakefulness versus Dullness. It was only as the following increased that Gautama Siddhartha began to be called THE Buddha, then meaning THE Awakened One.

To relate to the word Buddha as only referring to THE Buddha is to forget that, according to the Buddha, we can all become Awake, that our problem is that we are asleep. This means we can all become "Buddha".

Just as Vajra family is about patience and intelligence versus anger and superiority, and Ratna family is about generosity and balance versus miserliness or pride. Just as Padma family is about morality and compassion instead of longing or manipulation, and Karma family is about perseverance and skillfulness instead of envy or control, the Buddha family is about Wakefulness, Awareness, concentration, and Wisdom, instead of dullness, ignorance, or self-absorption and self-centredness.

The Buddha family involves the Skanda of Consciousness and the element of Space. Our perception of the amount of Space in any situation, as well as the amount of reality that we are conscious of at any given moment, is usually quite limited.

Shamata meditation helps us to perceive a greater amount of space and a wider range of consciousness at the same time. It's no accident that these two are connected in this way. When we feel overwhelmed, or a lack of space, we end up closing down and becoming less aware, or becoming less involved. This shows how closely Consciousness and Space are connected.

The portion of the body identified with the Buddha family is the Chest and Heart. The heart represents the seat of consciousness. It is said to be where consciousness settled during the process of conception. The organs associated with it are the Heart and Lungs which are two organs that are very basic to life and birth or becoming.

The passive energy of the Buddha family is Awareness and the active energy is Experiencing. We may think of the mind as being involved in thought, but thought is a small part of the minds activity. Consciousness and Awareness involves all parts of experience. To get to the point where we are completely experiencing our world is quite an accomplishment.

Both Space and Consciousness are limitless and we have difficulty conceiving that we could experience this. Because we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with this limitless nature, we grasp at and centre ourselves on a limited level of consciousness and dull ourselves to a wider perception of the world. From the point of view of a Buddha, all sentient beings are experiencing varying degrees of dullness and self-centredness.

While working with the energies of Awareness and Experiencing, we can grasp at or get carried away by this energy and then we can become Blissful, but self-absorbed. Because of this, we can become blissed out or detached. This detachment can lead to indifference to others' problems and carelessness in our own thought, speech, and action.

Experiencing and Awareness becomes a game and a pre-occupation and Experiencing and Awareness can even become badges of honour. At certain levels, it can even become a competition to see who has the most blissful experiences or the greatest awareness.

When we are resisting or trying to avoid experiencing and awareness, we become cold, less emotional, and try to distance ourselves. We try to play deaf and dumb to what's happening around us. We reduce our level of awareness and experience of space more and more until we feel safe again.

We are usually shy, uncommunicative, and very cautious, in case we accidently become aware of more than we can handle. We become afraid of seeing something we don't like or don't want to see. This is the type of fear that we can live with under the influence of resisting this energy.

When we are overwhelmed in the process of experiencing and awareness, we end up avoiding everything but the bare minimum required to survive and run away from anything else. We become lazy as our fear of confusion keeps us from attempting activities or being involved in situations that we feel we can't handle. We may try to avoid emotional situations or avoid being aware of others' feelings, because of our inability to cope with emotions.

We limit our awareness to a level where we feel comfortable and safe. Instead of expanding our comfort area, our lives can become more and more limited and our range of thought, circumstances and environment get smaller and smaller as we continue to reinforce this way of expressing or relating to this energy. It's like the Agoraphobic who stays in their room their entire life, because of the fear of what may be outside.

In expressing this energy from the Wisdom point of view, Space provides a sense of openness and gives us room to work in. To achieve this sense of space and to become used to working with this openness, we develop concentration through shamata meditation. Through wisdom, we develop a flexible approach to ourselves and so we can adjust our level of consciousness at will to fit our goals and circumstances.

Experiencing then becomes seeing things as they are, without any extraneous complications. This is often called seeing the Suchness or Is-ness of the world. This gives us access to direct knowledge of everything around us. The openness of Space provides Peace and calmness.

This Space is not just empty however. It is completely full of Potential Energy. This limitless potential provides a tremendous feeling of ease, well-being and Joy or Bliss. So this Openness and simultaneous Potential encompasses everything - all parts of reality. That's why the Wisdom of the Buddha family is often called All-Encompassing Wisdom. I just call it Complete Awareness.

We may sometimes try to hide our faults, defend and justify them, or remain unaware of them. This comes from the subtle false belief that we ARE our faults and that our faults are unchangeable. Awareness of our faults and recognition that they ARE changeable, makes it easier for us to accept them and work with them. The Alcoholic must first admit there is a problem, and that change is possible, before they can begin to fix it. We need to acknowledge our faults, including our lack of awareness, and then recognize that we all posess an underlying wisdom and skillfulness that is always available for us to express.

The Buddha associated with the Buddha family is Vairochana. He is sometimes portrayed as having 4 faces, so that he can see in all directions. He is usually holding a wheel, which symbolizes the Buddha's teaching as well as the inclusiveness of the whole of reality. The wheel also represents all of reality enclosed by wisdom (the hub) and concentration and focus (the axle) and the eight spokes of the wheel represent the eightfold path that the Buddha taught.