This chapter is reproduced here under a fair-use assertion. We ask that you not distribute it further.
Old Path White Clouds, Chapter 18, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Morning Star Has Risen
Through mindfulness, Siddhartha’s mind, body, and breath were perfectly at one. His practice of mindfulness had enabled him to build great powers of concentration which he could now use to shine awareness on his mind and body. After deeply entering meditation, he began to discern the presence of countless other beings in his own body right in the present moment. Organic and inorganic beings, minerals, mosses and grasses, insects, animals, and people were all within him. He saw that other beings were himself right in the present moment. He saw his own past lives, all his births and deaths. He saw the creation and destruction of thousands of worlds and thousands of stars. He felt all the joys and sorrows of every living being—those born of mothers, those born of eggs, and those born of fission, who divided themselves into new creatures. He saw that every cell of his body contained all of Heaven and Earth, and spanned the three times—past, present, and future. It was the hour of the first watch of the night.
Gautama entered even more deeply into meditation. He saw how countless worlds arose and fell, were created and destroyed. He saw how countless beings pass through countless births and deaths. He saw that these births and deaths were but outward appearances and not true reality, just as millions of waves rise and fall incessantly on the surface of the sea, while the sea itself is beyond birth and death. If the waves understood that they themselves were water, they would transcend birth and death and arrive at true inner peace, overcoming all fear. This realization enabled Gautama to transcend the net of birth and death, and he smiled. His smile was like a flower blossoming in the deep night which radiated a halo of light. It was the smile of a wondrous understanding, the insight into the destruction of all defilements. He attained this level of understanding by the second watch.
At just that moment thunder crashed, and great bolts of lightning flashed across the sky as if to rip the heavens in two. Black clouds concealed the moon and stars. Rain poured down. Gautama was soaking wet, but he did not budge. He continued his meditation.
Without wavering, he shined his awareness on his mind. He saw that living beings suffer because they do not understand that they share one common ground with all beings. Ignorance gives rise to a multitude of sorrows, confusions, and troubles. Greed, anger, arrogance, doubt, jealousy, and fear all have their roots in ignorance. When we learn to calm our minds in order to look deeply at the true nature of things, we can arrive at full understanding which dissolves every sorrow and anxiety and gives rise to acceptance and love.
Gautama now saw that understanding and love are one. Without understanding there can be no love. Each person’s disposition is the result of physical, emotional, and social conditions. When we understand this, we cannot hate even a person who behaves cruelly, but we can strive to help transform his physical, emotional, and social conditions. Understanding gives rise to compassion and love, which in turn give rise to correct action. In order to love, it is first necessary to understand, so understanding is the key to liberation. In order to attain clear understanding, it is necessary to live mindfully, making direct contact with life in the present moment, truly seeing what is taking place within and outside of oneself. Practicing mindfulness strengthens the ability to look deeply, and when we look deeply into the heart of anything, it will reveal itself. This is the secret treasure of mindfulness—it leads to the realization of liberation and enlightenment. Life is illuminated by right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Siddhartha called this the Noble Path: aryamarga.
Looking deeply into the heart of all beings, Siddhartha attained insight into everyone’s minds, no matter where they were, and he was able to hear everyone’s cries of both suffering and joy. He attained to the states of divine sight, divine hearing, and the ability to travel across all distances without moving. It was now the end of the third watch, and there was no more thunder. The clouds rolled back to reveal the bright moon and stars.
Gautama felt as though a prison which had confined him for thousands of lifetimes had broken open. Ignorance had been the jailkeeper. Because of ignorance, his mind had been obscured, just like the moon and stars hidden by the storm clouds. Clouded by endless waves of deluded thoughts, the mind had falsely divided reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and non-existence, birth and death, and from these discriminations arose wrong views—the prisons of feelings, craving, grasping, and becoming. The suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death only made the prison walls thicker. The only thing to do was to seize the jailkeeper and see his true face. The jailkeeper was ignorance. And the means to overcome ignorance were the Noble Eightfold Path. Once the jailkeeper was gone, the jail would disappear and never be rebuilt again.
The hermit Gautama smiled, and whispered to himself, “O jailer, I see you now. How many lifetimes have you confined me in the prisons of birth and death? But now I see your face clearly, and from now on you can build no more prisons around me.”
Looking up, Siddhartha saw the morning star appear on the horizon, twinkling like a huge diamond. He had seen this star so many times before while sitting beneath the pippala tree, but this morning it was like seeing it for the first time. It was as dazzling as the jubilant smile of Enlightenment. Siddhartha gazed at the star and exclaimed out of deep compassion, “All beings contain within themselves the seeds of Enlightenment, and yet we drown in the ocean of birth and death for so many thousands of lifetimes!”
Siddhartha knew he had found the Great Way. He had attained his goal, and now his heart experienced perfect peace and ease. He thought about his years of searching, filled with disappointments and hardships. He thought of his father, mother, aunt, Yasodhara, Rahula, and all his friends. He thought of the palace, Kapilavatthu, his people and country, and of all those who lived in hardship and poverty, especially children. He promised to find a way to share his discovery to help all others liberate themselves from suffering. Out of his deep insight emerged a profound love for all beings.
Along the grassy riverbank, colorful flowers blossomed in the early morning sunlight. Sun danced on leaves and sparkled on the water. His pain was gone. All the wonders of life revealed themselves. Everything appeared strangely new. How wondrous were the blue skies and drifting white clouds! He felt as though he and all the universe had been newly created.
Just then, Svasti appeared. When Siddhartha saw the young buffalo boy come running towards him, he smiled. Suddenly Svasti stopped in his tracks and stared at Siddhartha, his mouth wide open. Siddhartha called, “Svasti!”
The boy came to his senses and answered, “Teacher!”
Svasti joined his palms and bowed. He took a few steps forward but then stopped and gazed again at Siddhartha in awe. Embarrassed by his own behavior, he spoke haltingly, “Teacher, you look so different today.”
Siddhartha motioned for the boy to approach. He took him into his arms and asked, “How do I look different today?”
Gazing up at Siddhartha, Svasti answered, “It’s hard to say. It’s just you look so different. It’s like, like you were a star.”
Siddhartha patted the boy on the head and said, “Is that so? What else do I look like?”
“You look like a lotus that’s just blossomed. And like, like the moon over the Gayasisa Peak.”
Siddhartha looked into Svasti’s eyes and said, “Why, you’re a poet, Svasti! Now tell me, why are you here so early today? And where are your buffaloes?”
Svasti explained that he had the day off as all the buffaloes were being used to plow the fields. Only the calf had been left in its stall. Today his only responsibility was to cut grass. During the night he and his sisters and brother were awakened by the roar of thunder. Rain pounded through their leaky roof, soaking their beds. They had never experienced a storm so fierce, and they worried about Siddhartha in the forest. They huddled together until the storm subsided and they could fall back asleep. When day broke, Svasti ran to the buffaloes’ stall to fetch his sickle and carrying pole, and made his way to the forest to see if Siddhartha was alright.
Siddhartha grasped Svasti’s hand. “This is the happiest day I have ever known. If you can, bring all the children to come see me by the pippala tree this afternoon. Don’t forget to bring your brother and sisters. But first go and cut the kusa grass you need for the buffaloes.”
Svasti trotted off happily as Siddhartha began to take slow steps along the sun-bathed shore.