There’s an anecdote about a man on a road who sees the Buddha but does not know it is Buddha. The man sees the Buddha approach and even from a distance down the road can see that the Buddha is greatly illuminated, that he is surrounded by a special aura, something more than charisma allows. When the man and the Buddha are parallel, the man excuses himself and asks the Buddha who he is, what he is, wondering aloud to the Buddha, Are you a God? To this the Buddha says, No. Are you a spirit or some other supernatural being? And to this, the Buddha says, No. If you are not a God or a spirit or another kind of supernatural being, what are you then? To this, the Buddha says, Awake.
How many of us are walking with eyes wide opened, awake? How many more of us are sleepwalking our way through our lives? There is no amount of energy we won’t spend to avoid thinking; and thinking is not randomly passing images in the mind; it is not some game of hop-scotch played by jumping in and our of squares drawn around words, presumably standing for ideas we have thought, but more likely ideas we have received, when at best. Thinking is only done by those who are awake.
I ride the buses and the subways here in New York City, and there is no greater illustration of the sleepwalking the Buddha inferred than with those of us peopling subway car after subway car, eyes ahead blankly, mouths open in some stereotype of imbecility, always something less than awake. Awake, alert, alive; what have we in words for the opposite of these. Zombies and vampires fill our popular fiction; what then are these sleepwalkers I see every day riding the mass transit here in New York?
Day in and day in again we walk up and down streets, in and out of buildings, to and from meetings with friends and family, doing all manner of things that make up what we call living, all together, though, in nothing other than a great somnambulism. We are not awake, but sleepwalking our way from one thing to another, through one conversation to another.