Too Real

What’s real? It seems like an easy question until you think about what “real” means (and what it doesn’t). This morning something strange happened to me. I meditated on Saraswati and suddenly understood that she’s not as real as I thought she was.

She’s more real.

Buddhism teaches the principle of emptiness. In the school I practice, this idea asserts that all conditioned phenomenon are ultimately “empty” of inherent existence. Conditioned existence is not the reality of things. That lies beyond words, beyond concepts.

As an enlightened being, Saraswati too dwells beyond concepts. She dwells in the truest reality of all. She is too real.

Guru Purnima

Today is Guru Purnima, a celebration of one’s teachers. So today I would like to celebrate all my teachers, from the mundane to the mystical and from my youth to the present.

  • Firstly there was my grandfather, who taught me the value of a good story.
  • Then there was my mother, who taught me that I will always be loved
  • Then there was my kindergarten teacher, who taught me that my quirks had value
  • There was Father Joe at my church, who taught me what holiness meant
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, who taught me what devotion meant
  • Saint Maria Goretti, who taught me that anything can be forgiven – anything.
  • My advisor at the community college, who taught me what my real skills are
  • My advisor at undergrad, for teaching me so much I never would have known otherwise.
  • And of course, Saraswati, for teaching me about myself most of all.


I didn’t believe in omens, or rather I didn’t believe I’d ever see one. My practice is so small-scale and personal, why would I need the “cosmic clue by four” as it’s called? My Lady is usually both very direct and very gentle in getting my attention, and in my head, omens were neither of these things.

Then came the move from my apartment back to my childhood home. I was relinquishing a great deal of independence (and space), and I wondered how Saraswati Maa felt about it. I was worried, frankly. Would she be ashamed of me? Angry? Should I apologize, since most of Our things had to be packed away?

The last day I went to the city to clean and pack, my mother took me to a fast-food restaurant I used to love. Wouldn’t you know it? Outside there were two geese, with their little pack of fluffy, adorable goslings.

OK. That was about as gentle and direct an omen as I could ask for. ❤

12 Nidānas

The main point of Buddhism is escaping Samsara, though the exact means and method vary according to the school, as do explanations of what happens when you finally accomplish that goal. However, it seems pretty universally agreed upon that the mechanism for remaining in samsara comes down to the twelve nidānas, translated variously as the twelvefold chain or the twelve causal link. These begin with ignorance and progress to birth and “all the sufferings.”

A passage from The Lotus Sutra explains the Links this way:

Conditioned states are dependent on ignorance. Consciousness is dependent on conditioned states. Name and form are dependent on consciousness. The six sense fields are dependent on name and form. Contact is dependent on the six sense fields. Feelings are dependent on contact. Craving is dependent on feelings. Grasping is dependent on craving. Becoming is dependent on grasping. Birth is dependent on becoming. And old age, sickness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress are all dependent on birth.

However, remember that Buddhism is about escaping all that suffering. The next paragraph in The Lotus Sutra says:

When ignorance ceases, then conditioned states cease. When conditioned states cease, then consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, then name and form cease. When name and form cease, then the six sense fields cease. When the six sense fields cease, then contact ceases. When contact ceases, then feelings cease. When feelings cease, then craving ceases. When craving ceases, then grasping ceases. When grasping ceases, then becoming ceases. When becoming ceases, then birth ceases. When birth ceases, then old age, sickness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress cease.

This probably sounds fairly grim to non-Buddhists; the bit about all the sufferings of life being due to birth is part of what has gained Buddhism a reputation as nihilistic. (I have been called a nihilist to my face by ill-informed and ill-mannered strangers who did not mean it as a compliment.) However, what lies beyond Samsara is not annihilation but Nirvana…whatever that means.