3 July marks “Dharma Day” a commemoration of the day when the Buddha initiated his teaching career–a tenure that lasted for over forty years. According to legend, he hesitated at first to teach what he had experienced under the Bodhi tree. He didn’t think anyone could understand it or want to follow the implications of his insights.
Further, according to myth, gods descended and implored him to teach the dharma–the Way, or the truth about existence. However it came to pass, the Buddha eventually did start teaching others.
He started with his former companions and ascetics. They had shunned him once he broke his vows of extreme deprivation and took some sweet rice for sustenance. Despite their skepticism, he convinced them of the value of his teachings.
Setting aside the myths and legends, what we have is a corpus of knowledge that can be reliably traced back to the historical Buddha. What these teachings offer is a way to recognize our predicaments and a method for extricating ourselves from them. The dharma is a generic set of strategies for liberating ourselves from limiting views and the reactivity that comes from them.
Every day is, of course, Dharma Day. The dharma takes no vacations, makes no exceptions. Fittingly, Dharma Day precedes Independence Day in the United States, but I think the Buddha and the founding fathers had a different idea of what independence meant. For the Buddha independence meant a radical freedom to be in the world–liberated from suffering, anguish, misery, and dissatisfaction.
The tradition in Asian Buddhist countries to mark Dharma Day with contemplation upon the teachings. Here is an excerpt from the Majjhima Nikaya–the teaching of the man wounded by an arrow. This passage from the Sutras is a humorous reminder of the practicality of the teachings. Don’t speculate. Don’t get caught up with metaphysics. Deal with what is right in front of you. If you don’t, you might wind up bleeding out like the man hit by a poison arrow:
“It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know by what man I was wounded, whether he is of the warrior case, or a brahmin, or of the agricultural or the lowest case. Or if he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know of what name of family the man is; or whether is is tall, or short, or of middle height; or whether he is black, or dark, or yellowish; or whether he comes from such and such a village, or town or city; or until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a chapa or a kodanda, or until I know whether the bow-string was of swallow-wort, or bamboo fiber, or sinew, or hemp, or of milk-sap tree, or until I know whether the shaft was from a wild or cultivated plant; or know whether it was feathered from a vulture’s wing or a heron’s or a hawk’s, or a peacock’s; or whether it was wrapped round with the sinew of an ox, or of a buffalo, or of a ruru-deer, or of a monkey; or until I know whether it was an ordinary arrow, or a razor-arrow, or an iron arrows, or of a calf-tooth arrrow. Before know all this, verily that man would have died.”
Enjoy Dharma Day today and every other day. Keep it simple. Keep it real.