Who is the Buddha?

Reflections for Vesak Day from Subha Srinivasan

For as long as I can remember, I have had trouble coming up with an answer when someone asks me who my heroes are or whom I have been inspired by. Growing up in India, Gandhi and Mother Teresa were popular figures, and of course, they were inspirations to many. But to me as a little girl, when I observed our housemaid Sarala cleaning our home and struggling to make a living and still managing to maintain a calm and happy demeanor, I thought she was as much a hero as anyone else. Or Krishnamoorthy, the person who ironed clothes in our neighborhood, who stood all day with a mobile ironing table under the tree, and who managed through this livelihood to send his two kids to college: he was incredible. My grandmother Anandavalli, who gave birth to twelve children, ten of whom survived, and who could still wake up at four a.m. to make me tea when I was studying for my board exams––she was my hero. I could not understand how someone’s actions could place them higher in some hierarchy of good deeds, when simply being human seemed to involve so much courage, compassion, and showing up.

When I was giving birth to my daughter Anjali, I felt that I was reaching the limits of my physical endurance. And I recall that in that moment of surrender, I felt this awe––has every mother who has given birth really gone through this struggle? Then every mother is a hero!

Seeing the goodness in others came naturally to me. Seeing the goodness in myself was far more difficult! When I decided to become a mindfulness teacher and went through the teacher training, one of the questions I struggled with was, “Who am I, really, to hold the space for others?” This has been a lifelong question. And one way I engaged with this question was by practicing a particular kind of meditation led by Tara Brach, Calling On Your Future Self. I worked with this meditation for nearly a year and every time before I taught a class. In this meditation, we imagine our highest or best self: the wisest, kindest, and most compassionate embodiment of who we can be. And we invite this being, our own future self, to guide us with our present moment challenges and issues. And we increasingly start to embody this being in the present.

Over time, I have come to trust this potential inside of me, this inner well of understanding, goodness, compassion, and peace. And sometimes, like others, I forget this living Buddha within myself. I am lost for a moment. And then, I remember, return, and begin again. Just like that!

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