Wesak, the spiritual festival in honor of Buddha’s birthday and enlightenment, is celebrated on the full moon of the lunar month known in Sanskrit as Vesakha, usually occurring in May. This year it takes place on a ‘blue moon,’ the second full moon of the month, on May 18/19th.
The Wesak Moon, also known as the ‘Buddha Moon,’ is always celebrated on the Scorpio full moon as it occurs opposite the sun in Taurus. This year’s Buddha Moon is at 27 degrees of Scorpio, a potent location that astrologer Lorna Bevan describes as “a plutonic point of high intensity, volatility and deep emotional undercurrents. It brings an ability to heal through having walked through the dark of your own soul.” The Plutonian rulership of Scorpio uproots from the chthonic depths that which can be permanently transformed, composted, transmutated in the underworld to allow for rebirth.
In honor of Wesak and this powerful Buddha Moon, I’m meditating on the Buddhist principle of ‘dying before you die.’ I recently read Mingyur Rinpoche’s profound book, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, which elucidates on this theme. Pema Chodron calls it “one of the most inspiring books I have ever read” and I’m inclined to agree with her. In the book, Mingyur Rinpoche tells the tale of his ‘wandering retreat,’ in which he gives up his home and his comfortable life for over four years as he lives unhoused, begging for food, surrendering every aspect of his identity. Mingyur Rinpoche exquisitely and transparently describes the discomfort inherent in this process, the bardo of living, letting go of attachment to ego identity. He writes, “I myself had invited death. Identity-death. Self-consciously, deliberately, i had wished to leave behind my old job and burn up external identities.”
During his journey, Mingyur Rinpoche gets extremely ill and has a near death experience, which deepens his practice of letting go in a most profound way. Throughout the book, he gently instructs and provides an accessible framework for practice’ that readers can begin working with on the spot. This most extreme version of identity death that Rinpoche undertakes, the willingness to completely let go not only of ego identity, but ultimately to one’s body and physical existence and enter the bardo of dying. Within this process of letting go the experience of nonduality is possible, the union of open individual consciousness with universal consciousness (otherwise known as enlightenment).
The following is an excerpt from the book:
“I wished to go beyond the relative self - the self that identifies with these labels. I knew that even though these social categories play a dominant role in our personal stories, they coexist with a larger reality beyond labels. Generally we do not recognize that our social identities are molded and confined by context, and that these outer layers of ourselves exist within a boundless reality. Habitual patterns cover this boundless reality; they obscure it, but it is always there, ready to be uncovered.” (emphasis added)
One of my teachers encourages the practice of consider oneself the ‘context’ wherein experience occurs, rather than a fixed identity that ‘is’ experience. As someone deeply committed to collective liberation, I think often about the construction of social identities and bridging movements for social justice with the awareness of what lies beyond attachment to these identities. Is it possible to die to those identities and remain committed to movement? In her article Your Liberation is on the Line, Reverend angel Kyodo williams writes “it’s ridiculous to say, ‘That’s not the path of the Buddha. Buddha never talked about social justice.’ The path of the Buddha was explicitly rooted in de-casting and de-classing—it was so much what he did that he didn’t even have to say anything about it. It was all that he did.”
I meditate on, who is the self that identifies with these labels, where is she located? Particularly the marginalized identities that I so fiercely identify with in my passion for justice, where in the ‘context of me’ can those be found? Williams says, “when you’re marginalized, you are forced to know your story, to understand that you have a story, that you’re affected by a larger story, and that you’re working with all of it.” Can I hold all of those stories, and simultaneously hold the awareness that we are more than our stories? Williams argues that liberation movements are in step with the dharma, in fact, spiritual bypass toward individual enlightenment is to be in ‘wrong knowing’ since your liberation without my liberation is ‘fabricated.’ She goes on to say that “it is the people who are most marginalized, the people who have most been bound by societies, who most deeply understand what it is to be free.” Holding the stories, holding the somatic experience of how they shape our bodies, and holding that we ‘coexist with a larger reality beyond labels’ is the work of bridging duality/nonduality.
Again, wisdom from Mingyur Rinpoche:
“The recognition of emptiness does not mean that we walk away from our roles in society, or live without worldly responsibilities. But we have a choice about where to place our awareness. Wish the wisdom generated by the recognition of emptiness, we can change our relationship to circumstances, even to those that cannot be changed. And although our dissatisfactions are inherently temporary, insubstantial, and essentially empty, that doesn’t mean we can wave a magic wand to make cancer disappear, or earn a higher salary. To use emptiness in order to justify abandoning everyday responsibilities can be a big trap. Tibetans have an expression that my teacher Guru Vajradhara Tai Situ Rinpoche often repeats: Keep the view as vast as space. Keep your actions as fine as flour.“ (original emphasis)