Imagine the Buddha was alive here and now. What would you do? How would you act? Would you practice more sincerely? Would you pilgrimage to see the Blessed One? How would you even know the Buddha was here? Would it be enough to simply claim to be a Buddha? Most likely not, I suppose, in our day and age.
Honestly, I do not know how I would act. But I would have imagined that if the Buddha was alive, then respect and reverence for the Blessed One would be great, practice would be strong, and the Buddha Way would be shining brightly for all to see and follow.
This does not seem to be the case of the Buddha’s actual time and place. As Schumann notes, in his later years the Buddha observed not only his physical decline but the waning of his influence over the monks, especially the younger ones. Formerly, he would not need to issue instructions, but merely demonstrate the desired behavior and it would be adopted. Not so in his later years.
Conversing with Mahākassapa, the Blessed One remarked that once senior monks had lived as forest hermits with restraint and solitude, were supported entirely by alms food, and wore robes of rags. This behavior inspired the younger monks. Now, the younger monks respected elders according to how popular they were and how much alms food they received. Both the Blessed One and Mahākassapa agreed that the younger monks showed a lack of self-control and insight, showed signs of retrogression.
In the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary, we often read the Everyday Admonitions for Dharma Students. In it is the following passage:
Enlightenment is the pure and sincere heart of practice itself, and the truth is the spirit of practice that all sentient beings are Buddha. Accordingly, there is no enlightenment or truth apart from the common ordinary person and the everyday task. You should know that it is delusion to run around looking for truth and enlightenment, and to seek or anticipate them from the outside. Let go of your delusion.
When the Buddha was alive, there was greed, hatred, and delusion. His presence did not stop the cycle of suffering for everyone of his time, even those that were among the Sangha. If the Buddha was alive today, why would we expect it to be any different?
As the admonition encourages us, we do not need to run around looking for truth or enlightenment or the Buddha. We only need to look to the ordinary, everyday person that is before us and the common, everyday task that is at hand.
This is not because there are no Buddhas among us. It is because even if the Buddha was here staring us in the face, it would not matter. Practice is something we must take up for ourselves.
May we all find encouragement and confidence along our varied spiritual paths, whatever they may be and wherever they may take us!
(Note: The conversation related here between the Buddha and Mahākassapa is paraphrased from H. W. Schumann’s The Historical Buddha (tr. M. O’C. Walshe), pages p. 233.
UPDATE: Click here for the everyday admonitions: Everyday Admonitions for Dharma Students.)