The calm serenity portrayed in many statues of the Buddha begs the question, "What is enlighten- ment?"
In this world of woe, what does it mean that a person is said to be "calm and serene"? How can one be either with around 30,000 children starving to death every day of the year? How can one be calm with thousands of women being raped every day? How can one be serene in the knowing that the world over men make war and then profit from the mayhem and destruction? And then, of course, there are the many endless tribulations of love struggles, work struggles, health struggles, home struggles, and dream struggles: so indeed, how is one to be "calm and serene" -- let alone "enlightened" living in the midst of all this mess? Or is this talk of enlightenment and serenity just another way for folks to make a living by selling spiritual tactics and bull?
What if "enlightenment" is re-defined in our mind's eye as a "passionate engagement in loving service" -- and not first as tactic or bull, or calmness and serenity? Think about it... according to the stories handed down to us, yes the person Siddhartha "cultivated enlightenment" in his being: but upon his enlightenment, what did he do? He "passionately engaged in loving service" for the rest of his life. What about Yeshua the Poet, revered by his followers as the Incarnation of the Holy One? He "went about doing good": in other words, he was "passionately engaged in loving service". There might actually be something here...
What if "enlightenment" is in fact the daily practice of love-without-limits? What if compassion and mercy are the factual essence of this enlightenment? What if this "enlightenment" were not seen as the result of transformation, but instead as the on-going practice of "being who you want the other person to be"? Ah, then from this perspective, "enlightenment' becomes a way of life: deeply engaged, the enlightened being serves in solidarity all other suffering beings, and surrenders into the mystery of life lived at its core... So the "calmness and serenity" of the Buddha and the Christ is not that of "difference" from the rest of us, but the living truth of our essential nature...
When our essential nature is revered and cultivated through loving compassion, the practice of beauty, and the deep interior mindfulness of surrender and adoration, a certain "calmness and serenity" can settle in and begin to manifest the truth of who we are: not as a result of any sort of "separation", but instead as the surety of Oneness. When we live in the mystic-realm of "Only One", the tragedies of life are understood to be part of the temporary nature of all life-experience: subject to the possibilities of substantive change and ultimately of a re-creation that includes all of the manifested Universe... There is a mystic tradition in certain Sufi teaching circles which says that with every breath we take, the entire Universe is re-created... and that upon our remembrance of our divinity and our practice of love, we share in the ultimate enlightenment and liberation of every being and all of matter... not believing: but knowing This: is the source of the Buddha's and the Christ's "calmness and serenity"... and humor as well...
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.