In days of old, before the telescope shrunk the sky, people used to think the stars, sun, and moon were gods. They hung in the sky, radiant, contemptuous of worldly concerns like gravity. While they might be hidden for a time by the clouds, or the cycles of day and night, they remained true, permanent.
Now we’ve been to the moon, trodden her under our big boots, declared the superiority of our human technology. The celestial bodies still shine, but they just aren’t so special any more. As our world has grown it has become more barren, more empty.
The Buddhist tradition says that at certain times, such as the birth and Awakening of the Buddha, a tremendous light appears in the sky, outshining even the sun and moon. Even the abysmal void of intergalactic space is filled with radiance. Long before technology reduced the sun and the moon to big rocks in the sky, the Buddha knew that there was a light that outshone them.
Western science has not stopped with dethroning the sun and the moon. Our entire world, from the cosmic evolution to the mysteries of DNA, is being relentlessly poked and prodded, analyzed and classified. There are few, if any, things left that are truly mysterious. Perhaps this is why we, more than any generation previous, search for mystery in the irrational: in conspiracies, UFOs, or the Bermuda Triangle.
There is, however, a mystery that still remains, one whose implications far outweigh any other. That is the mystery of Awakening. The idea, so incredibly powerful, that any ordinary human being can actually perfect themselves. That all of us have the seed within ourselves to realize the perfect, liberating Truth.
In the 2500 years since the Buddha first realized and proclaimed this, not a single person has come up with a more radical or important idea. Freedom: it is possible. We are not trapped in this suffering. There is a way out. And that way out is nothing more than self-realization through the eightfold path.
While our world grows ever more weary and cynical, this is one light that never dims. That shining prince, Siddhattha, whose story and example still exerts such a fascination on us, he realized this for himself. Though he has long been dim and uncertain as a historical figure, behind the clouds of time there is an unmistakable glory. His words, preserved for us due to the unstinting efforts of generations of Buddhists, convey the ring of truth. And his path, though overgrown with weeds, is still clearly visible.
The Buddha would not have wanted us to celebrate Vesak with big ceremonies. He would have looked for those who practice his Way. Each person who takes the path to heart and truly embodies it becomes a light for the world.
May that person be you!