In my Dharma talk today I suggested that we are now in the fourth age of the Dharma. In the first age of the Dharma Buddha Shakyamuni was still in this world or had recently passed away and people became enlightened by direct encounter with him or with one of his great disciples. This was the age of direct inspiration.
In the second age of the Dharma, people were able to become enlightened and enter nirvana by means of self-power practices. It was not that these rituals had an intrinsic power, but they were what still connected practitioners with the original source. By doing what Buddha did, people received the transmission. This continued for eight hundred years or so.
By the third age of the Dharma, called Mappo, things had deteriorated. Although the self-power practices remained a shining example, there were few or no people capable of actually realising them. The times were degenerate. At this time there arose teachers who showed the path of faith as the only available possibility for deluded beings to reach the Buddha and receive the transmission, if not in this life, then in the next.
Now we are in the fourth age, the Post-Mappo. In this time of materialism it is not even possible for people to follow the path of faith with any ease. In fact, many people have become inoculated against faith by exposure to its degenerate forms. What can possibly avail us in these latter days? Life has become immensely complicated. People are under pressure from all sides to conform to the path of worldly success.
Those who still attempt self-power practices do so mostly for the sake of this-worldly benefit. We do not have Shakyamuni nor Shariputra, Kashyapa nor Ananda to show us the way. We are more sophisticated than the people of old, but this very sophistication blocks our way back to the source. What is needed now? What is needed now is a return to innocence.
Only by cutting through the interminable woes and worries of our age can we hope to find the light and this cutting through involves a great simplification and lightening. Lighten your life! Reclaim the innocent eye of the child without letting go of the knowledge gained by maturity. Learn once again to play and skip. Life has become too heavy.
We are all weighed down by possessions and responsibilities, deadlines and protocols, debt and work. Riding the Dharma, leap free. Break out of the prison. Embrace nature. Let the mind expand in wonderment. Talk to the stars and bathe in the light of the moon.
The innocent heart is unselfconscious. Through innocence one can find faith renewed. Through faith renewed one can find the real meaning of the practices. In these real forms one can meet the Tathagata. Meeting the Tathagata one can receive the transmission. It all unfords naturally.
We are in the fourth age, the Post-Mappo, and a return to the simplicity of innocence is now the only gate that is not locked.