The Way isn’t hard to find. The Buddha’s Way is not complicated. Why do people make it complicated?

There are those who make it complicated with very good intentions. They think, and rightly so, that the Buddha’s Way is truly wonderful. Because it is truly wonderful, it must be very difficult to attain. Its realization must be very far away.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. The Buddha’s Way is difficult to realize, but not because it is so complex or because its realization is such a distant summit. It is difficult to realize precisely because it is simple. Its realization is so close to us that we find it difficult to find. It is, in fact, immediate and eminent.

When I was in graduate school several years ago, I had a PC that I used for my studies. Like so many other people, I had antivirus software installed on it. One day, the PC began to act erratically, so I checked the antivirus software. Everything appeared to be fine, but I didn’t trust it. I had worked with computers and began to look more closely at my antivirus software itself. As I searched using various tools, I found the culprit. There was, in fact, a virus; it had infected the antivirus software itself. I isolated and removed the infected files, then contacted the customer support center for the antivirus software. I sent them the infected files and they identified the virus as a rare, industrial software virus. They declined to send clean replacement files, but kindly offered to sell me a new antivirus package, which I kindly declined, since it didn’t speak well of their antivirus software that it had itself become the victim of a virus, no matter how rare on a PC.

I share this story because it helped me to better understand that the realization of the Buddha’s Way is not difficult to see because it is so far away. It is difficult because it is one with the eye that searches for it. My antivirus software couldn’t find the virus because it was one with the antivirus software, which couldn’t see itself. The challenge of the Buddha’s Way is that it guides us on a path of investigation of the one doing the investigating. It is the challenge of the eye seeing itself.

Because the eye is incapable of seeing itself, since the faculty of sight is located in the eye, the eye must relinquish sight, except as a part of the greater whole of experiencing. It is difficult for the eye to know itself, because the eye is constantly functioning to know everything except itself. Nevertheless, there has never been a moment that the eye has not been the eye.

The Buddha’s Way is not seen as easy out of respect for its lofty character. It is holy. It is sublime. Surely it must be exalted, and that which is exalted must surely be difficult to attain! I have always enjoyed a beautiful story from the Hebrew Scriptures that challenges this belief, no matter its deep and honorable piety.

In the Sefer Melekim (Book of Kings), the story is told of Namaan, a commander in the military of the king of Aram. He suffered from leprosy, but his wife had a Hebrew maid who spoke of a prophet in her homeland who could surely heal Namaan if he were asked. Namaan took many gifts with him as he traveled to meet this Hebrew prophet, but when he arrived, one of the prophet’s servants met him outside and told him that the prophet had foreseen his arrival and instructed him simply to bathe himself in the river Jordan, dipping himself seven times in the waters, after which his leprosy would be healed. Namaan left the place of the prophet outraged. He said, “I thought for sure that the prophet himself would come out, wave his hands and call on his god, and perform a miracle! I can bathe myself in the waters of my homeland!” As they prepared to leave the country, one of Namaan’s men consulted with him and said, “If the prophet had asked you to perform some mighty deed of valor in order to merit your healing, wouldn’t you have gladly done it? Why not bathe in the river Jordan as he says?” In other words, Namaan had nothing to lose. Six times he dipped himself into the water, and as he came up from the water the seventh time, he found his skin was whole and soft like a newborn baby’s.

There is more to the story, but I have always been impressed by that part. Namaan nearly abandoned his quest, not because it was too difficult, but because it wasn’t difficult enough! It was because he prized his healing so much that he simply couldn’t believe that it could come at anything less than a monumental cost.

The Japanese master Bankei addresses this same attitude as it appeared among the people at his temple. He posed a question to them once. “Imagine that you are climbing a mountain, trying to reach the summit. Your group passes a spring, but thinking that the summit is near, none of you replenish your water. As you continue to climb, your water runs out and you become very thirsty, and the summit seems no nearer, so one of your number volunteers to climb back down and refill your water containers, then rejoin you.” Master Bankei then asked, “When the volunteer returns with the water, will it be any less able to slake your thirst because you yourself did not strive for it?”

Something in us as human beings actually craves a challenge. It craves the opportunity to earn hard-won rewards. That something is our proud ego. It isn’t all bad, since it is closely related to our drive for self-improvement, but there are times it certainly becomes an obstacle. We make things harder than they have to be, because the greater the challenge, the more we reinforce the notion that we are truly significant individuals, and persons of great accomplishment.

Having spoken briefly of those somewhat noble, if misguided, motivations we sometimes have for treating the realization of the Buddha’s Way as something difficult or even heroic to attain, I will speak even more briefly of the ignoble reasons for the same.

Lazy individuals excuse themselves of their lack of progress in the Buddha’s Way by making it out to be needlessly complicated and difficult. Monks and teachers may present the Buddha’s Way as something incredibly difficult and heroic in order to elevate their own realization or discourage anyone from challenging their authority. Finally, there are unscrupulous charlatans who want to sell the Buddha’s Way for personal gain, and they will almost always emphasize its great value and the lengths to which they strove in order to realize it in order to justify the great cost of its realization to those to whom they wish to sell it. Let me say no more about these, because while it is sometimes necessary to identify abuses in the community, it is also dangerous because it is so easy to break the Grave Precepts while doing so. Please forgive me where I have already ventured too near that line.