Don’t sleep, stay awake!Scene One
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ foresaw that he would soon be crucified, so he told his disciples, “Stay awake with me.”
He then went and prayed alone, but when he returned they had fallen asleep. Christ scolded them, “So you could not even remain awake for one hour. Stay awake so you do not fall into temptation — stay awake and pray. The spirit is eager but the body cannot follow.”
Christ then went and prayed. His disciples fell asleep again, so Jesus returned and said, “Are you still resting and sleeping? The hour is now at hand, my betrayer has come near.”
A well-known Korean spiritual leader named Da-Seok once commented:
We normally don’t abide anywhere — that is the principle of non-abiding. The only place to abide is the universe, and the entire realm of the universe is our home. Everyone wants to stay somewhere — but if you remain anywhere you become rotten. That’s why we all must live without abiding anywhere — if you remain somewhere it’s already a mistake. Life means we should constantly move in order to make progress.
In Tang dynasty China there lived a poor woodcutter who made his living selling firewood in the market. One day he brought some wood to a small shop and when he emerged, he heard someone chanting a line from a sutra.
“Find the mind which depends on nothing.”
This is a line from the Diamond Sutra. When the woodcutter heard this verse he had a great awakening and later ordained as a monk. Eventually he attained complete enlightenment and became part of the Dharma lineage passed down from original Zen patriarch Bodhidharma. This woodcutter later became known as the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng.
Christ told his disciples to “stay awake,” but what does this kind of awakening refer to? Does it mean forcing one’s droopy eyelids to stay open? Christ’s meaning was not that run-of-the-mill.
“Stay awake so you do not fall into temptation — stay awake and pray.” (Mark 14:38)
The moment we fall into temptation, we fall asleep — also the moment we fall asleep, we fall into temptation. The forbidden fruit inside of us causes us to drift into a stupor — our relative distinctions, attachments, and delusions all arise from this state. That’s why Christ told us to not fall asleep but stay awake and remain vigilant within.
The Korean Christian theologian Da-seok interpreted Christ’s “staying awake” as “non-abiding.” In other words, don’t get caught by the ego, by this transient thing we call our “self.” People argue, “Isn’t that just death?” As Da-seok pointed out, while it may seem that abiding in our ego is living, we are truly alive when we don’t get caught by anything at all.
Christ said, “Abide in me, as I am within you.”
Look at our daily lives — where do we truly abide? We typically remain only within our selfish egos, within our fundamental delusions and misconceptions about the universe. However, one who only abides within the selfish ego can never abide within Christ — that’s why Da-seok said that if we get caught there, we become rotten.
Buddha said, “Find the mind which depends on nothing.” If we depend on something we get stuck as our mind invariably becomes attached to it; if our mind gets caught we are already dead but when our mind doesn’t get caught by anything at all, we are truly alive. That’s why Christ’s teaching “stay awake” and Buddha’s teaching “depend on nothing” are both paths to liberation — the way to not become rotten.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo writer on religious affairs.