Trying to Share the Love
I just helped someone put together brochure copy for a morning meditation program a major organization in New York City has agreed to sponsor. The operative word had to be mindfulness so this secular institution could avoid the religious implications of "meditation." My friend came up with "contemplation."
I really wanted her program to succeed. I wanted lots of frayed New Yorkers to pile in and start their day with a pile of good news. I wanted to make the marketing pitch meaningful as well as dead on honest. So I contemplated why I find Buddhism to be so precious, sacred actually, and how it changed my life.
This brought me to the innovative way a Dharma brother of mine in San Francisco has, with our Rinpoche's blessings, started to present Buddhism: as the pure, unfettered love called Bodhicitta. No texts for study, no big untranslatable words to parse, no tormas to fashion or mantras to memorize. Just guided meditation on the endless streams of light and love pouring into us from the Buddha and his retinue of deities, and from all the great masters who came before us and spent their lives perfecting the idea we can all transcend our anguish.
Rinpoche's insight is that we are now living in heavy rains that have brought us all a tsunami of trouble. Everyone is struggling in some way. Matters keep getting worse. Everyone has been wounded one way or another with no way to heal. No place to turn... except... .Rinpoche sees the Buddha and his retinue along with the long lineage of those who brought us his message as a sheltering umbrella we can all get under.
So instead of meeting for 90 minutes to struggle over the meaning of ancient texts and treatises, he wants his students to just sit there and feel the love. When you do, you walk away on clouds, nourished and buoyant. You wonder why no one ever told you this before. You want to share the love. Compassion arises. It's all bodhicitta, sometimes translated as "awakened heart."
It starts with the Buddha's vital, simple message. Contrary to monotheistic doctrines that insist you are a mess who needs God's help, the Buddha assures you are perfect just as you are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, nothing to hide.You don't need to rush out shopping for stuff to make yourself better. That kind of self-improvement improves nothing but some corporation's bottom line. Put the credit card away. You already have everything you need, You just need to discover that.
The Buddha managed by contemplating how his life had worked out. Ever since he's been inviting us to a come-as-you-are party so we too can do that and come to see all the blessings we have. Chief among them is all that shit we're so busy hiding, all that scary stuff like failures and fractures and freakiness. They are actually the pile of manure that's going to make perfection grow, the dirt scrapers that can reveal the gold within you. If you dig in. After all, the symbol of Buddhist dharma is the lotus. This most beautiful flower on Earth can only grow in mud.
That's what contemplation practice actually is. Buddhist meditation is the insistent belief we are all worthy beings with access to unending blessings. The trick is how to sit still for a few minutes to find that out for ourselves. To help us, Buddhists back in the day created four images that are now widely available and wildly popular.
First there is the Buddha himself. Artists have very strict rules for how a Buddha is portrayed. He will often have a third eye or dot representing it at the top of his nose. This represents inner seeing, the result of contemplation. Often Buddha will be shown with his right hand reaching down to touch the ground. This “touching the Earth” mudra represents the Buddha’s assertion that he and all beings have the right to be here on Earth and receive all its blessings. He is saying: we all belong here and we all benefit.” Sometimes Buddha is shown in full meditation posture and sometimes with his right hand turned outward in front of his chest. You know what that gesture means, don't you? It's the STOP sigh. Here, it's the Buddha saying, stop being scared. I'm here. The hand gesture represents the Buddha dispelling our deepest fears.
Next, Tara, or Drolma in Tibetan. She comes in many colors and many poses because she has so many ways of protecting us. Tara is the great mother who wants for each of us what any loving mother wants for her child: good health, long life, freedom from fear, and wisdom. She is always shown with her right hand extended in the gesture of generosity to indicate she grants all our requests. Of the 21 Taras, the two most widely popular are Green Tara and White Tara. Green Tara has her leg extended, some say, so she can rise up quickly to come to our aid. Both Taras have a lotus in their left hand, rising from their heart. This is a way of showing us their great compassion and wisdom. Tara is the great mother and protector of all Himalayan peoples. She is known as Kwan Yin in China and Japan.
Then Manjushri represents wisdom and he is always portrayed as a youth to tell us that wisdom is always fresh: it never ages, rots or gets stale. Manjushri is always portrayed with a sword because wisdom easily cuts through our ignorance and pain and slays it. He wants us to be that kind of warrior. Cutting through our delusions and illusions will give us clarity that we can wield like his sword to cut off suffering. Manjushri is a reminder that we are all born perfect with everything we need to be happy beyond suffering. We just need to borrow his sword of wisdom to cut through our despairs to reach this truth, the way a machete hacks away the weeds until the land is clear. Contemplation is the best way to do that.
And finally Sipaykhorlo: The Wheel of Life illustrates the overarching truth we learn from contemplating ourselves: how we make our own suffering happen. In the center are the three poisons that destroy our clarity and skill: passion or wanting, aggression or hating and ignorance or not caring. These are shown with animal images. Around them are the six realms of suffering actions propel beings into: the hell realm (red hot anger), the hungry ghost realm (constant thirst from never having enough), the animal realm (ignorance of karma and dharma or, in other words, cause and effect), human realm (destroyed by desires), the jealous gods realm (endless warfare and envy), the god realm (downfall due to pride and arrogance). And around these are the 12 interdependent links of activity that lead us into so much suffering. This is the uh-oh image, painstakingly crafted to show us the chain that enchains us in interminable suffering for the purpose of showing us how to break that chain and set ourselves free.
The Buddha wants us to be happy all the time. For 2600 years men and women have devoted their lives to contemplating and come away telling us we are okay, we are lovable, we are absolutely perfect. Now is a good time to tune in and hear them. Happiness is, as they say, an inside job.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
Technorati Tags: Yours In The Dharma, Sandy Garson, Dharma, Buddhist, Buddhism, Spirituality, Religion This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.