The Dharma is often seen as liquid, fluent, flowing. As we elevate our faith, we can become a bigger vessel so that we contain more of this magical substance, the Dharma. In Japan, we make daily offerings of water or green tea to the Buddha on our butsudan or home altar, and then at ceremonies we pour clear water from one vessel to another. Transmitting the Dharma is said to be like pouring water from teacher to pupil, from trainer to trainee, from guide to guided. This implies total purity, water being the most common of the five elements of existence. In the Nirvana teachings, water is of cardinal importance. It is said that all the earlier teachings of the Buddha and all religions flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana like a diversity of rivers, and are amalgamated there. Through the image of vast stretches of water we can grasp the fathomlessness of The Dharma, its infinite and eternal nature.
In my case, water and especially the ocean, is frequently indicated in my meditations. I have always had an affinity with water, so in the early days of my Buddhist training when the Dharma was explained to me as a fast crystal-clear running mountain stream, I understood very quickly. I easily could place myself in the shallows of such a stream, the water gushing and spraying around my feet, and the bubbling sound of the flow ringing in my ears. There in the cool water, I realized that the Dharma is something you cannot possess or remove. The condition and consistency of the water is constantly transforming itself, and the flow can only be stopped if we dam the stream, or if it turns to ice or dries up at the height of summer, which are conditions Universe forces arrange!
Dammed water eventually stagnates, becomes silent and dark. It maybe reliable to have a supply of water nearby, but then many problems of ownership and usage of this pool may occur. It was exactly that quality of not being able to capture the mountain water, which inspired me to understand another Buddhist notion called ‘attachment,’ which I will be explaining in later posts.
In my novel ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy’ (Linden Thorp, January, 2013) which is based on the view of the world of the indigenous people of Australia, Ninija is the traditional land owner of her tribe, and Lumaluma is a white Australian come to exploit her and the rich resources of her lands. As Ninija paddles him in her handcrafted boat through the flooded mangroves in the Wet season, he grumbles and groans about the damp, and is poked and prodded by the low hanging branches. He roars out of the side of his mouth at her.
‘Get me out of this godforsaken jingle! Why doesn’t somebody build a dam to control all this flood water?’
They paddle through the tangle of roots and quietly Ninija asks, ‘What “dam” Lumaluma?’
He tuts and grunts and sniffs:
‘You people don’t know anything.’
Condescendingly, with an aggressive raised voice as if he is addressing a deaf-blind mute, he explains what he would do with his diggers and trucks and dynamite, blasting away the Buga Hills to build a concrete dam. He points his nicotine-stained finger in the direction of his intended construction.
‘There! That would mean this valley would stay dry. And you could have all the Water for drinking and washing that you need, stored behind the dam!’
He is pleased with his solution. Ninija is quiet. She stops paddling.
‘No Wet season!?’
She steadies the trunk boat with her paddle.
‘Here no Water? No eel? No water-lily?’ She goes on. ‘No give Lands big-big drink so she make flower and food and cool and dry?’
Incredulous questions are flushed out of her mouth as if by wind-spirits.
‘Yes. You have understood. No Water here. Instead you and your people can store it behind the dam. Then you will never be thirsty of filthy again.’
‘But Lumaluma. You not change Lands like that! You change all this?’
She moves her arms around in a large arc, her intonation incredulous.
‘Yes! It’s easy.’ He laughs.
‘Lumaluma why you people think you make better plan than Great Mother Nature. Why? Why you not listen her? She make all this. It work like this for special reason.
(pp 183-4, see ‘Works’)
Another notion which has guided me is the idea, hinted at by Ninija’s attitude above, that we borrow everything for the span of our human life, thanks to the compassion and support of many beings and phenomena. We even borrow our bodies as a vessel for our spirits, so we must treat them with due respect during our tenancy. We also borrow the air we breathe in at each breath. If we remember this, we will always be respectful and grateful that our human existence is so strongly supported.
However, every human spirit can choose how they relate to this stream of Dharma, which constantly cradles us. Or more accurately, we can choose what we want to hear about it, or to accept. In my case, actually I had no choice. Because of the watchfulness of the Dharma Protectors, I was able to recognize my pathway, and my guru guides who showed me the way. Nowadays I often think to myself, ‘Who would choose the mundane and limited human mind above the magical and all-encompassing Dharma pathway!’ There is something glorious about the mystical, which I believe we are each born to embrace in our own unique way, and which I could never access alone, without connecting to the Dharma current. Unless we are destined to become a spiritual leader, it’s impossible to deal with the Dharma flow without a qualified guide. It would be like going down the Amazon or climbing Mount Everest without any advice or equipment.
In practical human terms, a simple way of describing the stream or current of Dharma is an energy flow, like a channel or stream of water or light, or, in this modern age, as an electrical or radioactive current. By practicing a certain teaching, or linking yourself to a certain lineage or guru, you become connected with that certain current. Each has its own character, but each is connected to one of the many Buddhas, celestial beings or gods. Of course, this aspect of the Dharma stream is rather different to the mountain stream. Here. the force of Dharma has been harnessed by a qualified Master or Guru so that is can be perpetuated by being handed on to the right successor. So that it can be poured into the pure wide vessel of the successor, and go on developing and spreading. And if you are awake, the guru will find you and show you the way.
We can make a decision when we stand in the fast-running stream. We can block it for our own purposes, we can enjoy the sensation simply for itself, we can force our ego on to the stream, change its nature, conquer it, or we can let if flow on to the great ocean to nurture other beings and weather forms. The Dharma is mainly two things: the great Universal truth supporting all sentient beings, and the teachings and rituals of the Buddha, which allow us to show our gratitude for such relentless compassion and loving kindness. Such deep gratitude is a rare thing in today’s world.
When I take a moment every day to realize all the benefits and comforts we have today, and that I couldn’t have these if it weren’t for my determined ancestors and the wonders of the Universe, I go weak at the knees. This realization, this awakening to the vastness of the invisible and infinite Dharma, reaffirms the reason for my human existence and makes my mission clear. I recommend it to you. Just find a quiet place and let this incredible feeling of awe loose. It will fuel all your further adventures from that point on, and your life will become enchanted and precious once again, as it was perhaps when you were a young child.
In Buddhism, there are two types of Dharma stream (Jpn: horyu): monastic and lay. As a Nirvana Buddhist, I am a lay practitioner practicing out in the world, as what the Buddha called ‘a householder.’ It is indeed difficult to lead a normal human life with all of its stresses and strains, and keep the Dharma flowing through your fingers. But without doubt this is the best training ground of all, which with practice enables us to distinguish the human mind from the Buddha mind, to be able to simply walk out of the closed room that our mind contrives whenever we like.
If we want to have harmony and light all around us in our daily lives, we must not allow the Dharma flow to stop, we must not short-circuit it with attachment or negative emotions. It needs to continue to flow as we accept everything and avoid becoming attached to anything. The Dharma stream I am connected to stretches in an unbroken line back to the Buddha Shyakyamuni, 2600 years ago. My daily practice links me constantly with the Buddha’s life, and what a glorious life it is flowing joyfully on to the great Ocean of Nirvana.