It has been claimed that there are two types of life: the secular and the sacred. The secular is the human life with all of its rites of passages, its successes and failures, its temporal joy and sadness, its gains and losses; the other is the sacred life with its realisations and steady travel along a spiritual pathway towards an enlightened state, its spiritual training, its transformations under the guidance of a greater power. My life has definitely been the second, though of course I have become immersed in the secular periodically, and even at times been convinced that this was the route I should take. So, it’s interesting to look back and see what awoke me from going in the secular direction, what distracted me from aiming to achieve high status, fame and wealth, and material comfort.
The potential for the arising of Bodhi, or the ripening of the seed for enlightenment, is something every single human being possesses because we all have Buddha Nature, the universal uncorrupted true self, as we saw in the series of posts on Dharma. So why do we choose the secular way which is stuffed full of suffering, fractured by disappointed expectations and often tragic outcomes, with the sorrow of its losses and the ephemeral joy of its gains. There is a famous story from ancient sources, which may help to elucidate this phenomenon in a deep way, from a meta position. Story is without doubt the most powerful way to reach the unconscious mind, as the great religious adepts recognized – Jesus, the Buddha, Allah, often told parables as they taught.
A poor and good man tried desperately to provide for his family, prepared to do whatever work he could find to be able to feed them. But in his neighbourhood he couldn’t find any work, so he was forced to travel to a different land where he had heard there was work. He set off on foot to his new destination, and as soon as he arrived he found a lot of work, and was overjoyed at earning more than enough money to support his family. He worked diligently, was always honest and respectful of his various employers. In the meantime, he dutifully sent almost all the money he earned back to his family.
One day, a messenger came from the local Lord inviting him to work in a more senior position and on a permanent basis. He was delighted and gradually he was entrusted with more and more responsibility. He started to enjoy his new life, and gradually, although he continued to send money back to his family, he forgot about his family. Eventually, he forgot about them entirely and the sending of money stopped. He found a new wife and lived a luxurious life.
Then one day, unexpectedly, someone betrayed him and he lost his wealth and position. He became poor again and blacklisted so he couldn’t get any work. His newfound friends deserted him and he fell into despair. He was left with no choice but to return home, reluctantly exchanging the rich high quality clothes he had become used to wearing for the rags he first arrived in. Once home, although he had abandoned them, his family welcomed him back, his wife forgave him and his children shed tears because they had missed him so much. But still they didn’t have enough money to eat or live comfortably.
Soon he received news that his mother had died. He went to her house and as he was her only child there was a box waiting for him there. He opened it affectionately but at the same time regretfully because of his neglect of her, and fingered the few trinkets she had left for him. At the bottom of the box he found a letter. He opened it slowly and found the words,
You need look no further than your own heart to find all the riches you need. Please take a knife and cut open the lining of the jacket I made for you and you will find exactly what you have been looking for all along.
He was perplexed, but took off his ragged coat wondering how this poor garment could provide all he needed. He carefully opened the lining, and there to his amazement, he found a priceless diamond which his mother had secretly placed there. The tears rolled down his face as he realized that he had had all he needed if only he had opened his eyes. He vowed to make sure he kept his eyes open forever more, and thus his seed for enlightenment had started to germinate. He was awake!
This story exemplifies how easily we look outside ourselves for answers and solutions when all the time we have them inside us. How readily we blame others when instead we should reflect on our own shortcomings. In fact, our Buddha nature, if we polish, respect and trust it, is all we need to find true and lasting happiness. Buddhism is unique in that we don’t need to look anywhere but our true nature to find wisdom and real happiness. If we polish ourselves by putting the needs of others before our own, allowing our natural goodness to surface, then that gem we also have sewn into the lining of our coat, will shine and provide all we need.
At quite a young age, Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, was bored by the secular life, so he chose the sacred way. Buddhism had hardly been heard of in Japan except in monastic circles, but he knew to search for indications of his pathway in sacred texts. He quickly mastered Sanskrit and is said to have read all the sutras written and translated by that time, and then he came across Dainichi-kyo, the Mahavairochana Sutra, one of the greatest sutras of all, and his pathway became clear. He was listening with all his might to indications using his higher self.
He had already found the gem sewn into his coat and was determined to polish it until all dust and detritus had disappeared. Neither was he remotely afraid of the unknown, unlike the poor man who became so desperate. He was so convinced that this mighty sutra held all the answers to all his questions that he set off to study Esoteric Buddhism in China and quickly became a Master, or Great Achariya.
If we tune up our higher selves through meditation and altruistic practices, putting aside our fragile human egos while supported by the Dharma, we can each hear what our mission in this short human life is. The Bodhi mind sprouted in me when I was a child and I have tried to listen to my life ever since. 8 years ago I lived and worked in London, and then suddenly out of the blue, a colleague invited me to apply for a teaching post in Japan. I had never been to Japan, did not speak or write Japanese, although I had often wanted to come to see where my Japanese students lived, but I applied and got the post. I knew I had to come here, not merely to work.
Before I departed for Japan, I went to the Japanese embassy in London to collect my visa and asked for posters of Kyoto to take to hang in my new office there. The attendant was able to give me only one as stocks were low. It pictured a beautiful temple pagoda in Kyoto, the city of 30,000 temples and shrines, at Cherry Blossom viewing time. I was excited at the prospect. So, I duly packed up my 2 suitcases and embarked on my journey. I knew it was right though most people tried to dissuade me from making such an upheaval in my life at my age.
I was in fact tuned into something amazing, because almost as soon as I arrived, I was connected to my Dharma Master, who had inherited the Dharma Stream from Kukai in an unbroken succession. I encountered the Nirvana teachings, the last teachings of the Buddha, and my final destination! Then I soon discovered that the beautiful temple poster I had been given was of Daigo-ji Monastery in Kyoto, founded by Kukai, who I had never heard of before leaving Britain, and that my new Dharma Master had completed all his spiritual training there!
Everything is planned if you can fine tune your higher self and listen to the Dharma!
Finally, our future lives are important in Buddhist practice because of our karma. Everything we do, think or say now, in this moment, will affect our future existences. If we cultivate the Bodhi mind now, if we nurture our aspiration to find Nirvana as quickly as possible, we are creating wonderful conditions for our future, as well as the future of all sentient beings. If we bring all the contacts we have ever made, in our daily life, in our dreams, in our imagination, into our meditations; if we take them all with us on our way with loving thoughts, then we can change the destiny of thousands. All those diamonds in their various states of defilement and dirtiness can be purified and polished with our compassion, for they are just a reflection of ourselves.
The generating of such a glorious Bodhi energy starts with our own seed of enlightenment. We need look no further than our own mind and controlling it. Santideva, an 8th century Buddhist monk and poet, in the Bodhicaryavatara, one of the greatest Bodhi texts, says:
Rutting elephants roaming wild do not cause as much devastation in this world as the roaming elephant, the mind, let free, creates in Avici and other hells.
But if the roaming elephant, the mind, is tethered on every side by the cord of mindfulness, every danger subsides, complete prosperity ensues.
The secular? The sacred? Which path do you choose? Will you tiptoe into the mystical pool?