7: Making Bonds with the Universe

 

universe

The Buddha made it clear that we should create and maintain bonds with the universe even though we have been born into human life. The Cathars also were constantly connected to the spiritual or invisible world, regarding death, the ending of human life, as a simple veil that could be easily removed. The halo (a circle of light around the head of a holy being depicted in Christianity) and the aureole (a circle of light around the head and/or body of a deity in Buddhism), were and still are used as reminders of the spiritual origin of all things manifest in the material plane. In both systems of living out the lessons and struggles of human life (Christianity) or samsara (Buddhism), we aspire to make the transition back into the spiritual, formless world, taking all sentient beings with us.

reclining Buddha aureolehaloed beings

 

 

 

 

 

Cathars, who were vegetarians apart from eating fish occasionally, prescribed the endura, a form of ritual suicide, as a practitioner approached death, preceded by the administering of the consolamentum. (see post Consolamentum https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/consolamentum/  in this series on the Cathars)  In Buddhism, the diet is always important as it is important to allow the subtle inner winds (vayu– in Sanskrit) to blow naturally through the channels of the body, the body and mind being unable to function at subtle levels without these winds being balanced. So, in both cases, the awareness of what substances from the earth we put inside our bodies is central to the way we use them. These rules about living allow us to connect with mystical knowledge, to be able to be a channel for such energy, to fine tune in order to receive the countless messages and signs from invisible sources.

teachers

The mystical has always drawn me personally since being a young child. I could never accept that worldly achievements were the pinnacle of all existence, always being certain there was much more than that.  Of course, children are usually not yet conditioned as adults are: they are pure and still close to the universe before their intellectual capacities develop. I always dreamed of touching the mystical and my dream came steadily true through the Buddhist pathway and gnostic traditions such as Catharism and Sufism. Indeed, in my present practice, the Nirvana Teachings of Shinnyo-en, it is possible to become a spiritual medium so that through intense training and empowerment, one can channel messages from the Buddha and other deities, which will touch the hearts of those receiving them. I am almost at the end of such a training now, and so looking forward to devoting myself to being that empty pure channel to help guide people to true and lasting happiness in Nirvana.

mandala 1 Mandala 2

In Esoteric Buddhism, the mandala is the traditional way of mapping out the Dharma Lineage passed down through the ages from Buddha Shyakyamuni. It represents the whole universe, and if you are correctly connected to the Dharma Stream, there is nothing and no-one outside you, no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ you are actually in the centre of that universe.

Buddhists strive to release themselves from attachment to objects and people because attachment means separation: attachment requires the attached and the attacher. Once we are truly one with the universe and all sentient beings, then we have realized emptiness and the native silence and stillness of the heart. All cravings are extinguished, and it is said that we have crossed the great Ocean of Nirvana to the other shore.

waterfall training waterfall training

In Japan, there is a strong tradition of mountain asceticism, shugendo in Japanese.  Yamabushi  in Japanese (one who likes mountains) follow a special doctrine, which combines esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto. They are usually solitary and today mostly lay practitioners. Emphasis is placed on physical feats of endurance in the open air where the aspirants live in the primeval forests of rural Japan, and their goal is to find supernatural powers through such practices.

Shingon Buddhism, which my own practice is connected to, emphasizes enlightenment through isolation, the study and contemplation of oneself and nature, and of mandalas.  Yamabushi can often be seen engaged in waterfall training – standing under waterfalls in freezing winter, ridding themselves of their ego so that they can receive the esoteric. My own masters did this practice regularly, as did many other key teachers in my lineage of Shinnyo Buddhism.

The Cathars also had a strong reverence for and involvement with nature. The sacred caves of Sabarthes in Languedoc are known as the ‘doors to Catharism.’ Part of initiation as a Parfait was to climb a steep path leading up to these caves (a practice common in shungendo) to the cave of Bethlehem. There were four important elements inside the caves involved in this initiation before receiving the consolamentum, or making the final vow: first, a square niche in the wall which could have conceivably contained a mandala or manual of some kind; second, a rough granite altar; third, a pentagram carved into the wall, possibly symbolizing the 5 elements of the universe (a common symbol in Esoteric Buddhism); and finally, the telluric currents emitted from the rock walls and cave floor. The atmosphere in these caves fills one with awe. I was particularly sensitive while inside, and after visiting had a series of Cathar dreams which have recurred since that time.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

Buddhists work to achieve emptiness and liberation from all attachments. If you step out of the enclosure of your mind, the view of the world you construct with your intellect, then you step into the Buddhafield or mandala where you are protected and qualified to receive by oral transmission the wisdom of the Dharma stream. At this moment, you become unified with the universe, and this is reality. You can take refuge in this powerful mandala whilst struggling in samsara to liberate all sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment with you.

Buddhafield

It could be said that the notion of making ‘bonds with the universe’ began with the young Prince Siddartha’s first experience of meditation. He was 7 years of age and already showing promise in his training to succeed his father and become King of the Shyakya clan. One day, he accompanied his father and entourage to an agricultural festival dedicated to the earth deity. While there, the young prince noticed a small bird pecking at a worm that had been turned up by a plough. He felt such compassion for the worm that he was inspired to sit in a nearby grove under a jambu (roseapple) tree and soon entered into an advanced meditative state. The sun was high in the sky, but the shade provided by the surrounding trees stood still, keeping the young child cool and sheltered from the hot sun. This first meditation inspired by nature demonstrated the highest respect and reverence for the treasures of the universe.

In my own meditations, I often use the image that everything inside me, beneath the thin membrane of my skin, can amalgamate with everything outside. That my heart can beat in unison with all the hearts in the universe, that I can breathe as one with all in the universe. It is easy to transcend the thin membrane of skin and realize deeply that this is all that makes me a physical individual being, acting in the world, fulfilling my own unique mission.

The Universe is the Spiritual Source. The Moon and Sun are our protectors. We climb the mountains, flow into the oceans down wide rivers, swing from stars and planets. It is only the mundane mind that sequesters us in its synthetic reality, away from the glory of the great Universe.

deep meditation

Bodhisattva

the moon

As you may be able to imagine, following on from the last article on Bodhi and the aspiration for enlightenment, a Bodhisattva is someone who is working towards enlightenment, or oriented towards it. He or she is the spiritual embodiment of someone who puts the Buddhist precepts (the moral codes) and practice (working to purify and cleanse Buddha nature in order to summon Bodhi and the paramitas) in the centre of their lives, and models themselves on the Buddha’s life before he became enlightened. Enlightenment? The extinguishing of all cravings and worldly anxieties.

So the first thing a Bodhisattva does is to generate the aspiration to become enlightened for the sake of all beings, making a strong vow. These words are rare in modern English – ‘aspiration,’ ‘vow,’ etc – an indication of how secular our lives in developed countries have become. But once, when there were divine beings living amongst us, to ‘aspire’ and to ‘vow’ were commonplace expressions. In the last days of the Dharma or Law however, mentioned in the first cycle of articles on Dharma, the possibility of encountering the divine in human life, is quite remote, and yet all beings have the potential to become Bodhisattvas. Some of you may already be Bodhisattvas but not realize it.

The Buddhist precepts are the basic laws of moral discipline. At first you may think they bear some resemblance to the Christian or Muslim Commandments, laid down by a divine authority. But the precepts are rational principles of sheer goodness, intended to promote human well-being. They are flexible according to the period of history, the society in which precept-abiders live in, etc. They are not laws, but a kind of warning or guidance. Remember, there is no omnipotent ‘God’ in Buddhism who exercises compassion or wrath on his flock depending on whether thy sin or not. We followers of the Buddha are each potential Buddhas, equipped with all we need to realize that potential. There is no intervention from on high! Of course, as we saw in the Dharma article cycle, we do have Dharma Protectors who vary in the nature of their support, some are strict, some compassionate, etc.

So, given that framework of moral discipline, if we follow the guidance, we can be sure we are in the right condition to become enlightened. If we break the precepts, perhaps by accident, then as there is no punishing agent, we can easily repent and vow never to make that mistake again. If we remain awake and mindful, the Dharma Protectors will make sure we are on the right course. Then, given that strong foundation of moral discipline, we simply practice.

On the Buddha’s pathway to enlightenment, as was the way in ancient India, ascetic practices were undertaken by those seeking enlightenment. Such things still go on in India today, but eventually after almost dying, the Buddha realized that his pathway should be the middle way, balanced and within human endurance. There are more subtle ways to rid ourselves of the deluded ego than acute pain or deliberate attrition. So, the core of our practice is the 6 paramitas  – which are: giving; moral discipline; patience; courage or exertion; meditation; and wisdom. These are compatible with living a normal life in society. In fact, they can be joyfully executed amongst people around us. I find I can usually generate unlimited Bodhi for all the people I encounter in my daily life.

In Japan, as we also saw in the Dharma articles, we can, through ancestor veneration, generate Bodhi for beings in the past. Especially our maternal and paternal lineages, going back through the ages. We want to take their spirits to enlightenment with us too, and they are often with us as we practice. Through my own bodhicitta generating and meditation I made contact with an ancestor of mine who belonged to a religion pre-dating Buddhism and Christianity, who led an ascetic life high in the mountains. He was a healer who people and creatures flocked to, and he handed on his gift to me. It’s true that I am qualified as an Alexander Technique (a method of body-reeducation) teacher and do use healing powers on my pupils. I feel this ancestor is very close to me, working with me towards enlightenment.

So, how can we become a Bodhisattva? You may have a feeling that you are not of this time, that the suffering both psychological, social and physical is so acute, and at times too much to bear. Remember that it is highly likely that your ancestors were Bodhisattvas, and that they exist in all faiths – Mother Theresa in Christianity, Ghandi in Hinduism, Kukai in Shingon Buddhism, and numerous other Buddhist Saints too numerous to list here. etc. Those traces of the divine are in our DNA somewhere and surface at some point. So, the spiritual path can choose us, as it did me, so that we can continue on from where our ancestors left off.

Finally, I am certain my mother and father were both Bodhisattvas, and of course after their decease I could appreciate that even more than when they were alive because of my great arrogance as a younger person. My mother became ill and died about 10 years ago and I and my two siblings were amazingly able to be with her alone when she shifted her spiritual being out of her physical body, despite the long queue of loved ones waiting outside her hospital room to say goodbye. The three of us were talking closely holding her hands, touching her tenderly, when suddenly her heart jumped in her chest and she passed away. It was a breathtaking moment for each of us as a part of her body, but it was peaceful and deliberate. My mother chose to die when only the three of us were there. Tearfully, we made a pact to carry on her bright light into the world, perpetuating the legacy.

Later after the funeral as so many family members and friends filed out to say thank you to us, some of them were visibly shocked when they shook my hand because they thought I actually was my mother! I had always had a strong physical resemblance to her and a similar energetic character, but as they remarked I truly felt I was my mother.  The DNA, the spirit, all amalgamating into one! Bodhisattvas begetting Bodhisattvas, continuing on the goodness of enlightenment and the Bodhi mind. She certainly loved everyone equally and did everything she could to make them smile, their dreams and pain being singularly her own. She was not a practicing Buddhist herself, but before she died I did talk to her about general Buddhist ideas and she accepted them.  I am certain this made her passage into the spiritual world smooth.

two water pots

A story:

There were two water pots: a watertight one and a leaky one. The water carrier would carry the two pots filled with fresh water on a yoke across his shoulders every day to the king. By the time they arrived, the leaky pot was half empty. This pot was very unhappy feeling guilty that he couldn’t do the job expected of him; was failing in his life’s mission. But the kind water carrier advised him not to worry, and instead to notice the beautiful flowers along the pathway on his side. The water pot noticed them, but still felt uneasy that he was a failure in some way. He told the water carrier about his dissatisfaction, but the carrier asked him if he noticed how healthy and abundant the flowers he passed were, and how everyday they could be picked and taken to adorn the king’s palace. Perhaps the leaky pot didn’t realize his real mission in life, which was to water the flowers rather than supply a full pot of water to the king.

Every Bodhisattva has a unique mission which Buddhist practice to attain a Bodhi mind will reveal.