I hope you are curious about this phrase. Does it mean that you are doing something that offends others but you cannot control it? That something etched into your character is unchangeable but others wished you would change it? Is it a kind of get-out clause when the going gets rough….’Ah well, it’s in my nature, etc?’
The word nature has many connotations:
something natural and therefore wholesome?
being at ease in any situation, staying calm and always being in control?
showing your shortcomings in public and feeling overwhelming disapproval?
Good natured? Bad natured?
Mother Nature and the Universe?
And so on……
But here I’m talking about something quite magical. So let me start off by telling you a little story. Stories always help because you become a child when you listen and the story magic works on your unconscious mind in a subtle and often long-lasting way.
Once upon a time there was a poor man with a big family who had to work so hard to earn so little money. It got to the point where he couldn’t feed his children or plan for the future of his two beautiful daughters which as the custom went he would have to provide a dowry for when they married. So, reluctantly, he decided that they had no choice but to leave and go to a distant land where he could find ways of increasing is earnings and send money home. He packed a few possessions and set off for the long walk which would take him across mountains and deserts to reach such a land.
Once he arrived there because he was quite young and willing he quickly found work and began to earn more money. In time, his employers liked his work so much that they increased his wages and gave him more and more responsibility.
Eventually, he became a manager and was able to buy a big house and land, and live like a Lord. At this point, he had been away so long that he forgot about his wife and children in his distant homeland, and met and married another woman. His life was so changed. He could relax and start to enjoy it a little.
His employers gave him more and more responsibility but then he got in with the wrong type and started to drink excessively and to gamble. One day, he realized he had lost everything he had earned and acquired. So, finding he had lost even his fine clothes, he put on his tattered traveller’s outfit and set out wearily on the long journey home.
When finally he arrived his family was very glad to see him to his surprise because he had let them down so badly. So, he settled back into family life with deep gratitude even though he was still poor. In his absence, his mother had died and he was called to her house to attend to her affairs. She had left a letter for him which he opened sadly because he had not been able to say goodbye to her.
The letter read, “My dear son, I am sad when I think about your life of back-breaking work for so little reward. I was sure you would return to us a rich man, but that was not to be.
However, please now look inside the lining of your traveling coat. Before you left, I repaired this coat but in fact I sewed the family jewel inside to keep it safe. All you needed was with you all the time but you thought you could find it outside. Please learn from my final wisdom to you. My son, you have all you need to be completely happy inside your own heart.”
He gently felt along the seam of his coat and sure enough he could feel something. He took a knife and gently cut the stitching and a large ruby fell out. He cried large tears which were a mixture of joy and sadness: joy that he and his family had a secure future and sad that he had been so blind and caused such suffering for his loved ones.
So, your true nature is just like the poor man’s ruby sewn into the lining of his traveling coat. We all have a powerful gemstone inside us but because it is hidden and we neglect it, it steadily loses its shine and eventually becomes encrusted with dirt so that we cannot recognize its power.
Like the poor man in the story, he had given up on his own uniqueness, his treasure mind, his divine spark because he was forced to suffer in poverty and frustration. But if he had respected and gazed at the remarkable spirit he came into human life with, he could have polished his talents and changed his destiny.
This unique spirit, this talent to embody all love and light is something we can see so clearly in new creatures and babies. If they are healthy, their spirit is potent and gleaming, their curiosity and energy is joyful and their love unconditional. The world is new to them and the dominance of their culture and conditioning not yet exerting a strong influence.
If we watch children at play, we can see from the way they use their bodies that they are at ease, their spine and joins supple and open. They move around without effort delighting in or perhaps fearing the stimuli they find in their new environment. They are one with everything around them because they have not yet learned how to use thought to separate themselves away, to assert themselves, to develop their ego and personality. But most important of all, they do not wear any social masks.
If they feel anger, they usually show it spontaneously. If they feel joy, then their laughter in infectious. They live for love, crave the constant attention of their closest parent and seem not to have a care in the world. This lack of care shows in their bodies – free moving, balanced, no blocked energy, because they have not yet learned how to worry or compare themselves with others except at a superficial level.
We can also see this freedom especially in movement in animals. One of the most exciting sites I have ever witnessed was watching a cheetah hunting a gazelle on the African savannah. It totally embodies its instincts and its survival needs as it runs at lighting speed, flowing like a rapid stream of muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Remember! You have got a unique and glorious gem in your heart like the poor man. This is your inheritance, your true nature, and we can polish it until it dazzles and creates a bright light in the universe!!
This is the introduction to a new book I am building on my website at – http://www.flourishwrite.org. The title – ‘TRUE NATURE: Our Supreme Inheritance; how to take down your masks and stop repressing your natural urges.’ Please come and join me if you are curious about your gem stone within and how to polish it once you have found it!
2600 years ago, under twin Sala trees among all the dignitaries and enlightened monks gathered to say farewell to the Buddha Shakyamuni, there was a deeply devoted lay follower named Chunda. He was the son of a blacksmith from the nearby area of Kushinagara castle who came to pay his respects to the Buddha, bringing with him 15 of his friends.
To show his devotion, he had discarded his daily clothes and put on a simple robe, bearing his right shoulder in the traditional way of monastics, kneeling on his right knee and bowing at the feet of the Buddha. He then made a speech confidently and sincerely, which was to change the future course of Buddhism.
In essence, he begged the Buddha to accept the simple offerings of homemade food he and his friends had brought. All the distinguished members of the congregation had already offered luxurious gifts of precious commodities like livestock and gold, but the Buddha had refused to accept everything until this point. To everyone’s surprise Chunda’s modest offerings were accepted. Chunda eloquently expressed his deep sadness at the prospect of losing the Buddha and begged him to accept the offerings from himself and his 15 friends before he entered Parinirvana, the special Nirvana only Buddha’s can enter, so that all sentient beings would not suffer from spiritual poverty.
In ancient India, and to a certain extent there today, the rigid caste system rejected people such as Chunda because he did not fit into any of the four main castes: He was not a clergyman or scholar, not of the nobility or a warrior, not a merchant or farmer, or a general labourer or servant. But he had confidence that all humans, despite their caste imposed at birth, were equal, and that when the Buddha left them, they would all be equally spiritually destitute. He said:
‘O World-Honoured One! My situation is like that of anyone among the four castes who, because of poverty, has to leave his country to find work and then buy domesticated cattle and fertile fields. After removing the stones and weeds and tilling his land, he has only to wait for the rain to fall from the sky.’ (Chapter 2, Mahaparinirvana Sutra)
Chunda’s words displayed great wisdom despite his lack of formal education or spiritual training. He knew that all living beings needed simply the rain of the Dharma to make them spiritually fertile, and that the Buddha, the truly awakened one, the Tathagata, could bring such rain into the human world of suffering (samsara). The Buddha was delighted and immediately conferred eternal life on him and connected him to the ever-presence. In other words, he was enlightened on the spot.
The Buddha during his ministry had insisted that his disciples should leave their ordinary life and become monastic practitioners, learning strict moral discipline and upholding monastic rules. The assembled disciples who had reached the pinnacle of all spiritual training were looking on as Chunda, a lay person, and an ‘untouchable’ – a person outside the caste system – became immediately enlightened with no training, and therefore supposedly little virtue. Chunda became the exception that was to be a crucial part of the Buddha’s last will and testament as he moved back to the spiritual source.
There were two ways in which this moment in the history of Buddhism brought fundamental changes to the aspirations of Buddhists. Firstly, this unprecedented enlightening of Chunda, a lay person and householder(someone who had not given up ordinary life or entered a monastery), was to open the path for all beings, no matter what their caste, whether lay or clerical, to aspire to reach Nirvana (or enlightenment). It is easy to imagine just how radically this changed the course of Mahayana Buddhism because now anyone could become enlightened, and hence the emergence of many lay Buddhist orders later.
Secondly, Chunda became enlightened within his own lifetime as a relatively young man and did not have to work hard to accrue merit and virtue in order to become enlightened in a future lifetime, which was the prevailing Brahminbelief at the time. The Buddha’s acceptance of humble Chunda’s offerings was symbolic of the fact that all sentient beings are endowed with Buddha Nature, and that when the rain of Dharma waters the seeds of Buddha Nature, they will ripen and all negative karma and human suffering will be cut away.
By bringing so many of his friends in a sincere gesture of reverence to the Buddha, and by having the confidence to make his offering in front of all the dignitaries and esteemed disciples, he had exhibited the spirit of a Buddha, without either training or privilege.
In other words, this courage and wisdom was a facet of Chunda’s true nature, and thus true human nature is Buddha Nature. The Buddha’s exclusive mission was to liberate all beings from the sufferings of being a human.
In appreciation of the Buddha’s acceptance of his humble offerings, Chunda said,
‘It is hard to be born a human being, and harder still to encounter a Buddha. It would be like a blind sea turtle encountering a floating log with a hole in it and poking its head through.’
This comment moved the Buddha to leave his final instructions before shifting into Parinirvana. His final teachings on impermanence and detachmentfollowed, known as the Dharmakaya, which he left in place of his physical body. These final teachings would exist for all eternity and were indestructible.
Chunda is especially significant to my own spiritual journey. During my lengthy Buddhist career, I can trace the beginnings of my Buddhist faith to the sea turtle that Chunda mentions. As a young child in urban Britain, I heard this maxim on a radio program and retained it as I searched for a way into Buddhism without any leads.
I was a quite devout Christian through my family’s influence, but the Buddha, even though at that time I had no idea what or who it was, somehow penetrated into my unconscious mind and I began to yearn to receive the teachings and become a disciple. I had neither Buddhist friends nor contact with the Buddhist teachings in northern working class Britain in the sixties, and yet, I was certain that I would be like that turtle, and that one day I would find the Buddha.
Chunda is also reputed to have described the rareness of meeting a Buddha in the Sala grove as follows:
‘An udambarablossom (a flower said to bloom once every 3000 years) can rarely be seen, and so is it to encounter a Buddha…..who can nurture the faith of all sentient beings and …extinguish the suffering of death and rebirth.’
The Buddha’s revelation that even lay people and women, in fact, anyone, could train spiritually and so enter enlightenment is also pertinent to my case. As a Tibetan Buddhist in the Kagyu lineage, I was intent on taking vows and becoming a Lama, but at the final stage I had a tiny doubt about committing myself to monastic life because I felt the best training ground to learn how to love unconditionally, was in ordinary human life. I searched to find a lay order so I could fully devote myself to humanity. Also as a woman, as is commonly known and still the case in some lineages, there was no equal treatment with men.
Finally, the Nirvana teachings have found me in Japan, and I am fulfilled and engaged in normal human life while holding a priestly rank, and serving at the Temple whenever possible.
In Japan, for historical reasons, Buddhism has been and continues to be perceived as training for the elite or monastics only, so my order is working hard to make Mahayana Buddhist practice accessible to all Japanese people and people of the world. It is a challenge to guide Japanese people of great humility to have the confidence to practise rituals that were once only available to the Imperial family.
Kobo Daishi, or Kukai, was responsible for single-handedly bringing Buddhism to Japan from China in 9th century, but at that time the national popular religion was Shinto, and it remained so until 1945. Here, in modern times, Buddhism has become the principal means of conducting funeral rites within society, but the main emphasis on Buddhism still lies in monastic practices at a distance from general society.
Chunda then, is a seminal figure in my Dharma stream. We aspire to do as he did: to bring as many people as possible to the other shore of Nirvana. A recent sculpture of Chunda in the Sala Grove with his 15 friends executed by a modern Japanese sculptor, Nakayama Hideo, is one of our objects of devotion. It is truly inspirational.
As Mahayana Buddhists, the welling up of or generating of Bodhicitta – the wish to take all sentient beings with us to enlightenment – is made all the more possible by knowing that every being is capable of polishing their Buddha Nature and reaching Nirvana. That just as Chunda’s Buddhahood was identified by the Buddha because of his sincere heart and wish for all his friends unconditionally to have the opportunity to experience the presence of the Buddha so rare in the world, we can each experience the ever-presence of the Buddha through the Nirvana teachings, and our sincerity will be recognised
The Buddha’s acceptance of the final offerings of a lay householder and untouchable signalled the very final instructions, which could not have been revealed before that moment. The essence of them is that we must each learn to control our own minds; our minds determine our behaviours in the world, either as a self-serving beast or a magnanimous and compassionate Buddha. We must rid ourselves of human passions, driving them out of our rooms as if they were poisonous vipers.
He then reassures everyone that his death is only of the flesh – as it was born and nurtured by parents, so it must deteriorate and perish – and that Buddhahood is not of the flesh, but of the spirit. The final teachings were to become the body of the Buddha –the Dharmakaya – and he begs all his disciples to preserve them just as they had followed and cherished him in life. In doing so, the Dharma Body of the Tataghatas will be ever-present and so never disappear.
Chunda’s deep humility and sincere heart radiated out beyond that of the advanced practitioners and enlightened who had perhaps become arrogant or complacent. So we can learn from this that practising as a true being of the heart is not about worldly success and reputation, but about humility and sincerity, and simple but total belief in the power of loving goodness and pure faith in the world.
I believe we are all Chunda. Even if we have low status and are poor in materialist terms, even though we might have shortcomings and little knowledge, everyone has the capacity to love all beings unconditionally and indefinitely, and this is our principle mission in human life – to become a Bodhisattva – the embodiment of spiritual ideals.
images courtesy of Megapixyl: Chunda sculpture – Shinnya Nakamura – permission to use from Shinnyo-en, Tachikawa, Japan.
(The following will be interspersed with the indigenous voice of an Australian tribal leader.)
Putting aside the man-made lenses of ‘time,’ ‘space,’ ‘race’, ‘gender,’ and ‘money,’ and so on, is the only way to integrate into life’s true course. This is how we can best begin to repair what we perceive as the damaged links of the broken chain of existence.
The human race has interfered persistently with what is natural, almost insisting on creating its own reality and then imposing it on others instead of listening to the truth and staying put. We have traditionally searched outside for our sensual satisfaction and the realization of dreams, when all the time the glories of our human existence lie inside, deep within our divine spirit.
We have therefore become ‘disintegrated’ beings because we block what is natural, always choosing to ‘live’ indirectly, vicariously, or ‘outside’ reality in our minds, our noses pressed up against the glass. We were given life 2.5 million years ago, but why do we still utilize so little of our cerebral potential(10% maximum) and fail to realize our divine potential. We claim that we are ‘civilized’ when we lie and cheat, abuse and kill, suffer and seek revenge so readily.
Given the passage of so much time since our birth, is it reasonable to assume that we are handing down the information and knowledge needed to improve and develop us? Or are we unable to access our immense resources because we have lost the skills and tools to do so? We mostly defer to one crude tool only, the intellect. Is this why we are presently swallowing our pride and seeking the help and ingenuity of indigenous people whom we once pronounced ‘savages’ in a last ditch attempt live in a way meaningful to the planet?
In our present state, it seems that we may never repair the conceptual ‘circles’ and ‘cycles’ and ‘phases’ of universal energy we have adopted in order to try to understand it. The irony is that we were never meant to understand it, just accept it, integrate with it, because our personal energy is already a component part of it. The leaves of a tree do not question their existence.
We are on the inside if only we looked directly but education in the developed world is designed to develop individual intellects, to produce leaders and hierarchies, in short, to control. In contrast, indigenous people in their traditional lives are always inside looking out; they are active participants in the centre of a universal reality. They stand in the eternal stream of energy, both visible and invisible, and in their natural, uncorrupted state, they are entirely accepting and consequently wise. Unlike ‘civilised’ people who rebel if there are insufficient options, there are no choices for them because they are finely tuned to something far greater than the human ego.
ninija, traditional landowner of thousands of miles of the Lands and spiritual leader, says:
White-fella they come before, talking on and on. They tell ninija what ‘best.’ We not understand ‘best.’ We not choose. We no choice. We just. White-fella choose, count, talk and point with long-long white finger.
By way of an example of this ‘disintegration’ mentioned above, we outsiders can visualize beautiful things in immense detail by virtue of our superb memories. Beautiful flowers have been immortalized by photographs and works of art which are also quickly recalled. In fact, thousands of images are stamped onto our memories so that there is no need to go to find the real thing. Even if we do encounter the real flower itself, it may be in a contrived garden and we may compare it with those in our mind collections.
We are addicted to recalling a flower’s name, both common and scientific, its country of origin, the soil and climate type it prefers, as well as its use as a motto or symbol, its rarity and health benefits, and so on. So, we are rarely experiencing the flower directly but instead through interpretations, knowledge or representations.
It seems that no stone is left unturned in the present world so that the drive to make everything common knowledge is at its height. Traveling to remote places to bring back mementoes is applauded and now the Internet is fully at our disposal to further accelerate these global trends. As a consequence we have become inveterate consumers with the means to go anywhere and everywhere to acquire whatever takes our fancy.
Indigenous peoples in their traditional state actually ‘own’ nothing except what they can custom-make from raw materials provided by the Earth. Here is a description of what the tribal members I helped to move from a state settlement back into their traditional lives were carrying as they departed. They were walking back into the Lands in the scorching center of Australia.
…they took only a few handmade possessions which they habitually carry or wear. Their dilly bags woven from Mangrove string, containing personal effects such aschuringas (totemic identity badges). Their Wood and Grass carrying bowls,coolamon, sported on heads, shoulders or against bellies. Their custom-madedigging sticks slung across shoulders with ornate Kangaroo straps. A range of beautifully crafted decorated boomerangs for hunting both for children and women. And perfectly cylindrical Hollow Log coffins containing Bones of their deceased. Churinga. Coolamon. Hollow Log Coffins. All hand-crafted and customized from Desert materials.
The party of shiny black skins with their blond and red topknots of wild hair was occasionally joined by competing Kangaroos. On one side, they were flanked by a massive flock of high Emus, great scratching Bird of the Lands, and on the other by a troop of wild Camels. Above the whole assembly, white Pelicans flapped their slow wings through an indigo Sky, muttering to full Moon.
These desert people most probably will die if they leave their Lands for any length of time, especially if they move into synthetic, urban environments. Following is a description of the experience of Ninija and her granddaughter Gina going to ‘white-fella’s city’ to collect the body of dead Ginger-son. Lumaluma is the ghost of white-fella who comes to plague Ninija to be his concubine, all the time distracting her from her duties to officiate at her son’s Burial Ceremony. The Djang, or climax of the burial ceremony, is the greatest of all rites of passage for their people. (Notice the writing convention of all things belonging to Mother Nature are capitalised, and all those to humans are in lower case. ninija insists on this to show utter respect and gratitude)
When we bring ginger body back to Lands from city, lumaluma, he follow us. He bring him terrible sounds with him. Car. Truck. White-fella whirring engine. Many many people loud. i think i stop breathing because i not hear my own lungs crinkling shut then open again. i not hear lovely sweet flapping sound of just-knowing – lumaluma he call it “waiting.”
And smell? Smoke! They fill Sky so it like white night. i breathe fast because white night sting if it inside me. i pant like Dingo. i look out but only see white-fella wall, wall, and more wall. wall bigger than ninija Rock or Buga Mountains in Lands. wall and roof so I not see Sky. I cannot run without big hard concrete stop!
In fact, knowledge of something is an indirect way of ‘knowing’ it. It stimulates our intellects and memories, but it is not reality. The phrase ‘snap-shot’ has become popular in recent years to describe how our minds are continually opening camera shutters, recording, archiving, attempting to make everything we encounter permanent. We are image consumers with very little need to turn away from our fantastic internal collections. But, this habitual activity always pulls us back to our minds where everything is convenient and controllable. How can this be reality?
This is how I felt before I went to the Desert and encountered ninija and the Dreaming, and before ninija became my spirit guide.
Before the Desert and ninija ‘back-then,’ i was a human camera. i was an archivist, and a repository for captions. “Say it. See it. Check it. Now prove it!’ After arriving here, i soon stopped looking and listened instead, and so slid into my rightful place. Now, if i cease listening to the Universe for an instant, ninija strides into to my mind and elbows me roughly in the ribs. she strictly guides me back from the needy eye, and from the very needy ‘i’ of my ego.
Another aspect of the integration/disintegration mentioned above involves the concept of time. Indigenous peoples use only the moon and sun to regulate their days and nights, so they never wait, recover/change gear, or smoke a cigarette or swig time concept alcohol to help them to overcome the ordeal of living. Rarely do they become stressed by external pressures as we do, counting the seconds ticking on.
They move smoothly from one instance of their life to the next, listening for their roles, so there are no concepts of work or leisure, etc. There is nothing else except seamless immersion in what the Earth and Great Mother Nature, their totem group, and their fellow tribesmen need. There is no media but instead the songs and stories of celebration and morality, which are handed on orally and need no interpretation because they are concrete.
The original energy source of modern urban humans is permanent and indestructible as it is for indigenous peoples, but we moderns have become compulsive archivists and rebuilders and therefore have damaged it. Surely, it is not possible to compartmentalize and analyze such sacred energy as we do: concepts and theories will never heal the diseased flora and fauna, rebalance the planet or prevent us from destroying each other.
These interferences and interruptions in what is natural, fueled by human hubris and synthetic, excessive emotions, have turned us into an invasive species, a common garden weed, aliens. Shockingly, we move around intently seeking pleasure, status and the fulfillment of our desires and wishes, almost exclusively to any other concerns.
We are also frantic to achieve something notable before our visible life ends and we become invisible and, as we see it, powerless. Whereas those who protect the natural environment and never ‘die’ have no white-fella status.They find contentment and pleasure exactly in the natural world and live in the moment. They never hanker after tangible signs of their existence or use filters to alter their perceptions, change their mood, forget or bury the things that are distasteful or brutally honest.
We are all animals and yet we humans diverged from animal species as our brains developed. We wanted to be different, standing on two legs instead of four, reaching for the best fruit at the top of the tree instead of groveling for grubs. In this divergence, we lost touch with our instincts and intuitions, refusing to fit in with the natural order and went all out to exploit the world’s resources for personal, religious or national gain.
In so doing, we needed to stamp out the traces of ancient and indigenous cultures as they presented an obstacle to our betterment. This was when we broke the virtuous circle, becoming determined to create something entirely new. And because we turned our backs wholesale on natural wisdom, we were forced, ironically, into ‘survival’ mode, using trial and error, making fatal or fortunate mistakes and supposedly learning from them.
It has frequently been pointed out by religious and spiritual wisdom that ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ and yet we constantly think we can invent and innovate, throwing out what already exists. Our motivation is often power, recognition, money and worse, and while we are investing all of our precious life’s moments in this ‘progress’ pursuit, ancient peoples are absorbed in being the stalwart custodians and protectors of reality. They are single-mindedly devoted to preserving, blending in, and living in awe of what already exists. Without a doubt, radical change is needed inside each of our minds not in the natural world. Our leaders need more wisdom to be able to work in equal partnership with what is natural.
In hindsight, it is easy to see that it is unnecessary to make devastating often fatal mistakes, rushing blindly into situations and taking over officiously. We ‘developed’ people are constantly end-gaining, striving to reach goals which are often arbitrary in terms of the planet and the natural world, not to mention our spiritual well-being. As indigenous peoples and the enlightened will tell you, there actually are no ends as there are no beginnings. Existence is one eternal circle.
So, why can’t we use our higher minds to innovate and extemporize to enhance what already exists, rather than sweep it under the carpet? We could effortlessly stay in the universal circle in harmony, integrated and eager to gather wise beings around us. After all, rash acts spring from rash thoughtsproduced from our lower minds; whereas wise and considerate thoughts emanating from our higher minds, our true and divine origins, produce wise and balanced acts. Thoughts are actually acts in rehearsal.
In contrast, in their traditional lives Australian aboriginals are fully integrated. They flow with the tide of reality not against it and so are absolutely ready to catch any ball that may be thrown to them. For them, there is no meta-reality, no perceived reality, no personal interpretation, because they are reality itself. They absolutely embody their Dreaming Lands. They are their feelings not simulacra as we are. But above all they are love and respect and awe for each other, and for the forces of nature and the Universe, which they consider to be their loving parents.
They just embody what is – never thinking or speculating, selecting or deciding, always submissive to and fully aware of their divine origins and mission. That is why they easily die or succumb to outside influences if they are removed from their Lands.
They are part of the Dreaming reality at all times, fully integrated, and not at all separate. They are immersed in what is known as the seamless ‘here-and-now.’ The arrogance of ‘civilized’ people tears them out of their own origins, their own ‘Lands,’ leading them to pursue life for gain and power, always at a distance from reality, and often from sincerity. They are rarely submissive and if they are, they are negatively judged by the mediocre majority and feel a sense of shame or loss of pride.
You can read ninija’s story in ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy: on the Twelfth Day,’ Strategic Books, 2013 PB, 2015 epub., to get a taste of desert integration and wisdom: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UUSPLYM
I wrote this article ‘Integration into Life’s True Course’ in response to David Suzuki’s article in the Vancouver Sun, ‘Aboriginal People not environmentalists, are our best bet for protecting the planet.’ June 8th, 2015, link: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/David Suzuki Aboriginal people environmentalists best protecting planet/11112668/story.html
article images courtesy of Megapixyl.com: Aboriginal woman-Rosedarc.com; Didjeridoo3-Fotandy.com; Part of a native Aboriginal wall painting-Ingehogenbijl/com; Man Hunting-Bushman’s primitive art-Wilad.com; Quantas Beoing 737-800-Amlindley.com; Devils Marbles-Teedee.com; Indigenous Australian Art-Lucidwaters.com; Didgeridoo-Lucidwaters.com
Ancient Indians, like the Aborigines of Australia and Japanese Shintoists, believed wholly in the supernatural and the natural world and especially envied the characteristics of some animals. The peacock was one such creature they revered and desired to emulate. At first, they were afraid of the peacock with its mournful cry, its fantastic plumage and feral ways, and especially shocked when they realized on observing that it was capable of eating poisonous spiders and snakes in order to nourish its large physical structure, and could survive. Quite naturally, they also wished to transcend such poisoning and human fragility, and so came to worship the peacock out of a mixture of envy and fear.
At this time in India there were 2 powerful religions: Hinduism for the masses and Brahmanism for the elite, and all beings aspired to spiritual liberation through these pathways. Therefore many mantras, or invocations, were used as a matter of course in everyday life, the Indians possessing an authentic insight into the use of the spiritual voice to communicate with the invisible world. So, such mantras were developed to emulate the peacock and bring this animal god closer to the human world—mantras, which even incorporated the doleful cry of the peacock, for example, the Great Peacock King mantra from Tibetan Buddhism: “Om Mayura Krante Svaha.” They really believed that by calling upon this magical and terrifying bird, they may themselves gain some of its divine qualities, and so transcend their weaknesses and limitations.
So, Mantrayana, the next stage of Buddhism after the Golden Buddha’s initial teachings and death (circa 2600), was created, and the idea that all poisons are the same, pondered upon, so that in time, the negative aspects of the human mind such as ignorance, greed, and hatred, became known as ‘poison’ which required an ‘antidote.’ Mantras or invocations were viewed as just such a kind of antidote, and so eventually were recognized as a part of nature and not created by man at all. They represented an esoteric or secret language, which nature or the universe would respond to, and a way of fusing with the microcosm.
The people had enormous imagination not having yet learned the passiveness of modern, intensively technological societies. As today, poisonous snakes such as the cobra were common, so protection and awareness was essential to prevent fatal bites or stings. One method was to mesmerize the snake with the sound of a flute so that it would obey, but another way was to worship creatures that could dispose of them. When a peacock comes face to face with a snake, it purposely pretends to be scared and allows the snake to wrap itself around its body. Then just as the snake is about to attack, it spreads out its wings and feathers with great force and sends the snake flying.
The image of the elegant peacock driving away a poisonous snake, like a beautiful woman driving off an evil beast, impressed people. They thought this bird had god-like powers, and so gradually this image metamorphosed into a Buddhist deity or holy being. Much later in Japanese Buddhism (7th Century), this image below became known as Peacock Myoo or Guardian of the Law.
The guardian is riding on the back of the peacock and holding sacred instruments in each of her four arms: a lotus, a peacock feather, a fruit resembling a lemon, and pomegranate. The lotus represents benevolence and kindness. The lemon cures the diseases of anyone that eats it. The pomegranate drives off evil spirits. But the mighty peacock feather has the power to actually prevent disasters such as earthquakes and floods. This painting was made using luxurious materials like silver and gold leaf to make it sparkle and shine with the Peacock’s mystical power. However, the metals have tarnished over time.
In general, the peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. In Christianity, it is a symbol of immortality, and in Hinduism, the patterns of its feathers, resembling eyes, symbolize the star constellations. And in Buddhism as we can see above, wisdom is its attribute. The five feathers on the peacock’s head are said to symbolize the five spiritual paths and the five Buddha families. Their beautiful colours give pleasure to all beings in the same way that setting eyes upon a Bodhisattva (an enlightened being) or Buddha (an awakened being) can bring comfort and provoke bliss.
Human intelligence, the unique human spirit naturally will find many ingenious ways to communicate with its origin, the invisible world, and this is the way to true balance and happiness.
Images courtesy of Megapixl.com: Peacock by jessealbanese; Three Peacocks-kvkirllov; Indian Architecture exterior-Jaipur City Palace-twinandphotography; Peacock Myoo-Japan Temple exhibition-clthorp; Beautiful Peacock Roof design-Japan-Lucyinsisu; Japanese Peacock – Krookedeye
In today’s stressed and frantic world, meditation is often practiced to release the mind from its never-ending dialogue and its tendencies towards negative and narrow views. This kind of meditation is often silent, sometimes guided with visualizations, and may focus on no particular religious object. It has a secular form, used to promote a serene mind amidst the adversity of Samsara. But what is the origin of meditation? Here is a brief history to show that most religious/mystical traditions have developed techniques to subdue the noise of the intellectual mind, and to connect with the mystical. It is useful also to look at the approach to life of indigenous peoples, as they use many mental techniques for understanding the invisible world and connecting with the Universe.
In antiquity, traditions of meditation called Dhyana (mind calming) existed in 1500 B.C.E. in ancient India. The Hindu Rishi, or seers, learned to hold themselves in a state of constant readiness to receive inspired words, which appeared in visions or from other dimensions. Thus, they had found a way of reaching into their vast unconscious minds via concentration, cutting themselves off from usual distractions of the mind in everyday life. They were connected strongly to their personal divinity, the divinity we all have which in turn connects us with the universe. In modern life, we are mostly distracted, so few of us can reach easily into the unconscious mind and access the clairvoyant skills of seeing beyond the conceptions of time and space. Techniques of deep concentration existed in ancient China, but to date, the Buddha was perhaps the first ‘seer’ to mention meditative techniques in detail. (see Pali Canon-1st century BCE).
In these pre-historic times, a need to be liberated from suffering, to be lifted away from the mundane, arose even when the gods walked among men and karmic debts were few. There were four stages involved to reach liberation: moral discipline; contemplative concentration; knowledge; and finally liberation. The Vimalakirti Sutra is perhaps the best-known Buddhist scripture devoted to the subject of meditation.
Ancient India was not the only centre of this practice which seemed to meet a deep need in people. In Greece, ‘spiritual exercises’ were championed by Plotinus on Mount Athos; in ancient Israel, meditation and reflection were central to studying the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach; and along the Silk Roads, as Buddhism was transmitted, meditation was adopted enthusiastically in China to later become the basis of the Zen tradition.
In the Middle Ages, in the 8th century, Dosho brought Buddhism from China to Japan, and created the first Meditation Hall in Nara. Then Dogen established the Zazen style of meditation in 1227. In Eurasia, Jewish traditions utilized Kabbalistic prayers and insight techniques, while the Sufis (Islāmic mystics) began breathing control and the repetition of Holy Words in 11th century. Orthodox Eastern Christian traditions perfected sitting postures for meditation, but in general, Christianity did not wholly adopt meditative techniques. They favoured reflection on Holy Texts. The Lectio Divina consisted of 4 stages: lection, meditation, oratio, contemplatio. In 16th century however, Ignatitius Loyala and St Teresa of Avila did reach states of ecstasy as a result of meditation or single-pointed concentration. From 18th century onwards, Buddhism became a subject of philosophical interest and Yoga traditions, and Transcendental Meditation became highly acclaimed.
From the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa (1040-1123) is inspiring on the subject of meditation. He was born into a rich family, but his greedy aunts and uncles schemed and took everything away from his parents. As a result of their poverty, his mother begged Milarepa to learn black magic and put a curse on them, bringing about the death of several people. Milarepa, understanding well the laws of karma, was terrified of the consequences of his evil deeds, so searched frantically for a spiritual teacher to help him. He found Marpa, who instructed him to live in a cave and practice solitary meditation, and as a result, he attained full enlightenment in his lifetime, which was a rarity in Tibet at the time. Here is an excerpt from his view on meditation.
‘Look up into the sky, and practise meditation free from fringe and center.
Look up at the sun and moon, and practise meditation free from bright and dim.
Look over the mountains, and practise meditation free from departing and changing.
Look down at the lake, and practise meditation free from waves.
Look here at your mind, and practice meditation free from discursive thought.’
(Religious Biography of the Master Milarepa, pp 49)
When looking at the history of this type of life practice, we can see that humans desired to be close to the beings of higher consciousness, perhaps regretting their departing from the suffering world. These beings embodied the singular truth of existence, beyond duality and the petty concerns of the self. They had risen above the consequences and concept-bound games of acting as a human being in the world, to become the formless embodiment of Truth, the Great Truth of the universe. So-called mortals, those trapped in samsara, wished to emulate them and so be liberated from the steady encroachment of the ordinary mind.
One day 2600 years ago, the Buddha in the human form of the young Prince Siddhartha, accompanied his father King Shuddhodana to an agricultural festival to celebrate an Earth deity. It was Spring and a golden plough turned the earth ready for planting seeds. It was at this time that he noticed a small bird pecking at a worm turned up by the plough, and he felt pain in his heart that most living creatures kill each other to feed. On feeling this sadness, he promptly left public view to hide in a secluded grove. It was here that he entered into a deep meditative state, and attained the fourth dhyana, which allowed him to see everything objectively with equanimity. It is said that during this time, although the shadows were shifting as the sun sank in the sky, the tree he sheltered under continued to shade him to keep him cool. His father praised him saying that his countenance was like a flaming torch on a mountain summit in a dark night.
During the Buddha Shyakamuni’s ministry, meditation was an essential element taught to his disciples. He warned that it was totally ineffectual if practiced in a self-serving way. In other words, it must be a state of total mindfulness, of pure faith, fully concerned with the well-being of others, of protecting the Dharma, and being able to perceive one’s own Buddha Nature and that of others (see article 2 ‘Buddha Nature’ at http://wp.me/p3O6mn-bx). He also indicated that if we are truly practicing for the sake of others, then meditation is not a self-conscious state but completely without form. We are not aware of either what it is to be meditating, or what the outcome of the meditation may be. Another way of looking at this is that the greatest form of meditation will only come about if we pursue it with no notion of acquiring anything; and this is what separates it away from prayer in which we supplicate or beg or earnestly request something. True meditation is completely empty (see article 3 ‘Emptiness’ at: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-ck).
Detailed instructions on correct meditation were given by the Buddha to his half-brother, Nanda. This is the final metaphor he uses:
‘When one washes dirt from gold, one first gets rid of the largest pieces of dirt, and then the smaller ones, and having cleaned it one is left with pieces of pure gold. In the same way, in order to attain liberation, one should discipline the mind, first washing away the coarser faults, and then the smaller ones, until one is left with pure pieces of dharma.’ (Saundarananda chs. 14, 15)
When he was a weak old man, as he delivered his final instructions from his deathbed, which later took the written form of the mighty Mahaparinirvana Sutra, he proclaimed that it was impossible to understand correctly what happens in everyday life without entering into a meditative state. Without meditation, it was probable that we would become deluded, uttering the wrong words, going down the wrong path of faith, and would be unlikely to receive enough merit and blessings to reach enlightenment.
‘First there is meditation; and then there is wisdom.’
In the tradition of Shinnyo Buddhism, my Master, Shinjo Ito, interpreted the final teachings on meditation given from the Sala Grove in a unique way once they became the central scripture of the teachings. The Buddha gives many allusions to the power of meditation to take us to enlightenment, and as mentioned earlier, it should not be self-conscious if it truly is a meditative state. Thus, our sangha has been taught to meditate without ceasing, not only in serene sitting posture; this is the interpretation of mindfulness. Here are the eight comparisons Buddha makes:
First, the eradication of invasive weeds, is most effective if the gardener works methodically, removing all the roots of the weeds. So, with mindfulness at every moment of our lives out in worldly life, we can develop wisdom, and when every weed, every shortcoming or delusion is removed, we will become enlightened.
Taking a deep-rooted tree out of the ground is more easily accomplished if the ground around the roots is first shaken loose. We must undermine our doubts and delusions through meditation; and then pull out the tree with our wisdom.
When washing a dirty cloth, we should first wash it in detergent (ash water at the Buddha’s time), then rinse it with clear water to thoroughly cleanse it. Meditation is the cleaning agent, and pure water the wisdom.
When trying to understand a text, first we must read it and recite it so that its meaning can be understood. Meditation is the reading several times and the reading aloud; wisdom is the understanding and overall meaning the words convey.
If a warrior wishes to defeat his enemy, first he must fit himself out with armour and then defend himself with weapons. Meditation is the fitting of armour; wisdom is engaging with the enemy. Thus meditation is a protection.
A skilled metal worker first makes his metal molten in a pot on the fire, then he uses tongs to stir and shape the object he is making. Meditation is the melting or reduction of everything; wisdom the reshaping.
Next, the Buddha says,
‘O good disciples! An untarnished mirror clearly reflects one’s face and body. The same applies to meditation and wisdom of Bodhisattvas. (see previous article ‘Bodhisattvas’:http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6r).’ Meditation is looking into the mirror; wisdom is being able to see the blemishes and change them.
Finally, farmers plough the ground and then plant the seeds, as students first learn from their teacher and then study more deeply the meaning of what they have been taught. Meditation is receiving the teachings; the wisdom is the meaning.
So, meditation is not only the stillness and silence of sitting. We can meditate in every moment of our life using the tools of mindfulness and reflection, and such application in normal daily life, is a speedy way to reach Nirvana, the state of true emptiness. In the Shinnyo tradition we are greatly helped in cleansing our Buddha Nature through the power of sesshin, which means in Japanese ‘to touch upon the essence.’ We practice two types of sesshin (meditation): structured or formal sesshin, and unstructured or informal sesshin.
In structured sesshin, a spiritual guide (reinosha) gives personal spiritual words which are then reflected on and put into practice. This is made possible through the Shinnyo spiritual faculty and the essence of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Unstructured sesshin is the application of this holy guidance in daily life, combined with the aspiration for enlightenment and awakening to insights or messages which surround us, thanks to the Dharma Protectors and the ever-presence of Buddha and our gurus from the spiritual world.
These are the final instructions the Buddha gave on holy meditation. Practising in this way in every moment of life is a pursuit of great joy. We can take a complete rebirth of the heart and realize how flexible our minds are, and how thinking is just one small part of the mental continuum. Indigenous peoples often live in this state not limited by concepts, and as a result, they are not separate in anyway from the Universe. In my experience, they remain close to their divine origins. They are above all ‘spirit made human,’ and aspiring constantly to live in harmony with nature, as the gods of antiquity did.