Do you ever see something so beautiful that you want to take a photo, but you know that there’s no way that the camera can capture the profundity and importance of what you’re experiencing… so you just don’t bother?! This happened to me this morning as I was wondering around the park in Malvern. It was early so I felt comfortable with walking slowly through the trees and listening to the ducks chattering. As I emerged from the cover of the trees I noticed the crescent moon, poised immaculately in the metallic grey/blue hues of the morning sky and radiating something inexplicable. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for a couple of minutes and was struck by a sense of its simple power. Just to feel what I felt in that moment was the perfect expression of my existence in this world. No analysis, no questions, just awe.
When I eventually looked down I realised that I had just walked through a trail of dog excrement, spread ingeniously evenly over an incredibly large space on the tarmac. In a moment of despair and frustration I looked at the bottom of my shoes, fearing the worst, but by some miracle I had managed to miss it all, my shoes were clean. I realised that this could be a good analogy for the spiritual life. The navigation of all the traps and pitfalls of this world. If we can gaze upon the heavens and focus on the Divine, and/or that which reflects the Divine, we can stay out of the shit! It occurred to me that if I had been transfixed by the numbing glow of my phone, scrolling inanely through God knows what, for God knows what reason, towards God knows what end, I probably would have trodden in every bit of that crap and would have been picking it out of the grooves in my tread for days.
I had just come from an early morning swimming session at the local fitness centre where I had been contemplating the intricacies of water. I felt inspired by the sublime qualities of the water and followed a train of thought that led back to the origins of the Universe.
Faith is always at the forefront of these little epiphanies for me, and the obvious theme here seemed to be support. While being immersed in water it’s possible to experience a degree of support. We can float, we can fall without being hurt and we can even travel smoothly from one point to another without dying. But we have to do something in order for this to work properly. We can’t just stand or lie in deep water without making an effort of some sort because eventually we would sink to the bottom. We have to cooperate. This is how it is with faith. It is a two way relationship that we have with the Divine. It requires a degree of action, which somehow reflects our genuine intention, for this relationship to work.
In our practice of Nembutsu, the calling to Amida Buddha, this is particularly simple and increasingly effective as time goes on and practice endures. At times it feels as though my head is barely above water. At times it feels like I’m breathing through a two foot pipe, having been overwhelmed by the tides of Samsara, washed away in a tsunami of Dukkha. But Nembutsu is Nembutsu and when I take the time to say the Sacred Name I am miraculously held by the Love and Compassion of a Power greater than myself. Amida is the two foot pipe that helps me to breathe until the water finally recedes. He/she is the warm sunshine that dries me and soothes me after the storm.
I went on to consider how water demonstrates the immutable principle of Cause and Effect. It is impossible to interact physically with water without causing some kind of disturbance, be it great or small. I tried it! Try standing or sitting in a swimming pool or pond or lake, without creating ripples. every movement, no matter how tiny, provokes a proportionate reaction, which is usually visible in that it affects the clarity of the water, producing an effect of distortion. One can see how one’s actions are affecting the substance of it and spreading outwards from where one is standing. Once the effect is initiated it is impossible to retract it. In my mind this conjured up parallels with the impact that a living being has in this extremely complexed system that we live in. In the same way as with the water analogy, it is impossible to be alive and not have a profound impact on the world. When we consider that every breath we take is a conversion, albeit miniscule, of oxygen into carbon dioxide, it is easy to appreciate that our lives consist of a series of ripples, physical and metaphysical, which spread out into the Cosmos causing who knows what consequences. I like to think that being in relationship to Amitabha Buddha goes a long way towards reducing the negative impact of my existence and even sublimating the subtleties(and not so subtleties) of my Bombu nature, helping me to go more gently in the world.
Which eventually led to my remembering a teaching that I heard some years ago about the origins of the Universe, which in some cultures began with the Primeval Waters. Just as life on earth emerged from the sea and proliferated into almost infinite diversity, so the fabric of the Universe emerged from the ocean of Nun, the ancient Egyptian name for the ”waters of chaos”, and evolved into ever more sophisticated forms, eventually culminating in sentient life. According to this beautiful philosophy, at the end of our journeys(and as a result of them) through this Universe we are purified and reborn as stars that radiate life giving qualities into the Cosmos. I found many interesting parallels between the Egyptian culture, philosophy and religious beliefs and the endless depth of Buddhism, that seem to enrich and enhance what I have learned so far.
Namo Amida Bu( :