Notes on a Buddhist path

Sight lines

February 8, 2015 By | Leave a Comment

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. ~ Lao Tzu

Birken in WinterAs this month unfolds with the wet flannel greys of lengthening winter light and spring’s early proclamations bursting from carpets of crocus buds and the trembling blossoms of cherry trees, my mind returns to the dawn of this year when I was again on retreat at Birken Forest Monastery. It’s the first time I’ve exchanged the frenetic whirl of holiday gyrations for a quiet sequestering of servitude to only the unwrapped moment resting before me.

In those two weeks was the spaciousness to sink into the midst of the mind and all its formed and formless expressions. There was gratitude for the scent of equanimity that seemed to permeate so many encounters with presence and reverent awe for a joy beyond any means of description within the bound limits of stagnant words. There was the grand silence of snow and its ethereal translucence imbuing us all in its grace and wisdom.

Both gentle and bombastic purveyors of the worldly visited my cushion and walking paths of practice. Welcoming everything, this being enjoined with mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, and they became my three sisters of compassion. Docents of the senses, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and consciousness, they righted the turbulent undertow of the kilesas, and returned balance to the sea of life’s unfolding. The mind moved in and out of awareness, a dance partner to itself, stepping towards a sudden sensation in the body, an old memory, a new frustration, all vying for any opening to lure me away from that moment, that singular breath. Yet each encounter was seen for what it was: an unrequited suffering to sully and litter the mind with scraps of tattered delusions.

On Christmas we sang with tongues in cheeks a chorus of old familiar carols divined with Buddhist teachings. On New Year’s Eve we wrote on bits of paper our renunciations for the coming year and burned them with escorts of chants that carried our intentions into the smoke and embers of new laid sight lines. Near the cusp of midnight we walked out into the still night and watched the flames of a bonfire stretch into the cold clear promise of stars and all that would be.

Returning home the three sisters are still seeded in my heart. Their strength comes to life when they sit with me in the sound of silence that echos in the stillness of no thing, and together we reach into the darkness and touch the rare beacon of infinite peace.

All things
By Hadewijch
(13th Century)
(English version by Jane Hirshfield)

All things
are too small
to hold me,
I am so vast

In the Infinite
I reach
for the Uncreated

I have
touched it,
it undoes me
wider than wide

Everything else
is too narrow

You know this well,
you who are also there

— from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield

(This poem and more at Poetry Chaikhana.)

Image Credit:

Tess Wixted

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