Notes on a Buddhist path

The Owl

December 14, 2014 By | 4 Comments

Off with their heads!” ~ The Queen of Hearts, Alice in Wonderland

Watching over usThere was an owl that was a constant sight on my daily walks of the summer. I would spot him sitting still and silent, mornings and afternoons, in the same spot atop a blue and white oceanfront house. My initial thoughts questioned why an owl would be out in the wide open expanse of day and I concluded he must not be real; perhaps a shill set up to thwart any designs other birds might have to nest or defile the home. Yet I was sure on more than one occasion that I saw its head move, turning towards the copper brilliance of the sun or perhaps watching me and my doubts. It was weeks  of watching and hoping before I saw him in a clearer light and indeed recognized the decoy for what he truly was: a graven image of my misplaced idolatry.

Perhaps even more odd than my fascination with this token of a bird was my sadness in discovering it was a fake. And then there was the embarrassment in believing this fowl sham that had been perpetrated on me by…well…by myself.

It’s astonishing, really, this existence, where we weave our own web of deception, trapping ourselves in the delusion that our senses, thoughts, feelings, perceptions and consciousness are somehow real and sustaining. That a play of light could fool us into thinking we see things that are not, that a feeling will somehow last forever, or our views of the world will ultimately make us real.

That owl, whether stone or feathered, is no different than any other image we place our bets on. A woman crossing a street is as empty as the icon of a pedestrian affixed to a traffic light above her or the shadow that follows in her footsteps. These bodies of ours are compositions of parts, congealed elements shaped into a form we have come to recognize, products of our memories and placeholders for our cravings on this plane. The trees and clouds that I see from my window are merely phenomena that are passing. The same is true for a tirade of anger or a swelling of pride, or shame. No one sees. No one feels. No one experiences embarrassment. This supposed self is just as ephemeral as the clouds or an owl made of stone.

No bodySometimes when I meditate I sense the form of this body as it sits in silence. There are times when the corporeal outline is faint, other times when the heavy weight of the earth resides in the vision. Occasionally there is the sense of body parts gone missing, of warmth and pressure where hands used to be and breath that moves through an invisible torso. One day, not too long ago, an image arose, as if someone were observing me from behind. There was the back of this body, sitting cross-legged, wearing a worn grey sweatshirt with its hood hanging down, and its head was gone.

In the west we hold the head in its own strange realm of idolatry. From it we see, smell, hear and taste – a rather exclusive bastion for nearly all the senses. We believe that beliefs, thoughts, perceptions and such ilk are born in its gray matter. That the mind, with its vast reservoir of knowledge and wisdom, must reside in the brain, yet in the east the heart is seen as the temple of the mind, the center, the great cause for all. Shifting our sighting of the world to our heart we can see past the illusions of me and you and our separateness. In the heart rests an awareness that transcends the masks of form and penetrates to the essence of each being, a nature that recognizes its own infinity.

Last weekend as I walked along the brisk embrace of the sea I noticed the owl, still sitting atop that roof, was missing his head. I smiled. We indeed have much in common.

Where there is no sense of the world

By Akha

(English version by Krishnaditya)

Where there is no sense of the world,
What can one preach of true and false?
Whose birth, act, form, or name is there?
What boundary, where there is no town?
Akha, where there is no body to begin with,
The indivisible remains, as is.

Image Credit:

Watching over us by Mark Skeet via Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

No body by Tess Wixted.




  1. Perhaps when the Queen of Hearts yelled, “Off with her head,” she thought she was doing Alice a favor.

  2. Love this piece, Tess; perfect timing for this weary soul!
    Thank you

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