The eastern religious principle of Ahimsa proposes that one ‘do no harm’: to achieve enlightened insight one must come to the realization that all things human and animal, animate and inanimate have soul-like presence, deserve respectful consideration.
The Jains are a traditional Indian religious sect that take the principle of Ahimsa very seriously. The deeply spiritual among them practice extreme measures to avoid injuring any living thing, plant or animal, will avoid walking at night so as not to injure unseen insects and mask so as not to inhale any sort of minute flying being. The idea is I guess, that in order to achieve Ahimsa one must get in touch with what one imagines that even the least of life forms has valid meaningful existence.
With this in mind, I found myself recently watching a tiny winged creature walk across my pants leg. I wondered where it might be headed, whether it might be seeking food of some sort. Certainly it must be considered a conscious being aware of the dangers around it and what stone it might find that would willingly harbor it for the night. Would it be able to form a bond with the sheltering rock one might assume has being in itself?
There is something enlightening about acknowledging the validity of our fellow beings.
I’ve been reading about kenosis, the idea that, in order to fully embrace the natural world in all its beauty and complexity it is necessary to suppress the ego. Seems reasonable I guess: if one’s sense of self is excessive the inclination will be to subordinate, view the world as a vast department store where everything is available for the personal satisfaction of the consumer: forests, water, mineral resources, human labor is there to enrich the individual who covets it.
A strong ego may fail to recognize the presence of the Other: the aethereal essence permeating all things responsible for the beauty and complexity of the natural world. As the natural world comes increasingly under threat, in order to temper its decline an effort will be required that may exceed one’s comfortable complacence, demand actions and behaviors of uncommon strength and sacrifice. It’s not like these ideas are new: most all spiritual beliefs have embraced the sacredness of the natural world, honored the food animal sought benevolence from the Other to ensure food production.
Time to disavow our sense of anthropomorphic superiority, work to become one with the natural world.
I’ve been reading a book on Buddhist thought, lately, and have been thinking about the counter-intuitive idea that one is two. On the surface, the idea is explainable (at least to my mind) in terms of a single defined object that takes on additional meaning when juxtaposed with other things within its visual field: that an object doesn’t exist in isolation, assumes aspects, is affected by, becomes part of a chaotic whole. And the more deeply an object is studied the greater its complexity is realized, melds into the complexities around it. The idea, I guess, is to realize, get a sense of the Whole, the profound inter-relatedness of all matter.
I assume this is what meditation is about. As I sit before my concrete Buddha (the buddha near the pond in my backyard) I allow daily concerns to pass beyond my conscious awareness and instead find and embrace the Whole. Seems simple enough I guess; requires attention though.
I purchased a Buddha the other day; a concrete yard sculpture, a fairly generic cast form, the sort of thing one finds at garden stores next to the gnomes and angels. Being concrete the buddha was pretty heavy to move, it required two workers to lift it into my van and a couple of hours sweat on my part to move it to the location near the pond in my backyard where I’d chosen to place it.
Now, as I stand back and view this sculpture situated as it is amid the verdancy of the surrounding ferns, hostas, Maple canopy and water surface it seems to emanate a significance greater than its generic origin would suggest; maybe it’s massive weight contributes psychologically to the concrete Buddha’s inflated worth, but, even so, it conveys a sense of the serene that I’m thinking will be helpful as I contemplate the big questions from the comfort of a lounge chair on my back deck.
I guess the idea of transcending one’s reality has always been imagined by the contemplative mind. For many who seek such adventure religious engagement may provide the pathway to that other world imagined to be beyond painful relationships, workplace power struggles or battles involved in securing a bit of personal dignity, in realizing a certain respect from others.
In the past those truly committed to rise above mundane reality had been known to tax their physical health to the extreme, nearing death in order to weaken their natural self-serving propensities in favor, hopefully, of achieving enlightenment, sensing a divine Ground of Being where original virtue is realized, a state of existence where ego is lost, replaced by an inner serenity.
I do like the idea of rising above mundane reality on occasion, to find serenity, but the means to such an end would be more attractive if it didn’t involve masochism.
So, here I am, driving down the road, seeking respite from oppressive reality. I headed off because I find I’m losing focus. The demons are arising, assuming identities of normally empathetic or at least innocuous friends and acquaintances. I’m traveling to a remote location without phone towers let alone wifi; no news for a few days can only be a good thing in my state of mind.
As I pass through unknown small towns and pastoral farmlands, I fantasize carefree and peaceful existences. Such distraction, I know, will only be momentary. What I need to do is reestablish my center of being, the stable base I know is there somewhere. I must find focus to embrace the eternal ‘Now’.
And now, here I sit before gently lapping waters. My surroundings are incredibly peaceful. The quiet is exhilarating. I find it amazing how a simple short getaway can be so immediately rejuvenating. I will try, in the future, to remember to seek out the healing powers of nature.
Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma, many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.
It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.
Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of Samadhi: the realization of oneness, that through focused attention, subject and object merge, which, I guess, means ‘me’, as subject, losing myself in identification with the object of attention, whatever that may be.
The idea seems appropriate to consider these days with my mind soaring a million miles an hour between thoughts of what just happened as well as those of the more distant past and thoughts of what will soon happen and what I should anticipate occurring in the more distant future, most of which being of a personal nature causing anguish to ‘me’.
So, I think what I need to do is take some time regularly, multiple times a day, to focus my attention on a singularity, breathe deep, let the proliferation of thoughts, which will arrive, pass through until I achieve a sense of a much desired peace. I’m pretty sure I can do this. I just need to find an appropriate object on which to focus.
I have just recently spent some time along the shore of the largest freshwater lake on the Continent.
The experience has me thinking about a poetic comment made by a local resident well familiar with the immense waterbody and its impact on the natural environs: the lake, he said, is God.
I’ve been reading how water functions as religious symbol, you know, as primordial formlessness from which all life emerges and as purifier, cleansing the world of the detritus and accumulating filth that profane existence necessarily produces. The big lake does seem to fit the profile in both cases. As I sat on the shore admiring the pristine beauty and vastness, a certain serenity did seem to subvene upon my restlessness. Maybe the lake is God.
I have this friend who, fairly out of the blue, received a shocking medical diagnosis that put to question the likelihood he would be unable to carry on his chosen life-style not to mention the possibility of an all-too-sudden permanent demise. Well, upon re-evaluation the dire prognosis was over-turned and things suddenly reverted to how things had been, you know, business as usual, except, the scare of imminent demise led my friend to a re-evaluation of priorities, what, essentially does matter after all and a sudden acute awareness of Here and Now.
I guess what the shock of a good scare can do is bring Here and Now into sharper focus. And, of course, Here and Now is where we live and should be where we always want to be but often aren’t, completely, distracted as we tend to be by thoughts of what occurred last week or what will happen after dinner tonight, perceived occupational successes and failures, personal relationships, the rising cost of satisfying our material desires, our minds constantly flitting from one thing to another. We live so much of the time, it seems, in a fog through which Here and Now is only occasionally glimpsed.
The whole episode has me thinking I need to spend more time focusing on Here and Now.