The Urban Dharma Newsletter... July 23,
In This Issue:
1. Muslims emerge as saviours of Buddha
statues in Kargil
2. Buddhism... Course Number 687 (24
3. Book Review- The Places That Scare
You... Pema Chodron
4. Temple/Center of the Week: Shasta
Abbey Buddhist Monastery
5. Equipment for the Journey ...by
1. Muslims emerge as saviours of Buddha
statues in Kargil
July 13 (ANI):
* For centuries Muslims in India's remote northern Kargil region
have preserved the lesser known rock- carved Buddha statues. However,
archaeologists fear these might crumble on account of neglect.
The Kargil Buddha statues may not be as famous as those in Afghanistan's
Bamiyan but historians say they are nearly as old. Kargil, the
stage of the last military conflict between arch-foes India and
Pakistan, lies at a strategic height in Jammu and Kashmir state.
Unlike the Bamiyan Buddha statues, Kargil idols are tucked in
mountain nooks and crannies in the spartan border area, silent
victims of human callousness and corrosive weather. Some statues
have cracked right through the middle and others have disfigured
bodies and faces.
It seems no one ever bothered to do restoration work, not even
the Archaeological Survey of India. Historians express regret,
saying that the statues were witnesses to the spread of Buddhism
across the Indian subcontinent.
But, in what can be described as a lesson in communal harmony,
Kargil's Muslim Shia community have come forward to restore the
statues to their original splendour.
"These statues are symbols of our Buddhist heritage and past.
They are sacred to our Buddhist brothers. It is our duty to protect
these historical statues. Our village head also says that we should
protect these statues, they are our responsibility," said
Shahabuddin, a local resident.
Earlier, not even a single board was put up to inform the visitors
and residents about these magnificent sculptures. It was only
after the residents initated the drive, that the army demarcated
The area's Muslim population is determined to guard these idols
which they say is respected by one and all.
"We have been guarding these statues for a long time. Even
now nobody bars us from doing so. Nobody tries to damage it even
now. Nobody shows disrespect to the idols," according to
Mustafa, another local resident.
Buddhists, however, are worried that these statues may become
victims of religious crossfire unless they are protected properly.
"All are not in favour of these statues and do not want them
to be there, so if we do not take care of these statues, these
might also meet the fate of Bamiyan Buddha statues. If any religious
leader incites the people and they get passionate, there are chances
that they might harm the statues. Therefore it is essential to
take care of these statues," said a Buddhist monk.
The statues have recently been declared a heritage site and the
state government is developing them as a tourist destination.
Buddhism, which started off in the northern plains of India in
sixth century B.C., spread all over East Asia and South East Asia.
It is a religion which has left deep impact on Sri Lanka, Bhutan,
Myanmar, China and Japan, among others.
2. Buddhism... Course Number 687 (24
lectures (30 minutes/lecture)
Taught by: Professor Malcolm David Eckel- Boston University
Price: $34.95 + $10.00 S&H
Share Professor Malcolm David Eckel's fascination with this remarkable,
lively and challenging religious tradition.
In its 2500-year history, Buddhism has grown from a tiny religious
community in northern India into a movement that now spans the
globe. This course is a survey of the history of Buddhism from
its origin in India in the 6th century B.C.E. ("before the
common, or Christian, era") to its present-day status as
a major world religion. It is meant to introduce students to the
astonishing vitality and adaptability of a tradition that has
transformed the civilizations of India, Southeast Asia, Tibet,
China, Korea, and Japan and has now become a lively component
in the cultures of Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Lecture 1: What is Buddhism?
Lecture 2: India at the Time of Buddha
Lecture 3: The Doctrine of Reincarnation
Lecture 4: The Story of the Buddha
Lecture 5: All is Suffering
Lecture 6: The Path to Nirvana
Lecture 7: The Buddhist Monastic Community
Lecture 8: Buddhist Art and Architecture
Lecture 9: Thervada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
Lecture 10: Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal
Lecture 11: Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Lecture 12: Emptiness
Lecture 13: Buddhist Philosophy
Lecture 14: Buddhist Tantra
Lecture 15: The Theory and Practice of Mandala
Lecture 16: The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet
Lecture 17: The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
Lecture 18: The Dalai Lama
Lecture 19: The Origins of Chinese Buddhism
Lecture 20: The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism
Lecture 21: The Origins of Japanese Buddhism
Lecture 22: Honen, Shinran and Nichiren
Lecture 23: Zen
Lecture 24: Buddhism in America
3. The Places That Scare You: A Guide
to Fearlessness in Difficult Times... Pema
From Publishers Weekly
American Tibetan Buddhist nun Chodron (When Things Fall Apart)
teaches an intense form of meditation in which readers are encouraged
to become "warrior-bodhisattvas," those who courageously
confront suffering. Warrior-bodhisattvas, according to Chodron,
are willing to have their inner selves broken, while keeping their
minds and hearts from shutting down. They take on suffering with
compassion and loving-kindness, working through their own emotions
of fear or anger to help alleviate others' pain. Chodron highlights
six traditional paramitas to model (generosity, discipline, patience,
enthusiasm, meditation and unconditional wisdom) and cautions
that ego, self-deception, unforgiveness and a grasping for permanence
all present barriers to compassion. True meditation cultivates
the qualities of steadfastness, clarity of vision and attention
to the present moment. Despite the title, this book is more about
generating compassion than facing fears. A few humorous vignettes
are interspersed with the deeply philosophical text, such as when
Chodron describes discovering her boyfriend in an intimate embrace
with another woman. She tried to throw something at the couple,
but the thing she picked up was a priceless piece of pottery that
belonged to their millionaire host. "The absurdity of the
situation totally cut through my rage," she explains, noting
that many times "wisdom is inherent in emotions." Moments
such as these mitigate the intensity of this highly cerebral book,
which will offer meaty reflections for the serious practitioner,
but less guidance for the mere bookstore Buddhist.
From Library Journal
Chodron, a student of Chogyam Trungpa, is well known for her clear
and inspiring books on spiritual practice (e.g., The Wisdom of
No Escape). Here she once again presents Tibetan Buddhist wisdom
in a clear, engaging, and undiluted way, making it useful and
relevant for newcomers and longtime practitioners alike. This
time her focus is on bodhichitta, a concept that roughly translates
as "open heart" or "awakened mind." As the
text points out, this is a term more easily understood than translated,
finding its ground in activities that embody compassion, tenderness,
and awareness. In a series of short chapters, the reader is introduced
to a number of ideas found in Tibetan Buddhist bodhichitta practice
and is given practical exercises for daily life. Her clear and
simple descriptions guide the reader through these powerful and
sometimes difficult practices. Chodron has once again proven herself
to be one of the very best working in this crowded field. Recommended
for all collections. Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
4. Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery
Shasta Abbey is a Buddhist monastery established in 1970 by the
late Abbess, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, who died on November 6,
1996. Rev. Kennett studied in Japan from 1962 until 1969 and was
the disciple of the Very Rev. Keido Chisan Koho Zenji, formerly
the Chief Abbot of Daihonzan Sojiji Head Temple (1957-1967). She
received Dharma Transmission from him in 1963. In accord with
Koho Zenji's wishes, Rev. Kennett returned to the West in 1969
in order to teach and train Western disciples in the Serene Reflection
Shasta Abbey is located in the mountains of far northern California
at an elevation of 4000 feet. The immediate vicinity of the monastery
is an area of coniferous forest, three miles north of the town
of Mt. Shasta. The mountain after which the town is named lies
six miles to the east of the monastery. Because of the mountainous
location and altitude, weather in this area is variable and unpredictable.
Summer weather, although usually clear, can at times be unseasonably
Retreat guests stay in the monastery's guest house, which accommodates
about 40 people. Normally, there will be one person per room except
during large retreats, when most guests will share a room. All
meals are vegetarian (lacto/ovo). We try to accommodate the special
needs of those guests who, due to age or health infirmities, find
the usual daily schedule difficult to follow.
5. Equipment for the Journey ...by
p. 195) February 2002
* About 25 years ago I visited friends in Derbyshire. The father
of the family was an experienced fell-walker, well acquainted
with the Peak district. He offered to take us out for a day's
walk up Kinder Scout, the beginning of the Pennine Way, a long-distance
footpath, which stretches from Derbyshire up to Northumberland
and into Scotland. He was very particular that we began the walk
early so that we could complete it in good time. We were to wear
walking boots and take warm clothes and waterproofs, and we had
to be able to carry all our food and drink ourselves.
We had a great day out, and at about four o'clock were heading
back to the descent and our parked car when we were stopped by
a young couple who asked us to direct them to the start of the
Pennine Way. They were dressed in shorts, T-shirts and flimsy
trainers. It was already four, and they were intending to set
off without either map or compass. My friends' father was horrified.
He said to them, "Surely you don't intend to set off now.
You are not prepared and you will not reach a suitable stopping
point before dark." However, they were not to be deterred,
and continued in the direction of the start of the route. My friends'
father said, "I suppose they will end up getting into difficulties,
and some poor devil will have to turn out to rescue them!"
Our journey may not be along the Pennine Way but following the
Buddha's Great Way to full and perfect enlightenment also requires
This "equipment" is known as the Seven Factors of the
Path to Enlightenment. In this article I would like to look at
some of the equipment needed. The first thing we require is awareness
of the necessity of the journey. I once saw a film about a Carthusian
monastery in which one of the monks described what had led him
to the religious life. He said it was the feeling of an empty
space inside him, which he eventually realized was a "God-shaped"
space. I suspect that we too have come to the Summer School either
because we have an empty space inside or because there are difficulties
we need to overcome. We should be grateful for this feeling of
something lacking or of difficulties, because without them we
would never have become aware of the need to set out on this path.
Awareness is an attentive presence in the living moment of any
situation. The late Soko Morinaga Roshi in his book Pointers to
Insight describes the young men who came to his training temple
in Japan. They were intelligent young men from first-rate universities.
The first job they were given was to heat the bath. This was a
traditional Japanese bath, shaped like a barrel with a lid and
heated by lighting a fire underneath it. After several instances
of a fire being lit under an empty bath, the roshi found it necessary
to start by asking the students, "What's the first thing
you do when heating a bath?" They would inevitably say, "Light
the fire", to which he would reply, "Definitely not!"
Then they would say, "Fill the bath with water." It
never occurred to them to scrub out the bath before filling it
with clean water. Duly instructed, they would scrub out the bath,
fill it with clean water and try to light a fire under it. On
checking their progress a little later, the roshi would find that
the "fire" consisted of two large logs and lots of burnt
newspaper. He would then explain that they would never manage
to make that burn. What was needed was kindling, the students
would say, "There is no kindling," To which he would
reply, "Then chop some." They would then say, "I
don't know where the hatchet is." To which he would reply,
"Well, why don't you ask someone?" He would go away
for a while, and when he next returned to see how things were
going, he would find a smoking mess under the bath. Poking about
under the bath he would find it full of burnt paper. He would
ask them, "What makes a fire burn?" Being bright students
they would reply, "A combination of fuel and oxygen."
The roshi would say, "Where's the oxygen?" "In
the air." And he would say, "Well then, why don't you
clear the ashes and let some air in?" Eventually the students
would learn to perform practical tasks such as heating the bath.
We may laugh at this but we are all becoming increasingly divorced
from practical "hands-on" experience in the present
moment. Such things as TV, computer games and virtual reality
come between us and actual experience. We can even make friends
in chatrooms on the Internet! However, face-to-face experience
is essential for the cultivation of awareness. Practising awareness
is said to be both the beginning and the end of the Buddha's Path,
and it is set out in great detail in the Satipatthna Sutra
as the Four Foundations of Awareness these four foundations are
awareness of body, sensations, mental states and contents of mind.
The correct physical posture for meditation is most important
as it helps us to be aware of mental states arising. However,
there are many other situations in life that require direct awareness
in the body too. At Wimbledon a player waiting to receive a serve
does not just stand casually swinging the racket. They crouch
down, muscles tense, moving their body weight from side to side
ready to play the ball, forehand or backhand. We need to carry
this awareness in the body on the meditation cushion into all
aspects of daily life as a form to be observed. Even in informal
situations, such as shopping in the supermarket, this awareness
in the body can be practiced.
There are experiences we find pleasant and others we find unpleasant.
What causes a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensation will differ
in each person. It is human to have preferences, even animals
have preferences. Our problems arise when we feel we must have
what we prefer.
To give a simple example, when I was a student I used to visit
an old lady called Mrs Braid. She was very suspicious and frightened
by official letters because she was unable to read or write. It
took me some time to win her trust but once it had been gained
she loved my visits. In return for dealing with her official correspondence
she would entertain me to tea. At that time I preferred tea weak
and black with no sugar. Mrs Braid's idea of tea was rather different.
She would begin by putting two teaspoons of sugar into the cup,
she then poured a good inch of sweet and sticky tinned condensed
milk, followed by tea, a densely brewed black liquid. The first
sip of this brew was truly vile. What is more, to please Mrs Braid
at least two cups of tea had to be drunk, accompanied by a piece
of sweet sticky cake. I would never have chosen to have a cup
of Mrs Braid's tea then or now. But in that situation, when it
was offered with such kindness and hospitality, there really was
no problem in drinking two cups. It was not my preference, but
in that situation it was possible.
Awareness of mental states is important because it enables us
to catch the passions before they are acted upon. Whichever passion
happens to arise be it desire or anger, unless we are aware of
the arising, it will take off before it can be caught. Trevor
Leggett gave a hint for experimenting with this, when he discussed
the derivation of the words sukha, pleasure and happiness, and
Duhkha, suffering or pain. He said, "These are familiar words
in Buddhism, but there is a secret in them. Sukha comes from su,
meaning good, and kha, meaning space. Duhkha comes from duh or
dush meaning bad, and kha, space. The origin of the words, with
their respective meaning of happiness or pleasure and suffering
or distress, comes from their application to the axle of a chariot
wheel. As you know, the axle goes through the centre of the wheel
as it turns. Su-kha , "good space", is when there is
space so that the wheel can turn freely on the axle. Duh-kha,
"bad space", is when there's not enough space or when
the space is uneven or gritty, so that wheel and axle grind against
each other or stick and won't move smoothly. The hint from the
make-up of these two words is that in our actions, in our interchanges
with the world, we need to have a little space. If we can learn
to make a little space, then our actions, and our thoughts, can
move easily without obstruction."
So if we can get into the habit of taking a deep breath and creating
a pause in what we are doing, this "good space" will
allow us to act more smoothly in daily life, without being carried
away by the passions. In fact there was a method for giving up
smoking that used this idea. All it required was an egg-timer.
Every time the craving for a cigarette arose, instead of smoking
a cigarette, you were instructed to turn the egg-timer over and
wait the three minutes which it took for the sand to run through.
If the desire to smoke was still as strong after the three minutes,
you could have one. This was a quite successful method because
people found that after three minutes the craving had reduced
just enough to allow them to choose not to smoke. Even counting
to ten can work if we do it habitually.
Our thoughts seem to switch on instantly when we wake in the morning
and go on throughout the day until we fall asleep again at night.
It seems to be an endless mental film that never stops unless
we become totally absorbed in what we are doing. If we let it
rip it just goes on and on and on. We may tend to indulge it and
deliberately perpetuate it because we are rather afraid of the
silence which would be there without this mental chatter. If we
wish to reduce this restless pursuit of thoughts the body can
Chess training in the Far East, as Trevor Leggett has pointed
out, tries to cultivate inner balance, courage and inspiration.
Mr Leggett watched Kimura, a famous Japanese chess champion, who
was playing a brilliant young player. There was clearly only one
move that Kimura could make but he didn't make it; he just sat
there. He sat for so long that he seemed to have fallen asleep.
Meanwhile his young opponent became agitated, fanning himself,
drinking tea, going to the toilet, coming back again and continually
fidgeting. After 10 minutes Kimura made the move he had to make.
His opponent responded in a flash. This process was repeated several
times. Eventually Kimura won because, in his impatience to move
the game on, the younger man made a blunder.
Later, Mr Leggett talked to Kimura and found that he was a fast-talking,
witty man. So he asked him why his chess personality was so different
from his ordinary personality. Kimura explained that when he was
young he was just like his young opponent; but he played many
games against an old master who did exactly what Leggett has seen
him doing. I always lost, he remarked because of my impatience
to move things on. So he practised sitting in front of an empty
chess board for an hour without moving. He did this for a few
days and then increased the time to two hours a day. At first
he found himself seething inwardly, watching the clock. But suddenly,
in the second week, he felt a sort of calm. After that he could
outsit any of them.
It is useful to remember that the body can help us to contain
and calm our agitation. The practice of these Four Foundations
of Awareness comprises the first of the Seven Factors of the Path
Keen Investigation and Energy
The second factor is keen investigation of the Dharma. What this
means is checking and rechecking to make sure that the map we
are following is really the Buddha's Way and not one we have devised
ourselves. This word "keen" leads us on to the third
factor which is energy. Energy needs to be invested in the practice
at all stages. Generally, we have energy for those things we want
to do but not for those we don't. Often our effort is conditional
on getting results; we shall keep going if we seem to be getting
there. In the kitchen at Shobo-an, the Zen Centre in London, there
is a cartoon pinned to the wall which shows a class of children
sitting in a circle on cushions, and a monk is giving the lesson.
On the blackboard is its title, "The Journey to Enlightenment".
The whole class is sitting quietly in meditation except one little
girl who has her hand up and is asking, "Are we there yet?"
That is the feeling we all have. We make some effort and then
want to see immediate results. Unfortunately, it is not like that.
Master Hakuin said we need the same intensity of effort we would
put into finding a lost family heirloom.
As contact lens-wearer, I have some small idea of what that intensity
of focus means. Contact lenses are very useful, but if they get
dry they tend to pop out. I have lost lenses in some strange places,
including the shallow end of a swimming pool, a dark, wind-swept
pavement in Tufnell Park and the bottom of a dusty lift. I am
very short-sighted and on all of those occasions, although I was
with people with better eyesight than me, it was I who found the
lenses. Why? Because they are important to me; without them I
am helpless and so I am the one who focuses most intensely on
the search. Applying this to practice would be really useful.
Walking the Buddha's Way is not intended to be a grim affair,
as the fourth factor, happiness or joyous zest, indicates. We
must remember that happiness is not synonymous with pleasure.
Pleasure comes and goes according to the law of change or impermanence.
This happiness is an abiding state of heart which does not fade,
despite the ups and downs of life. This means that whatever we
experience, good or bad, can be accepted and lived through. A
traditional story told by Venerable Myokyo-ni's own teacher illustrates
this. It's called "The Horse from the North".
An elderly couple with a young son are so poor they cannot even
afford a buffalo to plough their rice paddy. One day, out of the
blue, a horse comes along, attaches itself to the young boy and
follows him home. Nobody knows who owns the horse, and so the
family gratefully accepts it and there is joy and jubilation.
Some years later the horse kicks the boy and, although the broken
leg heals, it remains bent. Now there is sorrow and lamentation:
the work is going to be harder because the boy is less able. A
few months later an army press gang passes through the village
rounding up all the young men to fight a war. They are not interested
in a cripple with a bent leg, so he is left behind and his family
are better off than their neighbours. Again there is jubilation.
Then, one day the horse rans off. Now the old couple have no beast
to help with the ploughing, and there is sorrow and lamentation.
Then another band of soldiers comes to the village, to requisition
all the animals either for the war effort or for food. As the
horse has gone, the old couple are no worse off. Then the horse
returns out of the blue, and there is joy and jubilation once
This is how life goes: sometimes things are good and sometimes
they are bad. Happiness is being able to recognize that life is
like that and to accept whatever life presents us with and do
our best with it. One translation of priti, happiness, is rapture
which means to be completely absorbed with "rapt attention".
In this state there is no I present, and therefore happiness can
arise. If we are completely given in to the situation, there is
no more stress and agitation.
This brings us to the the fifth factor which is calm, overcoming
the passions. In modern life we complain a great deal about stress
and anxiety and having too much to do. In fact one of the most
successful recent books is called The Little Book of Calm. It
seems we are all in need of calm. Road rage has progressed to
supermarket trolley rage, and now we have parking rage. If someone
beats you to a parking space, you simply ram them out of the way
with your car! So there is a lot of anger, agitation and stress
out there. All this stems from the fact that we find it hard to
accept the Three Signs of Being: no "I," change and
suffering. If we did, then we would be able to go with situations
in life. Firstly, impermanence: we are anxious because we might
lose the things we have and might not get the things we want.
We suffer because we are frightened that something might happen
to us or our loved ones. And it might. We can't change that. Most
of all, we are anxious about the idea that there's no "I"
here anyway. We have spent so much time and effort in bolstering
it up and making it secure only to be told it doesn't exist.
Anxiety can lead to obsessive attempts to control life. A friend
told me that she was worried about her parents. They have always
suffered from anxiety, but recently it had increased. The anxiety
takes the form of certain set habits and rituals by which the
day is controlled. Everything has to happen at a fixed time throughout
the day and has to be done in a certain way. Routine may be a
good thing up to point. But in the case of my friend's parents,
the vegetables must be laid out in a certain order and peeled
in that order, and any deviation from this causes anxiety. When
they brew a pot of tea they set a timer for exactly three minutes,
and only when it rings do they pour the tea. The whole day is
ordered in this way which leaves no room for spontaneity. My friend
will telephone them to say that she will be passing some time
in the afternoon and will call in, only to be told that the timing
of some household event makes that impossible. She now visits
them unannounced because otherwise they would put her off and
she would never see them. The more they try to control their lives
the more anxious they become.
Calm can really be established only when we are fully "given
in to what is being done at this moment", when there is no
room for agitation at all. In one of his books, the Russian Orthodox
priest Metropolitan Anthony talks about his days in Paris as a
doctor in general practice before he became a priest. He said
that at the beginning when he was with a patient, he was also
aware of all the people in his packed waiting room. Throughout
his surgery he was aware of this endless queue of patients waiting
to see him. Because of this, he tried to rush through the consultations.
He found he would have to ask each question twice. He would have
to repeat examinations because he would forget his findings, and
he even forgot the patient's name. After some time he decided
that he had to address the problem. He resolved that, regardless
of the number of waiting patients, he would attend fully to the
patient before him in the consulting room. He worked more slowly,
behaving as if the person before him was the only patient he had
to see that day. Whenever he found himself hurrying, he would
deliberately exchange a few pleasantries with the patient in order
to return to the focused, calm state. Interestingly he found that,
over all, he now spent less time with each patient because he
no longer had to repeat questions or examinations.
Wholeheartedness means being totally absorbed in the living situation
which brings us to the sixth factor of enlightenment, absorption.
This term is sometimes translated as concentration, but unfortunately
this carries the connotation of an "I" doing it. True
absorption comes about quite naturally of itself, either when
we are doing something that really interests us or when we are
in danger. Often it is attributed to the nature of the activity.
However, it is actually a result of the wholeheartedness with
which we are doing it. The belief that absorption resides in the
activity leads us to seek out further absorbing or exciting things
to do. In fact, there is a growing business offering "extreme"
holidays which promise to take the client out of the "comfort
zone" of ordinary life. There is "white-water rafting",
being lowered into the sea in a cage among great white sharks
or "extreme climbing" when one climbs the rock face
without ropes, clinging on only by the fingers and toes. The attraction
that these activities all share is that while we are engaged in
them, it is impossible to think of anything but what is being
done at that moment. In complete absorption there is no room for
extraneous thoughts, thus giving us the opportunity to see what
is really there.
In this connection Metropolitan Anthony tells the story of an
old woman he met shortly after his ordination as a priest. He
had been sent to an old people's home just before Christmas to
celebrate Mass. After the service he was approached by an old
woman who wanted advice on prayer. He suggested that she approach
another priest who was reputed to be an expert on prayer. She
said to him that she had talked to experts on prayer all her life,
and it had done her no good at all. She said, "I thought
that as you are new to the priesthood and probably know nothing,
you may just blurt out something useful by accident!" Thus
encouraged, he asked what her problem was. She said, "For
the past 14 years I have been saying the Jesus prayer almost constantly,
but I have never felt the presence of God." The Jesus prayer
is a short prayer used in the Orthodox tradition in which the
words "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" are repeated
over and over again. Metropolitan Anthony replied, "If you
speak all the time God has no opportunity to show his presence."
He suggested that after breakfast she should go to her room, tidy
anything distracting out of sight, set her armchair in front of
the icon and light the lamp in front of it. He said she should
then just look around and take stock of her room because if she
had been practising the prayer like that for 14 years, she probably
hadn't noticed her room much. Then, he said, take up your knitting
and just knit before the face of God. The old lady did not feel
that this was very pious advice, but nevertheless decided to do
as he said.
Some time later she told him that it had worked. He asked her
to tell him exactly what had happened. She said, "I did as
you said. After breakfast I went to my room, tidied it up, arranged
everything and, looking around, I thought, ¸What a lovely room
this is. I have a view over the garden. I have all the things
that I have collected over my life; what a nice comfortable place
it is to be.·" She said that she lit the lamp in front of
the icon and sat down and felt the peace of the room. "Then
I remembered that I was to knit before the face of God, so I took
up my knitting. I heard the ticking of the clock, but that did
not disturb me. The knitting needles clicked against the arms
of the chair, but if anything, this just reinforced the silence.
Gradually I began to notice the silence was not an absence but
a presence of something. It had a density and a richness that
met the silence inside me and pervaded me. I realized that at
the heart of it there was an all-silent, all peaceful presence."
The old lady was to live another 10 years, until she was over
100; and whenever she practised this silence, she could sense
the quietness and peace of God.
While we still search and hope for spiritual experience, we remain
out there, unfulfilled. It is only through emptying out completely
that absorption can take place. Only in the state of absorption
can serenity the seventh factor of enlightenment arise. There
isn't a great deal we can say about serenity. What can be said
is that it is not something an "I" can have. Serenity
is a quality of the heart that, in the absence of "I",
radiates out to all around it. This is the essence of the Bodhisattva
Path, which is not about practising for ourselves but for the
sake of all beings.
The Middle Way February 2002 p. 195 (volume 76:4)
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