We suffer because we forget who we truly are.
We forget we are love and compassion; that we are hard-wired to feel and connect. We forget we are truly and profoundly good through and through.
And we settle for less, much less.
Tara Brach said in one of her talks one of her favorite Asian teaching stories is about a huge statute of the Buddha somewhere in Thailand. Since it looked like all the others in the temple, made of plaster and clay, people didn’t particularly revere it over the others.
Then came a long period of drought, and small cracks started to appear. One of the monks had the idea to shine a flashlight to look inside the crack to see if it there was some infrastructure problem.
In every tiny crack he looked into, a bright shining light reflected back. He called the other monks, and together they carefully removed small pieces of the cracked plaster and clay to reveal flashes of gold.
When they removed the plaster and clay covering, they found one of the largest pure gold Buddha statues in Southeast Asia.
I like to think of the tiny cracks in the story as those little insights we get from time to time throughout our day: the light is turning red, OK, an opportunity to be aware of my body just sitting here in the car, waiting patiently.
My favorite work shirt is wrinkled – a reminder to fold it nicely the next time it comes out of the dryer.
Little cracks like these appear in the plaster covering of our life all day long, we just forget to look for the gold shining through each moment.
The monks think the statue had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it from (from thieves, I imagine). But through the passage of time, people forgot what they had.
Just like we forget what we have. We put on a covering of defenses to protect ourselves so long ago; we have forgotten what it was we are protecting: our true nature, our Buddha-nature.
We forget the gold and we start believing we’re the covering – the defensive, small, insecure self.
The essence of the spiritual path is simply reconnecting with the inner gold, mindful moment after moment. This connection is an unassailable refuge.
In traditional Buddhism the first step on the spiritual path is taking refuge in the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We take refuge in the pure gold inner Buddha, the spacious freedom of our true nature.
As we progress on the spiritual path, we appreciate refuge as an ever deepening journey of understanding into what and who we really are.
Sure, it begins with some desire on our part for perceived spiritual goodies, but if we hang in there it progresses into small daily revelations through those tiny cracks in the defensive self.
Mindfulness encourages the pure gold to shine though those tiny cracks.
With deepening experience, refuge as a religious ideal fades into the liberating immanence of our true nature. We are “at play in the fields” of aliveness and mystery.
A sangha member emailed me this poem the other day; I write this week’s this email as a sort of prologue to this poem, which is a kind of prayer:
(with many thanks to Noah for finding it)
to be a bold participant,
rather than a timid saint in waiting,
in the difficult ordinariness of now;
to exercise the authority of honesty;
rather than defer to power,
or deceive to get it;
to influence someone for justice,
rather than impress anyone for gain;
and, by grace, to find treasures
of joy, of friendship, of peace
hidden in the fields of the daily
you give me to plow.
~Ted Loder, from Wrestling the Light: Ache and Awe in the Human-Divine Struggle.
As Noah wrote in his email to me, “treasures hidden…in the fields of the daily” speaks to the heart of this practice.
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