The first phase of our summer comes to an end as this morning I take Ji and Aramati to the station to catch the early train. Simon and Antonella left on Saturday, so now we are just three women on site.
This last week we have been working with sacred space.
It is easy here in the heart of the french countryside to feel the sacredness of our surroundings. Each morning we stand outside the house under the walnut tree and and breathe in the morning air. We feel the ground under our feet, solid and supportive. Each step as we walk we will take refuge in the earth.
Pureland Buddhism centres on the call to Amida, the nembutsu. Actually it is not so much that we call, but rather that we answer. Amida, the measureless, calls.
As we walk, we allow our attention to be caught by the natural things around us. One morning a large dragon fly rises up from the grass in front of me. Another time a slow worm lies across the path, still sluggish with the cold of night, it becomes more active as I lift it in my warm hand to move it out of the way of walkers behind. I show it to them, enjoying the surprise of their faces. Yet another morning an adder slithers between the grass stems, a scaly patterned back disappearing into the long grass by the path. Then there are deer, pausing timid by the woods to look at us. And a big full moon, hanging orange red against a sky clouded the colour of mother of pearl.
Each moment of encounter a small awakening, we are drawn out of our expectations to see something fresh and new. And in each moment of encounter, the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind grasp at the experience and close something down.Nirvana and samsara go hand in hand. As ordinary beings our minds cloud the radiance of life and mask the sacred.
Amida is the Buddha of infinite life and light. Around us infinite life invites us into the sacred. In those moments of naked experiencing we are in the Pureland.
Sacredness though is not confined to such beautiful places. The sacred is not separate from our lives but interpenetrates every cell of them. As we watch the buzzards wheeling in the blue sky, there is absolute clarity of bird and blue and air, and there is the grasping mind, naming and collecting the experience. Sacred clarity and clouded perception.
And it is not we who reach out to Amida, but Amida who reaches out to us. The sacred reaches out and touches us in moments of surprise. It comes from beyond our self preoccupation, and cuts through our stories. It is everywhere. The cold metal of the super market trolley and the old man shuffling along the pavement, the plastic bag curling up into the air in the wind and the water dripping out of a blocked gutter. Our seeing acknowledges it and expresses gratitude in wordless moments of attention.
This week we work with the elements.
Sitting in the shrine room beside the open fire on a rainy day, the drumming water on the tiled roof, we open to the elements. This traditional meditation brings together the body and the world. We are not different. Here we sit on the bare earth floor. The wind of the storm blows in, licking up flames around the logs. In our bodies solidity and air, fluids and heat. A bat sweeps the rafters for flies. A donkey in the valley brays.
Night falls and the flames fade to embers. Lightening flashes in the distance pepper our sleep with an edgy awareness of impermanence. The thunder rumbles. Summer rain storms are plentiful this year.
Morning, and the mist curls over the dew jeweled field as we walk once more out into our Pureland paradise. Sacred space.
So this morning we disperse. Out into the sacred world scarred by troubles. But how to bring the vision? How to see those moments of immediacy, unclouded? More importantly how to take back into the market place the open handedness which can be of use to a troubled world. Namo Amida Bu.
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