This is an old story but enchanting enough to give it another outing on this blog.
In 1957 an entire Monastery in Thailand was being relocated by a group of monks. One day they were moving a giant clay Buddha when one of the monks noticed a large crack in the clay. On closer investigation he saw there was a golden light emanating from the crack. The monk used a hammer and a chisel to chip away at the clay exterior until he revealed that the statue was in fact made of solid gold.
Historians believe the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks several hundred years earlier to protect it from an attack by the Burmese army. In the attack, all the monks had been killed and it wasn’t until 1957 that this great treasure was actually discovered.
I was able to share the story of the Golden Buddha at the end of a talk I gave recently when a woman in the audience asked “Is it just a utopian dream to think that I can find my ‘why’ at work? Where do I even start looking for my purpose?”
I explained that it’s already right there inside each of us, that it’s not necessarily found in another job, a new company or another country. It’s always been there and it’s way closer than we think.
What happens over the course of our life however is that we pile layer upon layer of clay over our own Golden Buddha. The heaviest layer of clay is of our own doing – it’s our own limited thinking and our unconscious conditioning. The other layers of clay get added on from external influences (parents, schools and teachers, bosses and co-workers, society, the media, the church, government and corporations). Eventually we are so laden with clay that we forget that the Golden Buddha is there all the time.
The secret to finding our Golden Buddha, our higher purpose, lies not in the future, but in our past. All we need to do is start chipping away at the clay and rediscovering those things we were passionate about as we grew up. We reconnect with why we first went into our profession or that job we really, really loved. We recall the times when we were in flow and time stood still. We chip away at our clay with a therapist or a trusted advisor. We get curious and we do something, anything. Action always precedes clarity. Action reveals the Golden Buddha.
At a company level, we also need to reclaim our Golden Buddha. I believe that most organisations are founded with a golden intent. They are started with a higher purpose to improve humanity and not damage the planet, however over time the clay appears in the form of poor management, flawed systems, board pressure, shareholder expectations or venture capitalist demands. The most vital role for leadership is to unearth that higher purpose again and make it both the glue and the guiding North Star of the company.
Imagine a world where every person and every company could return to their natural state, their Golden Buddha. Just imagine.
Winter is behind us now. This brings a feeling of light, hope and openness. We can look out of the window at trees and see them forming leaves. Golden Daffodils adorn our gardens once more. The snowdrops and crocuses are also bountiful. This year more than most! I like to think it is not only a new beginning but also a time to ponder on what lies ahead. Although in the quiet moments of a Spring day, reflection on what has past is often more on our minds. Dare we expect more from this new year than the last? In the old Pali dialect, the language of the Buddha (upanijjhāna), “reflection” has the self-same meaning that it does in English—it means to be like a mirror or the surface of a deep pond, to receive an impression and hold it without adding anything else. It also means to contemplate or consciously consider. To listen to the inner voice of reason.
Years ago, at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke of this, and of the Buddha’s advice to his 7-year-old son Rahula. The Buddha told his son about the importance of honesty, telling young Rahula to practice reflection—to reflect on the inner and outer consequences before, during, and after doing something. Please consider trying this. The results are subtle but quite amazing. Consider how you feel before you perform an act of generosity, during, and after. Also consider how it feels to do something less than noble or not do something. Let’s say, not to eat or drink too much or be angry or stingy, to un-grasp the hand of lifelong habits. What is amazing is that this type of practice of reflecting on the quality and consequence of our lives is a way to expand time by opening and deepening and enriching the time we have to spare.
In meditation or just being alone with our thoughts , we allow ourselves to reflect on something that has already happened. We can allow a memory or experience to arise within us, and like the surface of a deep pond, reflecting the moon without fighting it or fleeing from it or freezing it or adding anything at all. Remember that the ancient root of the word, “understand” means to stand under, to allow the truth of something to soak in. It also suggests holding and supporting, standing under our own experience, receiving it. Think of the lake under the moon.
Crocuses in the garden
Re-written from an article published in Parabola magazine.
Might be a good idea to subscribe. They need supporting.
The Buddha was visiting a small village in India. Several people brought a blind man to him and said,
“This man is blind and we are his closest friends. Although we try in every way to convince him that there is light, he is not ready to accept such a fact. His arguments are such that we are at a loss. Even though we know that there is light, we have to admit defeat. The man tells us that he wants to touch the light. Now how do we make it possible for him to touch the light? Then the man says, ‘Ok, if it cannot be touched then I want to hear it. I have ears. Make the sound of light so that I can hear it. If this is also not possible then I want to taste it, or if the light has a fragrance I want to smell it.'”
There is no way to convince the man. Light can only be seen if one has eyes – and he has no eyes. He complained to the village people that they were unnecessarily talking about light just to prove that he was blind. He felt that they had invented the story of light just to prove him blind.
So the people asked Buddha if, as he was in the village for a while, perhaps he could make their blind man understand.
Buddha said, “I am not mad enough to try to convince him! Mankind’s problems have been created by people who have tried to explain things to those who cannot see. Preachers are a plague to humanity. They tell people things which they cannot understand.”
So he said, “I won’t make this mistake. I will not explain to this blind man that there is light. You have brought him to the wrong person. There was no need to bring him to me, take him instead to a physician who can treat his eyes. He does not need preaching, he needs treatment. This is not a question of explanations, or of him believing in things you tell him, it is a question of treatment for his eyes. If his eyes get cured then there will be no need for you to explain; he himself will be able to see, he himself will be able to know.”
Buddha was saying that he didn’t consider religion to be just a philosophical teaching – it should be a practical cure. So he recommended that the blind man be taken to a physician.
The villagers liked what Buddha said so they took the blind man to a physician for treatment and fortunately he was cured after a few months. By that time Buddha had gone to another village so the blind man followed him. He bowed to Buddha, touched his feet and said, “I was wrong. There is such a thing as light but I couldn’t see it.”
Buddha answered, “You were certainly wrong, but your eyes got cured because you refused to believe what others told you unless you experienced it for yourself. If you had accepted what your friends had told you then the matter would have ended there and no question of treatment for your eyes would have arisen.”
One should search for one’s own understanding because one cannot attain anything by worshipping the insights of another. In fact, the search for one’s own understanding can only begin when one drops the idea of the other. As long as there is any outer substitute, as long as something is being supplied from the outside, the search cannot begin.
Nobody can reach anywhere in somebody else’s boat. And nobody can see with another’s eye – nobody ever has and nobody ever will. One has to walk on one’s own feet, one has to see with one’s own eyes, one has to live by one’s own heart beat. One has to live by oneself and one has to die by oneself. Nobody can live in another’s place; nobody can die in another’s place. Nobody can take another’s place; neither can one take anybody else’s place. If there is anything totally impossible in this world, it is the fact that no one can take anyone else’s place.
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” – Gautama Buddha
BUDDHA’S PARABLE OF THE ARROW
“Imagine a man that has been pierced by an arrow well soaked in poison, and his relatives and friends go at once to fetch a physician or a surgeon. Imagine now that this man says:
“I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know the name of the man who shot it, and the name of his family, and whether he is tall or short or of medium height; until I know whether he is black or dark or yellow; until I know his village or town. I will not have the arrow pulled out until I know about the bow that shot it, whether it was a long bow or a cross bow.
I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know about the bow-string, and the arrow, and the feathers of the arrow, whether they are feathers of a vulture, or kite or peacock.
I will not have the arrow pulled out until I know whether the tendon which binds it is of ox, or deer, or monkey.
I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know whether it is an arrow, or the edge of a knife, or a splinter, or the tooth of a calf, or the head of a javelin.”
Well, that man would die, but he would die without having found out all these things.
In the same way, any one who would say: ‘I will not follow the holy life of Buddha until he tells me whether the world is eternal or not; whether the life and the body are two things, or one thing; whether the one who has reached the Goal is beyond death or not; whether he is both beyond death and not beyond death; whether he is neither beyond death nor is not beyond death.”
Well, that man would die, but he would die without Buddha having told these things.
Because I am one who says: Whether the world is eternal or not, there is birth, and death, and suffering, and woe, and lamentation, and despair. And what I do teach is the means that lead to the destruction of these things.
Remember therefore that what I have said, I have said; and that what I have not said, I have not said. And why have I not given an answer to these questions? Because these questions are not profitable, they are not a principle of the holy life, they lead not to peace, to supreme wisdom, to Nirvana.”
This is an excellent short video on consciousness from David Lynch. I am sure most of you are familiar with David’s work in films. For those of you who have not heard of him, here’s a little about his career. David Keith Lynch is an American film director, television director, visual artist, musician, occasional actor, and author. Here he talks about how “lost” he had been at one time, but when he began meditating how his life changed. David, in this talk, gives us a glimpse into his own achievements through meditation. (video viewing time about 10 minutes but worth every single second.. 🙂 )
This talk is not an advertisement for TM – although the TM Society is mentioned.
Wisdom From The Buddha On Being Lost
The Buddha said, “So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.” What The Buddha is saying here is do not make thought spring from love born out of concern for all beings. Rather, we are advised by the Buddha to let it spring from the love that is our own true nature. Now this is not always well understood, so let me further explain.
When we cannot heal the rupture between ourselves and the rest of life itself, created by mistaken concepts, we remain forever lost, and uncertain about what our lives mean and where we belong. Confused by concepts of separate self and distant “other,” as though pursued by furious enemies, we run until we are totally lost, hiding in whatever places seem to offer us safety. Our safest haven, however, may be found neither in running nor in hiding, but in staying still. Here is a parable that explains clearly the meaning of this:
“There was a man so displeased by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit upon was to run away from them. So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with them without the slightest difficulty. He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally dropped dead. He failed to realize that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.”
From the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu
When we make the courageous choice to be still, rather than running away, we have the chance to establish a relationship with what is.
Now doesn’t this story ring a bell for you? I feel I have a ways to go before I reached the blissful state “of no more footsteps.”
FOR reasons that are not too clear, thirteenth-century Europe represents the single greatest flowering of mysticism in the West. It was also a time, nearly unique in Western history, for the extent to which feminine voices were raised, tolerated, and even revered. In the following article, Jake has generously given us many unknown facts, certainly unknown to me, and to which I offer my gratitude. Having read and enjoyed books on Christian Mysticism over the years, I cannot find the language to do them justice. Jake does. (Jake Murray graduated from Oxford Uni. He works as a Freelance theatre director, teacher and writer. )
What is Christian Mysticism?
by Jake Murray
Christian Mysticism is probably the least known and least understood Mystical Tradition in the world. Indeed, most people, including most Christians, would be astonished and shocked to learn that there was such a thing as Christian Mysticism at all. Since the Reformation it has been viewed with enormous suspicion, especially among the Protestant Churches who traditionally have disliked the idea of a body of knowledge available to an elite and, with the defining doctrine of Sola Scriptura, have, by and large, not liked metaphysical speculation or mysticism as part of their discourse. This is not to say that there have not been important Protestant Christian Mystics – Jakob Boehme, William Blake, Jane Leade, Valentine Weigel, Emmanuel Swedenborg for instance – but they have always tended to run into trouble with the authorities. Blake was very much a lone gunman, Boehme was forced to promise never to make his books public and Swedenborg was put on trial. Within Catholicism Mysticism was actively encouraged for many centuries and then became badly entangled with fears about heresy and the Reformation, when even major figures like St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, were hugely harassed. As a consequence, Mysticism has largely died out in the Western Churches. In the Greek and Eastern Orthodox Churches it has never gone away, Mysticism always being a key aspect of their experience of Christianity. But we in the West are very ignorant about the Orthodox Churches, so for us that Mysticism, much of it deeply ecstatic, has also been kept from us.
Another reason for the relative obscurity of Christian Mysticism, especially among those who are interested in Mysticism in general, is the hostility so many people feel towards the Churches. To most people Christianity is one long litany of misogyny, intolerance, persecution, oppression, control of minds and sexualities, corruption, child abuse, conformism, Inquisitions, anti-semitism, religious wars and so on. The idea that it has had anything to offer on a mystical level is almost unthinkable to many. For many spiritually-minded people the emphasis on Sin, Damnation, fear and general anti-life doom and gloom are things one has to get away from. As a consequence the hidden tradition of Christian Mystical thought has been all but lost to us compared with, for instance, the sublime wisdom of the East – Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – or even Western traditions such as Kabbalah, Sufism and Hermeticism, all of which seem to be far more liberating and all-embracing than anything Christianity has to offer. The very imagery of Christianity is associated with enormous negativity to many. The terminology is off-putting, to such an extent that for most people, reading the core texts is almost impossible without centuries of accrued meanings that may not even be there.
There is an enormous amount of truth in all of this. The negative historical karma of Christianity is there for all to see. But it is far from the whole story of the Tradition, and a great shame, as Hidden beneath all the rubble is a vast reservoir of rich mystical literature of the most astonishing visionary quality, much of which has a great deal in common with all the other Traditions mentioned above. It has often been said that, for instance, Meister Eckhart would have a great deal to say to the Buddha were they to meet (indeed there has been a famous study of Eckhart by the Zen Master Suzuki). Orthodox Christianity has an extraordinarily spiritual, all-embracing, take on Christianity, a vision shared in the Western Churches through a mutual connection with the Neo-Platonic tradition drawn from St Dionysius the Areopagite.
Early Christianity was much simpler, far more diverse and far more mystically-orientated than it is now. We forget, for instance, that until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, rather than being a persecuting religion it was an entirely persecuted one with a profound revolutionary, as well as ascetic tradition. An accepted, indisputable, rigid canon of Scripture such as we find now in the modern editions of the Bible was not even established until midway through the 4th Century, and then only after vigorous debate, with books like Revelation, responsible for so much confusion since, only being included at the last minute. Early Church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St Augustine and others freely acknowledged other authorities as having insight – Plato, Plotinus, even Hermes Trismegistus. Reincarnation was not denounced as a heresy until the 6th Century in the Catholic Church and as late as the 7th in the Celtic when it amalgamated with Rome. We forget also that until the fall of Constantinople in the 15th Century the centers of Christianity were Meditterannean and Middle Eastern – Alexandria, Carthage, Rome, Syria, Greece – all of which had rich esoteric traditions. In terms of misogyny, the New Testament itself suggests that women had as much of a role in the early Church as the men (see Romans 16), and even after that it is a curious feature of Christian Mysticism just how much of a massive contribution women’s voices had to make.
No other spirituality or religion in the world has had so many women Mystics – St Teresa of Avila, St Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Hadewijch, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete and a host of others. The fact that so much of this has been lost is mainly to do with the reasons mentioned above. The modern, impoverished view of Christianity, apparently so militant and so reactionary, in which a highly complex set of ideas have been reduced to a simple set of answers revolving around Sin and Redemption, is a sign of Christianity’s rejection of its own mystical roots. The decline of Christianity as a progressive cultural force can be seen with the beginnings of its own suppression of its Mystics during the time of the Middle Ages and Reformation. In spite of revivals during the Counter-Reformation and the Renaissance, by the 17th Century Science, Philosophy and the Enlightenment were starting to take over as the main means of understanding existence. Its taken until now for Christian Mysticism to start to be uncovered again, in part kick-started by growing interest in Christian Gnosticism, which has caused many people to reexamine Western spirituality.
We can be very hard on ourselves, can’t we? It’s as if, sometimes, we’re watching out for any tiny hint of a mistake, and then we pounce on ourselves, getting angry, or frustrated, or ashamed. I suspect it’s because we can be. When people are allowed or encouraged to be cruel, they often will be. There’s some inherent cruelty in all of us (to varying extents) and this is kept in check by social norms. Change the social norms so that cruelty is encouraged, and it soon emerges. Here’s the Buddha tells us of another way. We don’t need to be demons to ourselves or others. We simple need to ask the demons to tea.
I see you Mara, stay for Tea!
“One of my favorite stories of the Buddha shows the power of a wakeful and friendly heart. On the morning of Buddha’s enlightenment Mara, the fearsome demon who symbolizes the shadow-side of human nature, fled in defeat and disarray. In Sanskrit “Mara” means “delusion” – that craving and fear that obscure our enlightened nature.
But it seems that he was only temporarily discouraged. Even after the Buddha had embarked on his teaching career and become a revered figure throughout Indian, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. Instead of driving him away, however, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge the demon’s presence saying, “I see you, Mara.”He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest.
Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea and place them on a low table between them. Mara would stay for awhile and then go, but throughout, the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.
You see, when Mara visits us in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories, we can say, “I see you Mara,” and clearly recognize the craving and fear that persists in each human heart. The objective is to see what is true and to hold what is seen with kindness….
Our habit of being a fair-weather friend to ourselves – of pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we can – is deeply entrenched…. We truly befriend ourselves when, rather than resisting our experience, we open our hearts and willingly invite Mara to tea.”