This dharma talk was given on October 6, 2019 during an OEB meditation retreat organized by and for our Long Island, NY Sangha.
By: Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei
A tree reflects the magnificence of the universe first of all by being a tree. For in being what it is meant to be by causal forces, it is imitating a reality which it’s very nature is unique to it’s kind, but at the same time that which is not distinct from the essence of it’s unified nature either, and therefore a tree imitates the universe by being a tree.
The more it is like itself, the more it is like everything we can come to know that is universe. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like what universal forces, through Dependent Origination’s effects, meant it to be through space and time at the very moment our senses recognize that it is in our sphere of reference.
But there is something more. No two trees are alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each natural form is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity as it’s form-contours is presented to us. Yet, all trees have a unique tree-nature that link them to the net of existence that all other forms are also connected to. In our sense driven body-mind we process the image of a tree to be separate from who we think we are, and thus we make differences real. And we assign language to reinforce this distinction.
When we do this we are being creators ourselves by causing the thought that any form we come to experience is separate and distinct from all other forms around us. We see the trees but miss the forest. We miss the opportunity to open our mind’s eye to walk the causal-chain of connections that links the individual to the unified view of how the universe really is. In other words, we see individual nature of things but not the universal nature that is beyond our human need to make difference. The principle of interconnectiveness and interdependence of all things can only be experienced when we move beyond the senses we use to process everyday events and sit in awareness perfecting our minds ability to imagine, without the use of language, realities on a universal scale. The challenge, and our meditation and contemplative practice, is to imagine this net of existence from it’s individual elements to the one unified dimension we call “uncreated”.
Yet, each of us is on this planet trying to do the best we can to make our “way in the universe.” It is the very essence of our human natures. What we are challenged to awaken to is that we live out our existence in this time and space as both humans with an innate nature unique to humans, and through our connected and dependent Buddha nature reflecting back to Dependent Origination’s principle event that links all individual realities as one reality. The body of the universe can not be divided into anything other then one shining reality. What our senses encounter is a delusion.
Unlike the animals and the trees, it is not enough for us to be what our base human natures intends. It is not enough for us to be individual persons. Or as Stephen Batchelor says, “Alone with others.” We are blessed with high functioning sentient capabilities. If we are never anything but humans scratching out an individual existence like other animal life forms, we would not be capable of seeing past the shadows on the cave wall that acts as the only reality we can know, as Plato reflects in his famous allegory. But we have a capacity the trees seems to lack – the ability to experience the spiritual and amerce ourselves into the depths of thought beyond language to express. If we only quite our controlled conscious mind-state and sit in the pool of clear awareness. Here is the essence of what it means to be a Buddhist, what it means to be my true self. But with us humans this is difficult. This is because we are free to be what we think we want to be. Causing a headlong run into the realities as expressed in the Second Truth. We are meant to be both human AND uncreated. We came into the world with a false self. We came into existence under a sign of contradictions, being someone that we were never intended to be and therefore a denial of what we are supposed to be. This is one of those Buddhist paradox’s. Or should I say Universal tricks of the senses. We were given senses but not enough sense to realize our senses can deceive us. We do not see the causal-chain that binds us all together on this net of dependence.
We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we have about ourselves. But this is what a Buddhist practice is all about, really. It is why you are here today in a period of extended meditation. This is something that is better done with others and not alone. Yes, the spiritual element and contemplative time is best done in a room alone. But the path to that space is best achieved in meditation with others.
You have all found a path to human flourishing that can result in a deeper awareness of your primary natures other than your self-nature. Individuals that know nothing of this jewel and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires, personal preferences and cravings in self centered appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and the others who have less than they. They can only conceive one way of becoming real. They cut themselves off from others and build a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and others. This is one of the quicker paths to suffering. Without knowing it, the person living in this mind-set is living like in a bad dream. To be honest, there is something of this worm in the inside of all of us. This worm is know by many names. And often is disguised in acts of doing good. Although the intent is anything but good. And this leads to the question, “Doing good for whom?”
To search for our true nature, is to search for our greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of others, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities, and there is no joy in things that do not exist. As soon as you begin to take yourself seriously and imagine that your virtues are important because they are yours, you become the prisoner of your own vanity and even your best works will blind and deceive you.
When you perfect a refined character as represented in the Six Perfections, it delivers you from attachment to your self-nature and you discover the true joy that is only possible when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own life and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to finally perfect our practice full of the energy that is required to achieve wisdom beyond wisdom. This is not to say we can not appreciate the life achievements we have accomplished and the positive effects these may bring into our lives. These are well deserved motivators. After all we must make our way in this world driven as Buddhists by the importance of the Three Pure Precepts, Do no harm, do only good, and do good for others. It is not easy living by vows as we walk the path Buddhist thought and values is teaching us. Following our vocational aspirations and unique ministries can also be a struggle. But through our own efforts and the realization that we never walk a human earthly life as an independent and disconnected self, will brighten our journey and light the path that shines on the realization that we our Universal beings given an opportunity to find the greatest jewel of all, the jewel that we have never been separated from the causal oneness of our Dependent Origination.
The poet Shelly said,
“I am the eye with which the universe knows itself and holds itself Devine.”
From a Judeo Christian perspective we might say, “I am the eye through which God knows Himself and gives of Himself through Devine Grace.”
From a Buddhist perspective we might say, “I am the eye through which my mind encounters the world where my conscientious awareness transforms THAT reality and sees only a universal singularity.”
Master Keizan Zenji said, those who awaken fully to the reality that our vary universal natures are as transparent as clear water, are fierce dragons. I might add that the roar of a dragons life will clear all obstacles. It is my wish that all of you here today, become fierce dragons no matter the color of your scales.
And for that I think we can say Sav Ha.