Sunday, September 07, 2008
recognising the sacred
Most people reading this blog were probably, like me, born into a culture that does not have Buddhist roots. Maybe even into a sub-culture or family where religion or the sacred was not given a high priority. Perhaps we went to church, or had some exposure to faith and God, but perhaps it was not inscribed in our being, our daily life. Or perhaps it was, but as we grew old we forgot that which we cherished when young. I would say for me it was a mixture of all of these things, a continuously shifting relationship with the sacred.
Having spent one month in a sacred environment, where every moment is lived within the context of faith and honoring the divine, I am reminded of the contrast with so much of the ordinary world. Retreat with His Holiness is an extraordinary experience, because its as if the angle of the axis has shifted, and perception of the world adjusts, expands. Although common daily activities repeat themselves (sleeping, waking, eating, cleaning, laughing, talking, working), they are no longer the focus or framework of the time and space in which you exist. They are peripheral to the real life of retreat, which is recognising and responding to the sacred which is both within and beyond each and every one of us. Of course, this sacredness is always there - it is who we are - but retreat provides the context and rhythm for allowing recognition to arise.
This year I had the great good fortune to be Co-ordinator of Holiness' Temple. Of course, I flinched and complained as well (it's a big job, and I can be a lazy person), but what an amazing blessing to work with a dedicated team of retreatants to keep the Temple clean, to prepare for teachings and empowerments, to assist in empowerments. The Temple is the foundation of retreat activity, so to care for it is to honour the source of countless blessings.
One of the greatest rewards for me is the chance to work closely with HH monks. Kind, relaxed, humorous, devoted, hard-working, tireless - they are an inspiration to me, and I learn so much from them, directly and in a more subtle way. Observing their posture to His Holiness, the Temple, the Dharma, each other. There is no question, their devotion is seamless. Recognition of the sacred is not something assumed, it is who they are.
This exposure is, for me, a great gift. As I work to learn a new way of being, to incorporate deeply the meaning of the Buddhist path in my daily existence, to uncover that which I truly am, still hidden in layers of habits with no real meaning or value, it is refreshing and expansive to be in a place where there is no doubt, no hesitation. At retreat the sacred is evident and everywhere, the separation diminishes, the wonder and joy erupts and spills into every breath. Certainty and courage fill the cells of the body.
At the top of this post is an image of a Stupa, a sacred Buddhist monument. It is not such a familiar sight in our western world, although they are now scattered in places across the globe. This one is in Sedona, Arizona, and is exquisite. The image of Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, who vowed to help all who prayed to him, looks out across the rugged red rocks.
Like every Stupa, it is filled with sacred items, holy texts and relics of immeasurable value. It was consecrated in a magnificent traditional ceremony, and is a beacon of purity and peace in a world of war and decay. It holds a special place in my heart, as money I inherited from my deceased parents helped contribute to its being built, a great blessing for them. And a diamond and silver brooch my father gave my mother many years ago is attached to the tree of life, which runs through its centre.
This Stupa, as pure and sacred as it is, is in danger. The land on which it sits has an outstanding loan that must urgently be paid off or potentially be lost. Who knows what the outcome of that loss would be, it is unbearable to consider.
So I ask for your help to save that which is sacred, although not in a form we may easily recognise. That is the dilemma we face in our lives, of recognising the breadth and depth of the sacred within or around us. It may take look unfamiliar to us, seem foreign and beyond our understanding. Yet that does not diminish or destroy its inherent qualities of grace, of kindness, of compassion, the qualities of our hearts. If we honour the sacred, we honour ourselves and all beings. We honour a future of peace.
At retreat I was exposed to the certainty of the sacred, and its power. This Stupa is a reflection of that certainty, and is a gift to our world. Please help preserve that which is precious, as unfamiliar as it may seem to us. Although not of the culture in which we were born, it arises from the pure culture of awakened compassion to which - ultimately - we all belong.