BUDDHAHOOD: PERFECT GARDEN OR A FLOWER MEADOW
By TONY WEEDON
Have you ever felt disillusioned with religion? Felt like chucking it in? If you have, then join the club. It has some very distinguished members. Take Shakyamuni Buddha for instance. He chucked it in. Having spent a long time fasting and following other rigorous religious practices along with five ascetics, he decided to give it all up. Then, having washed, shaved and eaten a decent meal, he began to serenely reflect on the whole business. This was the beginning of the process which would finally lead to the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, the foundation of the path known as the Middle Way.
Shakyamuni realised that craving for perfection only brought more suffering. We cannot have perfection without imperfection; they are opposite poles of the one entity. Imagine a carefully planned garden, in which the flowers are planted in precise patterns with correct colour combinations. The gardener does not allow a single weed to grow, pests are poisoned and dead blooms removed. People who come to see it gasp and say: Perfect!
Now imagine how the wildflowers grow. Many species mix and spread themselves in a bewildering variety of patterns. Furry creatures scurry in and out amongst them and birds fly overhead. There are no weeds because every plant has its place, but nothing is either precise or perfect because there is a continuous growing, eating and dying, and there is no tidiness. And yet, in this very untidiness and imperfection is to be found a kind of perfection not possible in the artificial garden. Could this perfection in imperfection be described as harmony? Maybe, but we need to realise that harmony is just a word, albeit a useful one as long as we allow it to guide us through the Gateless Gate to where certainty dwells in uncertainty and uncertainty in certainty.
Sometimes we get disheartened because, despite the fact that our meditation is going well and we feel better after it, things keep going wrong in our daily lives, both at home and at work. We make mistakes, get tired, become irritable, lose our cool, have to endure both fools and unfair criticism and may even have to sack someone. So we say to ourselves: What`s the use? I might as well not bother.
On the other hand, it sometimes happens that, when we have been missing meditation, everything seems to be going well. We may get promoted at work or enjoy a family holiday. So we convince ourselves that meditation is a waste of time.
The upshot of all this is that we stop meditating when things seem to be imperfect and can`t see the point of doing it when they seem perfect. We think of ourselves as flowers struggling for perfection in a perfectly laid out garden when, in reality, we are plants growing in a wildflower meadow.
The Buddha once said that the judgement between right and wrong is like the serpentine dance of a dragon. Often it is difficult to distinguish the difference between good and bad karma. What seems good in a given situation may turn out to have bad repercussions and vice-versa. Life is like a web woven out of an infinity of inter-reacting situations. The four ascetics saw it as a problem to be overcome. So Shakyamuni gave up trying to do things their way. He left the artificial garden for the wildflower meadow, the artificial world for the real world, in which both everything and nothing are there to be accepted without seeking to set the one against the other. He saw that Nirvana and Samsara are ONE; that it is possible to find either in the other. As Great Master Dogen put it: When the opposites arise, the Buddha Mind is lost. Such is the eternal message of the ONE in the ALL and the ALL in the ONE. Meditation is about knowing the Lord of the House, the Unborn, not about overcoming problems with perfection.
When I set out to contact groups with a view to launching this newsletter, I imagined that I would be dealing with perfect Buddhist flowers in a perfect Buddhist garden. The reality was that I became one of those furry creatures scurrying around in a wildflower meadow. All of us soon found we had been caught up in a web woven out of our perfections, imperfections, doubts, certainties, the asking for help and the giving of help, and we began to realise how much we all needed each other.
We are spread thinly; we need each other; and we need a vehicle in which we can record our strivings, our experiences, express our joys and sorrows as we seek to build an ever stronger Lay Sangha better able to support the Order as a whole. This is YOUR newsletter, recording and advertising your events and expressing your experiences of meditating and keeping the Precepts amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.
This is a long editorial because it is the first one introducing NOW & ZEN. For future editions we would like to hear more of what all of you out there have to say and report. Just keep the information coming in and push the editorial into a smaller corner.
from Now And Zen - January 2000