Saturday, October 04, 2008

DIARY 77 - The Search for a Wish Fulfilling Jewel

David Foster Wallace expressed it well in the extract I published a few weeks ago ( Feature No 11) when he said there was no way of avoiding the act of worship. It's an inbuilt part of a natural human response to reality that we end up worshipping and putting our faith in something, whether it be secular,sensual, scientific or spiritual experiences. In Buddhism the nearest equivalent term for faith is the word sraddha, which at best could be described as - that which we place our heart upon. It's in this sense that the term worship could be helpfully viewed - as an expression of what we emotionally or spiritually most depend on. Worship then is an act of devotion and supplication, emerging out of a feeling of sraddha towards something. At this point we are symbolically making conscious what appears to have already happened unconsciously. We cannot help but offer ourselves completely up - even to our darkest moods of nihilism, or atheist indifference we surrender ourselves. The feeling for sraddha has to be there in some form, as a tangible, latent or unconscious feeling, otherwise the act of worshipping becomes emptied of significance. You cannot retrospectively create a feeling of sraddha via the act of worship, it has to be there in the first place.

Yet sraddha can be is such an amorphous and elusive thing to keep a permanent grasp of. We often look to those visible acts of worship to give shape and form to what our sraddha is placed upon. But you cannot always deduce the cause from looking at the result. We can be so easily mislead by our own imaginative misconceptions of what expressions of faith and devotion are - it can all get too elevated and other worldly in tone. The remarkable thing in David Foster Wallace's speech was how he brought elevated things down to the very ordinary circumstances of modern existence. In this sense sraddha can be seen as an ever present quality as constant as our breath. Like our breath, it isn't always present in our conscious awareness, until it stops, or we bring our attention to it. Sraddha is an incorporeal thread connecting us to the True Nature of Reality, which Buddhism would call Buddha Nature. Any act of worship stimulated by sraddha, connects us to the True Nature of Reality, or as Dogen would say - is an actual manifestation of it. Even actions based on a imaginative misconception, if stimulated by a feeling of sraddha are not wasted. Dogen indicates that every action we take, however mundane or spiritual they are, are, from the perspective of Realising the True Nature of Reality, seen as manifestations of sraddha, of Buddha Nature. All is conjoined as if the rhythm of a heart beat was playing upon a drum..

It might be hard to conceive this in our day-to-day experience. If this assertion from Dogen is true, then our every action becomes an act of sraddha, the work of Buddha Nature. When I get up in the morning, as I wash. make myself breakfast, when I shit, shave or sharpen a pencil, when I cycle to work, get irritated by motorists, am bored at the prospect of work, feel lackluster energy wise, be inspired, joyful or content with my life. What stops us seeing all these things as an expression of the True Nature of Reality? Perhaps its that we imagine something altogether more elevated and other worldly as our ticket to liberation. We experience craving or aversion to experience, and its this resistance that causes our suffering, and the pain of it blinds us to ever seeing daily life as an expression of the True Reality of Buddha Nature. We're wishing our liberation can be found somewhere else, anywhere other than in what we already have. What we have is a problem, not a solution.

We can all appear sometimes to be searching for what Buddhism calls a Wish Fulfilling Jewel. In old fairy stories if wish fulfilling jewels are used purely for worldly pleasure and gain, they seriously backfire upon the owner whose misused them. Everyone who discovers them wants to use the jewels to change reality, to change their external reality to some thing they'd much prefer - healthier, richer, sexier, happier. The true purpose of the jewel is rarely consciously revealed, because in the end its owner realises that what they really want has been right before their eyes all along. True wealth and happiness then naturally flows out from this realisation. In Buddhist parables the Wish Fulfilling Jewel is always hard to find. When it is found, it is hidden in some entirely unexpected place - in a dung heap - or most tellingly, secretly sown into the hem of a robe someone is wearing. They already had it within their possession, but didn't realise it. Once they accepted that it was themselves and not external reality that needed to change, at that point they discover the whereabouts of the Wish Fulfilling Jewel. All of which indicates that our richest experience, the source of true wealth and real liberation, is always to be found much closer to home, often overlooked, and right before our eyes. Sraddha and Buddha Nature seem also to be like this.

I always seem to be wrestling with the fabric of my life. I want either myself, or reality, to change to something I can truly be happy and contented with. The tussles can go on for weeks, months or even years. This week I got the first sense, after seemingly months and months of this sort of internal wrangling, that at least for the time being I'm done with it. I've had enough of giving too much unwise attention to my difficulties, and the finding of a miraculous cure for my ills. Sometimes we worship fruitlessly at the altar of our own suffering for far too long. Living in such a crucible of intense feelings and yet not finding them diminished or transformed, only makes them become more tender and sensitive. I've been wishing for a jewel to transform either me, or my circumstances. I'm coming to appreciate that the life I already have, the one right before my eyes, is going to be a lot more satisfying if I can just let it be.

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