Proper Dharma Seal II

 

From all delusions, karma and demon states,

And all worldly paths, I will be freed.

As the lotus does not touch the water,

As sun and moon do not stop in space.

 

– The Practices and Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Chapter 40, Avatamsaka Sutra

 

We live in an age flooded by an over-abundance of material comforts and drowning in a rip-tide of deviant knowledge and views. Media in all forms, especially TV and the news, push for quick highs and “instant” experiences. Success stories in this country are a dime a dozen. Money, power and fame can be ours, we’re told, if we know how to play the game. The only rule is to play hard, fast and ruthlessly; and “don’t give the other guy an inch.” This type of all-pervasive ethic, emerging over the last few decades, has unleashed our collective desire so that like a raging blaze it scorches all of our senses and inflames our every single pore with greed. Our vital essences are milked dry, our spirit singed and withered. In our frantic pursuit for sensual and intellectual pleasures, many of us burn ourselves out and die early deaths, and yet still think it’s glorious to “go out with a big bang.”

We in the West now are giddy in a euphoric regimen of the search for youth at all costs. Utopia, the health specialists and beauticians promise us, is but just around the corner. We find it convenient to push old people into rest homes and let them languish and die forlorn, quietly forgotten. Together we conspire in the great lie of the immortality of the “stinking skin-bag,” our rotting, impermanent human bodies. The quest for youth has evolved into a multi-million dollar, trans-world business operation, backed up by a formidable regalia of television commercials, media boosts and billboard ads, and the cream-of-the-crop Manhattan art of subliminal seduction.

Consumer programming and brain-washing have blown our sense of the “self” totally out of proportion; as a result, we unwittingly try to perpetuate its survival at all costs. We spend limitless hours and dollars doting on and pampering our bodies to make them feel comfortable and attractive-looking. We feed them the best of vitamins and pep pills, we exercise them in deluxe health spas and gyms, we sun-tan them, perfume them, and spend thousands of dollars to give them face-lifts. All such endeavors are examples of self-seeking, an extreme form of negativity and narcissism which results, eventually, in dehumanization. Selfishness and defilement are at an all-time high. By denying our interconnectedness with all things, we take the lives of other creatures to bolster our own energy without the slightest concern or sense of guilt. Our senses are so jaded that we sit mesmerized in our living rooms by our TV sets waiting for the next “high” to lift us out of our spiritual doldrums.

There is probably no other nation on earth that is as rich, and yet as impoverished. Stuffed to overflowing with a stream of refined foods, sugar, coffee, meat, pre-mixed instant protein diets, alcohol and drugs, our very guts writhe in the contortions of hunger. Haunted by the shadow of the injustices and damage we have left in the wake of our reckless exploitation of world resources, our brains are smothered by a dark blanket of doubt, guilt and loneliness. We are starving our true minds to death.

Our burned-out bodies and psyches seek relief from ignorance’s blaze. Our dried-up life batteries long to be recharged with the light and spark of the truth. Deep down inside, our wounded internal organs crave the cooling balm of Dharma. And it is there. The Buddha Dharma is the cooling salve, a magical cure-all herb that dispels our heated afflictions and rescues casualty cases from our combat with the red dust.

The study and practice of Buddhism are a quest for purity, but not the false purity that advertisers would have us believe comes from disinfectants and high-powered detergents. No, this is the original purity that is our basic make-up, the source of all wholesome and life-giving energies in the universe.

In the Buddha Dharma, there is a host of uncountably many pure, happy, fulfilled beings, the Bodhisattvas and the worthy Sages, who are the most healthy and selfless beings in the universe. Many of them are depicted as pure youths or maidens, but it is not that they are young in age, for the Bodhisattvas are as old as time itself. Yet it is this very quality of merging with timelessness that keeps their minds and nature as supple as newborn babes; thus they are eternally youthful. They have grasped the wonderful, secret formula of “stopping desire, plugging up the sense gates, and not flowing out with the current of birth and death.” They have long since cast out their egos; they cherish few desires and know deep, genuine contentment in the Dharma. Some call it “embracing an uncarved block,” returning to a state of primal innocence that is like the first whiff of sweet air that blows over a virgin forest. These Bodhisattvas and Sages have reversed the mundane flow and entered the Tao, the sagely, eternal path of oneness with the universe. An ancient Sage put it this way:

 

The masses are happy and excited, enjoying their feasts,

Or mounting a terrace to celebrate the spring festival.

I alone am quiet, without showing any signs of activity,

Like a young babe that hasn’t learned to smile.

Listless, as though without a place to return to.

Others have a surplus,

I alone am in want.

My mind is like that of a fool – how blank!

The multitudes seem so clear and sharp,

I alone am turbid and confused.

The masses are clear and sharp;

I alone am stupid and dull.

 

Those of us who have been living in the fast lane have something to learn from these Sages who guard their light and reverse the illumination. We can start from the beginning, learn to advance one step at a time, and allow our revved up engines to cool down to a human pace again. We can conserve our life-forces and not let them spill out so that we are robbed blind of our family treasures.

Then we can hope to retrieve our human dignity and also resolve, however painfully, to change our defiled habits of the past, seek to return to our innate purity, and be like the white lotus that emerges unsullied from the mud.

 

Flower Adornment (Avatamsaka) Sutra