Life is mysterious and ever unfolding its bolts of textured fabrics to intrigue and confuse us. Even in my little garden, I could spend epochs exploring and studying all the different leaves and stems, the fluffy fancies at the tops of my grasses, the delightful transformation of blueberry blossoms to hard, green pebbles, and then to lustrous, saturated blue delicacies. With so much material right before me, it seems greedy or ungrateful to hunger for something else, and yet I sometimes do: like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, I recently wanted to literally see Tara, the female Buddha. In the Bhagavad Gita, Kriśna warns Arjuna off, saying it would blow his mind, for real, but we humans often seem to want whatever is deemed taboo.
I’ve been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for 20 years now, reciting my prayers to Red Tara, and “visualizing” her, but never really seeing a female figure, a red lotus or any of the buddhas in her entourage. At times I’ve felt like a fraud or a failure – what am I doing wrong? Is my practice too feeble to generate a deity? Are others seeing her?
Mostly I am at peace, the craving appeased, remembering that the quality of holiness I project on Tara exists all around me and inside me, too. Similar to some Christian teachings, as a Buddhist I try to remember that everyone is Buddha or has Buddha nature. I don’t know if folks in other traditions actually see their beloved gods in human form, and I guess I’m pretty skeptical of those kinds of literal interpretations of spiritual teachings. If you have stories of this wonder, please share them with me!
I am more at home with humble discoveries of folks who consider themselves to be ordinary beholders of life. Mary Oliver’s poetry nearly always puts me at ease, affirming what I feel when I let the natural world into my senses, and re-cognize my membership in that vast community. This poem gave voice to both my yen to see something holy and the reminder that it’s already right here.
Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the tees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some spirit, some small god, who abides there.
If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing continuously.
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming back from wherever I went.
I am so grateful that she finds pausing to be enough. She does atone for being late, with such simple grace that she reminds us of another kind of perfection. I might call this unapologetic reverence, prioritizing her relationship to the lichen over that with ordinary, human life. It reminds me of a Twitter post about animal lovers: “I’m late for work because I was giving my cat a thousand tiny kisses.”.
Holiness is all around us. It’s inside us, too. Consider taking some time today to pause or even bow.
Maybe it will be in your garden or in a park, or maybe you can pause to appreciate some part of your own body.
What about doing some āsana and noticing how good some parts of your body feel,
or even resting on the grass, observing your breath?
Maybe seeing is believing for some, but for today try feeling. Feel for the sacred, small god, the spirit, who abides right here.