A Dharma Glimpse by Alison
Recently I came up against a huge obstacle, one of those obstacles where you need to decide whether to run or confront it. The decision, in these situations, will likely depend on a third strand – that of faith and firm resolve. In this case, if choosing to follow faith and firm resolve, running isn’t an option – so fight it out I did. Fighting, in this case, was more about an internal struggle, a dealing with loud, difficult parts of myself, also known as ego states, or our karmic boundedness. This ugly situation made me think of Shan-Dao’s 7th century Chinese Pure Land Buddhist parable, of the river of fire and river of water, as can be seen hanging on the wall at the top of the stairwell, here in the temple. The wall hanging depicts a white path running between two shores from east to west and two rivers either side of it. A traveller is running away from bandits and fierce beasts on the east shore and wanting to make his way to the west shore, but notices that on one side of the path are high flames and on the other high waves. He can’t remain where he is, but he also can’t move further without fear of losing his life. On the east shore Shakyamuni ushers him on towards the west shore, where Amida is standing to welcome him to the Pure Land. My purpose is not to recite the parable, just my own authentic glimpse, but this wall hanging made me reflect on this deeply.
I’ve been reflecting that sometimes, on the spiritual journey, along the White Path, obstacles can be encountered. Choosing to go back, is a tempting choice and would be immediately the easier option, although not the best in the long run. If reaching the other side, the Pure Land or Amida, then focusing on the White Path is important. However, it would seem to be a necessary part of the journey to fight, or confront, the water serpents, the fire dragons or the inner demons along the way. If confronting the demon or serpent, then death might follow, but there might also be the chance to deepen in resolve, in faith, to reach the far banks of the shore safely.
I’ve also been reflecting that obstacles like serpents present themselves as a Great Test – a test of faith and commitment and a test of resilience, integrity and devotion. To face the test is also to ask whether the serpent is what it appears to be – it might seem big at the time of confronting it, but it can also have an illusory nature and only I can be responsible for what I see. I can survey dangers and test the territory. I need to test the boundaries and find out how safe I am. What will the serpent do or not do? How strong is the current? How high are the flames? I also take the risk of failing, confronting the fire or high waves or being eaten up! My immediate need would be to Feel Safe, but strength lies in the ability to deepen Trust and resolve to walk the White Path and survey the whole landscape, the Bigger Picture. If putting too much energy into fighting, or confronting, the sea monster, I only become more sucked into its lair.
Choosing to confront the serpent, the water becomes unstable and rocky, the waves higher, but eventually it will calm down. It was necessary to confront the serpent, as the serpent was a part of the journey and once one challenge has been accomplished, the next won’t seem so bad.
I’ve Tested, I Know, I’ve Learnt.
It is only then that a deeper peace can pervade, when feeling held by the ocean….the ocean that leads back to the White Path. As long as the serpent is seen as the problem, the path becomes lost. The more the focus on the White Path, the easier it will get.
When facing a conflict, I could walk back away from it, or I might be devoured by it, but I need to have that encounter if I am to move on. I can run away when my parts get too much, or I can choose to enter into dialogue with them, so they can be reintegrated into the wholeness. The struggle is a necessary part of the journey. It’s not in the striving – it’s Through the striving that allows sinking into even greater depths of peace.
Namu Amida Butsu
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