- Religion and Philosophy
from Waking Up in America
IF THERE IS WHOLESALE REINCARNATION, I want to come back here. I love the earth. Find me in a large open space, on a wide stretch of beach, in the center of the ocean's circle, on a rocky mesa, or any place where there is naught but patch and sky and where wildness reigns, and my heart expands to fill that space. I have a love affair with this planet.
While I am not always proud of what we human beings have done, I am always proud to call myself an earthling, and to be one of the lucky critters living atop this massive, molten-cored, thickly forested, oceanic cell. It is a grand place, and when I am fortunate enough to be out in wide spaces or wild places, I rarely fail to see Paradise before me. Most days, I see plenty that is paradisaical in my own backyard.
Now what this means to my own practice and to my digestion of the Buddha's dharma is that I have no real concerns about Nirvana, any more than I have about inhabiting a medieval interpretation of Heaven in the clouds. My focus is on the space and the landscape before me. Nirvana here or Nirvana down the road, it makes no nevermind to me.
The next adventure will be the next adventure, whether it turns out to be Profound Silence, some form of spirit recycling, or a higher, lighter sphere of being. My resources only tell me that the scouting reports vary a great deal about what's to come once we finish with our present bodies. So I am content to find out when I find out, and to relish the big surprise. Even Buddha did not speak with finality about an afterlife, either because he too did not know what was to come, or he saw no benefit to his disciples living a more wholesome, productive, generous life on earth by spilling the beans. Personally, I believe it was the first reason, but no matter.
There is a point to this of course, and I think it is an important one. It is about fully occupying and indeed loving the ground one stands upon this moment, or the meditation cushion one sits upon, whether it is in a corner of a messy room or in a monastery in the mountains. It is about appreciating one's home, one's town, one's nation and one's planet. Remain convinced that life will be better only after you move to San Diego or Stockholm, or that existence will be vastly improved the moment after one take's one's last breath, and one not only gambles on the magic longshot, one also misses the countless miracles right under one's nose every blessed day.
So my own heartfelt notion of waking up is not some smooth, friction-free ideal of enlightened life over yonder, but rather waking up to my own life, my own wife and child, my own home, my hometown, to America the beautiful, and to this tremendously breathtaking and breath-giving planet.
To the extent that I remain appreciative and humbly grateful for all I have -- especially this very life and this living moment -- is the extent that I am present and accounted for. This person here has only one shot at living in this bag of skin and going on this particular adventure; he only has one shot at this day; he sees this very sight once and only once, even in his well-studied backyard.
I have been known to voice a complaint or two in my time, but the moment I stop my tongue from flapping, or sit upon the cushion, or take a breath and look carefully about me to view our amazing world, I am more grateful for this life than I can ever put into words. This gratitude rests peaceably in the deepest chambers of the man's being, and it grows with each passing year.
An earthy enlightenment is about relishing that great meal, or that single slice of bread. But it is more than that. It is about getting fresh soil beneath one's fingernails. But it is more than that. It is about having a good run, and fully experiencing the good air filling one's lungs. But it is more than that too. It is about the miracle of life, right here... the forever folding and unfolding enigma... the part cloudy, part clear sky of existence... the in and out of breath and being... This!
An earthy enlightenment is being enlightened by life's grand parade, what the Chinese call the 10,000 Things. We wake up, arise from our slumber and remeet the multitude of phenomena and colorful appearances before us, the spectacular kaleidoscope of life.
An earthy enlightenment is fully appreciating this earth, as noted, but it is all the more about seeing one's self as earth. Our environment is no longer a "natural amusement park" for us to stomp upon like thoughtless children, our environment is who we are. It is more than our proto-parent; its nature is our nature. Its integrity is our own.
There is a sacredness to this place. We walk on holy ground. Everywhere.
City streets and national parks are holy. The Amazon and the Antarctic, equally holy. The dirt path or the highway can be holy. My backyard is holy. Then so is the dog whimpering to go out at 11:45 at night, followed by the babe crying at 2:22 a.m. That too is holy. The fall leaves falling, the blinding snowstorm. Holy, holy. The fire raging in the forest and that long stretch of super green 17th fairway. Both holy. The first cup of coffee in the straining morning light or the four-course dinner at sunset. Holy squared. The island of Manhattan and the island of Kauai. One is thoroughly drenched in holiness, yet the other is too. The derelict sitting in his own urine in a dark alley and my child romping in the flowered field. Both are pitiful, wonderful, searingly poignant, fleeting expressions of holiness.
It's all holy. The whole earth is holy. Thank God.
(c) 2004 and 2012, Ken Taub