Shusho Itto

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and thought it would be a good idea to begin by re-introducing myself.

Two years ago, transitioning back to the United States from India, the town I grew up in provided gentlest path home I could have dreamed. Nourishing my being and cultivating my voice in a different way, writing took a back seat to developing as a Yoga teacher. Six months ago, transition complete, the doors of the Yoga studio closed and I moved into residency at a Zen monastery further downstate.

For those who know me, this shift in direction poses very little in terms of shock value. However, the decision has brought with it a mixture of sincere curiosity and skeptical speculation, depending on who’s doing the inquiring. On either side the question is the same.

What are you doing?

In order to understand what one would be doing at a Buddhist monastery, first requires an understanding as to why. To better explain, allow me to introduce Japanese Zen Master, Dōgen. Among his many gifts, 13th century Buddhist monk, Master Dōgen left us with the phrase, shūshō ittō (修証一等). It’s an expression that translates as: all that we are to become, we already are.

Far from implying a pre-ordained destiny, this also differs from the mere possession of a seed or trait that we are attempting to cultivate. This idea instead indicates full possession of our pure, natural essence, in all its brilliance. The challenge of the human experience however, is that we often lose sight of this radiance because of all the important stuff that commands our immediate attention. 

This is both the why and what of spiritual practice and is true regardless of what century we live in. It’s at the core of the dissatisfaction the Buddha himself realized and is just as applicable, if not more so, today. Simply moving within the fullness of the present moment with nothing to be added or removed, is the practice. Over twenty-five hundred years, and it hasn’t changed.

As I’ve stated elsewhere in this body of work, the realization of this path is referred to as many things and although the practices vary within each tradition, at its heart, it’s none other than complete awareness. Although my understanding has changed throughout the years, the term that has resonated deepest for me is, enlightenment. The practice is simple and it doesn’t require monasteries, India, a Buddha or yoga mat and is not a lofty objective reserved solely for the pious.

What it does require is a human body, a human mind and a question. It also calls for faith; faith that there is an answer to this question — the question of life and death. Some are born with this faith. For others, myself included, trust must be developed. Like much of this path, this leads to a paradox: at least a little faith is required to begin practicing, but it is the practice itself that is paramount in developing faith. Fortunately, bridging this gap doesn’t require a blind leap. It’s simply good sense; where else would we find the answers to life’s questions, but within?   

This unfolding of wisdom is what arises as we place one foot in front of the other, simultaneously taking a step and arriving, further deepening our faith and understanding. It’s a road with no end and as one may imagine, it often requires a touch of patience and one hell of a sense of humor.

Joining other year-long residents as well as a group of monastics, there are about twenty-five of us living full-time at the monastery. The numbers fluctuate as monthly residents come to immerse themselves in the experience and with weekend and week-long retreatants that are here for support, guidance or a bit of head space. Swelling close to one hundred is where current capacities max out, usually during the six-day meditation, sesshins. This doesn’t include the hundred or so day guests that come for the Sunday morning service and lunch which is open to the public.

And so we practice. Since my arrival, there is no getting away from the fact that this is no longer a game of me; it is indeed a game of we. We work together —  a lot , we eat together, we meditate together and we offer thanks together. As one body we move, with as much awareness as we are individually and collectively able to offer at any given moment. 

Authenticity however, comes at a price and the only way to plumb greater depths of compassion, equanimity, patience and joy is through penetrating the layers covering it up. These layers are possible to observe as they arise when we are practicing awareness. They show up as anger, jealousy and greed. As we practice compassion with ourselves in working with these emotions, we develop compassion. As we practice equanimity when working with others, we develop equanimity. Patience arises from practicing patience. And joy arises when these hindrances begin fading away.

Supported by clear reminders, we are holding this space not only for each other, but for every individual who comes through the door. The lessons run deep and everyone is a teacher. With every breath and in every moment, surrounded by all that which has been placed along our way. It is because of these circumstances, not despite them, that we are moving together on this path of enlightenment.

It doesn’t require chanting, although we do. It doesn’t necessitate the burning of incense, although there is. Getting to the bottom of who we are does however, require awareness – awareness of body, awareness of breath, awareness of being. When the mind wanders, bringing it back to the present moment. When the mind wanders again, bringing it back. This is the practice.

It can be awkward, clumsy and ridiculously frustrating as the obstructions to clarity are intimately personal and involve lifetimes of habit patterns, repeated. Understanding that another person’s suffering is our own suffering, in the most literal sense imaginable, and amidst this cloud, developing the softness to be with all of it. Inviting others to show up exactly as they are.

We are not impure and the path is not leading anywhere. All we need to do is open our eyes and choose to see. And when we forget, making that choice again. And again.

Each time we do this, practicing that which we already are. Shūshō ittō

This is what I am doing here. For the first time in my practice, I’m doing it surrounded by the support of others doing the same thing. And for this, I am grateful beyond words.

 

~ by Christine Fowle (Mt. Tremper, NY)

Peace, Love & Om

 If the mind is pure in nature, does it not follow that, as is the mind, as are we? After all, what are we, if not the mind?

Indeed. Yogis, philosophers, scientists and scholars have, for centuries, been investigating the implications of this epic question — Who am I?

There are countless ideas surrounding this enigma. In almost all Eastern philosophical circles however, the answers point back to the mind, and therefore back at us. Ah, but this wasn’t established — what are we, if not the mind? This is the question.

The keys unlocking these answers reside inside us and we alone are capable of unhinging these unmarked doors. However, the societal relevance placed on such endeavors often takes a back seat to more lucrative pursuits, with our sense of self-worth often a direct correlation. But once this gateway is opened, even just a crack, something magical happens...

Invitations to discover inner harmony are not messages designed for an elite few. The increasingly fast pace at which the world is moving is impacting all of us, converting our mental and physical balance into little more than pleasant buzzwords for many. Learning to direct our attention, whether in pursuit of philosophical insight, business rationale or personal wellness, is likely the only thing that will save us — from ourselves.

Committing to be mindful prompts us to look at both the physical and non-physical aspects of our behaviors (i.e. thoughts and feelings). Using these observations to develop an alert sense of reality, with this silent eye, we become both observer and the observed, grounding our focus and centering our balance.

Patanjali, in his brilliantly expounded Yoga Sutra’s, explains enlightenment as the ceasing of the mental modifications. This includes understanding the colored lens, or veil, which is obscuring our perception of what is real. Immersed in this giant cosmic soup, our societal, educational, cultural and familial past provides each of us with a uniquely singular view of the world. It’s this view that often spurns the judgment that results in emotional fluctuations. As peace, acceptance and freedom are developed, these reelings of a wily mind are gradually released.

This is important. These modifications are often mistaken as the barriers to mindfulness and therefore considered objects of elimination. If instead, thoughts, feelings and emotions are engaged as the objects of mindfulness, this deepening awareness of self provides the method of expanding our personal introspection.

Cultivating this objective awareness is the art and science of Yoga.

Not only do we have the ability to connect with ourselves beyond what we currently comprehend, we also have the ability to live the life of our dreams. But in order to do this we’ve got to agree to do the heavy lifting.

Signing over a check for the goodies is not an option and Patanjali, Jesus and the Buddha cannot accomplish the work for us. Symbols and guides for what is possible, these individuals are pointing at the moon and although I may get in trouble in the afore mentioned circles for this, these men are also dead. If you want to taste the moon you have to reach out and take a bite.

These spiritual icons have said their peace and are not going to bestow a single, additional thread of brilliance. We can read their wisdom in sutras, scriptures, psalms and quotations; their words will never change. Our perception is the only thing that we are capable of changing. This means learning to understand your veil.

Getting to know our veil is something like adjusting the eyes to see an image within a 3D picture. We’re not attempting to remove our colorful background, but relax our vision to more readily observe what’s right in front of us — thus gradually perceiving through a lens of increasing clarity.

Self-mastery begins with intention and life provides a beeeeaauuutiful opportunity to experience the fullest expression of our emotions. Carefully watching feelings, actions and thoughts, our role is simply to notice without judging.

No one can claim responsibility for understanding who you are and no one individual’s word for reality is sacred. Saints, prophets, seekers and finders — each of us must walk the path for ourselves. The questions and illusions of who we are and who we are not were never designed to be answered for us.

Highly realized Yogis of the past, carried with them, a message. Richly hued strings of clues, instructions and wisdom, spread before us, woven into the vibrant tapestry upon which we now sit. The answers are discovered, not by looking down, but within — for it is you who possesses the whole of the moon.

May this blessed life be filled with peace, love & Om.

~ Christine ~ Varanasi, December 2014

I am You

It’s time to break from the program and get a little personal; it’s been a while since my skeletons were brought out for a dance. For those unfamiliar with the steps, it may be assumed that seeking OM has been the obvious direction since the beginning of my world. However, as it can be undeniably attested to, up until seven years ago I was running an undeviating path towards far more conventional pursuits.

Until this time, both the freedom of expression through the written word and any spiritual inklings were both buried deep. It was the simultaneous igniting of this dormant union that fused an insatiable desire to drum out the beats of this quest to the tune of life’s great enigmas. Scrappy and disjointed, this fire emerged, seemingly on cue, from the grit beneath the city streets of Paris.

It was 2006 and I’d stepped into a fairytale designed by Salvadore Dali.

From the moment the airplane touched ground, every cell in my body vibrated in anticipation. An irresistible job opportunity and subsequent relocation, it was a decision that would radically alter the trajectory of my life. Never having written anything personal before, ideas, instantly morphing into shapes, started composing what would later form a memoir.

However, enchantment had its limits and as soon was to be discovered, so did I. As the façade dropped, both the job and city, began taking relentless whacks at my psyche. Darkness covered light and with repeated with waves of intensity, each surge thrust me deeper into the mire until suffocating, I was dragged toward the answers.

I began to meditate. From where the idea first originated will forever remain a mystery, but it was in this space that I was led to Buddhism and Yoga — and the air to breathe.

As the shadows began to dissipate, the determination to express myself grew more urgent. Direction unknown, the only certainty held was that I had something to say. The need to release the words finally overwhelmed my desire for safety and security; against the advice of many, I ended my career to explore what this meant. However, months flew past and still, I had not yet discovered my voice.

078-Nanaki___Mirror_Image_by_SchizoCheese-196x150.jpg

In the search for my voice, the continuum of past and present exposed a gallery of raw imagery, fusing a fading history with recent impressions. Separated from the chain, these individual links revealed the pieces of a long-obscured puzzle. Values, ethics and beliefs were challenged, dissected and smacked against the wall. Penetrating layers of emotion, the desire for validation and inhibiting judgment were slowly scraped away until all that was left was a naked reflection. It was in this moment I realized precisely what Paris had lured me there to discover; I wasn’t proud of the woman I’d become.

So, I sat on the floor of my little Parisian flat and I cried. Not because I was upset or even sad. The overwhelming sea of tears was because I was so profoundly grateful. I’d finally figured it out. I could stop pretending — pretending that I was a sum of all the things I’d surrounded myself with. For in fact, I was none of these. But buried far beneath this truth, I discovered something even more precious; it was my voice.

The reason I've shared this is actually quite simple; it's because I am you. At odds within my own self, my search for OM began long before Paris and quite possibly, long before I was born. It’s only been in the last several years that gradually, the process of change has taken root and flourished. It’s not been easy but the value has proved immeasurable.

Know you are not alone. The desire for fulfillment isn’t spiritual. It’s human. In the words of the time-honored, Loving Kindness Meditation: May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.

May you find peace on this glorious path towards your OM.

~ by Christine Fowle

~ Mirror Image by Schizo Cheese

The Un-Acquisitional Quest

How many of us feel fulfilled?

Of your own accord, with no external attachments to muddle the equation: Do you feel complete? If your job were gone tomorrow, would you feel the same? What about your house and car? Now remove your family and friends. If the answer was yes to the first question and any of the subsequent queries triggered inklings of uncertainty or angst, the first question may warrant revisiting.

As we move from childhood through adulthood many of the habits we pick up over the years travel with us. This includes relying on external sources as the foundation for our happiness. Throughout the earliest developmental stages, our parents shower our world with love and affection, both creating and nurturing a desire for attention. As we mature, the nature of this game doesn’t change; the objects shaping our self-worth merely shift. The attention we crave in our youth transposes from “Mommy look at me…” to accolades, promotions, material acquisitions and Likes.

True fulfillment is possible. However, there isn’t anyone or any thing on this planet that can provide what it is we need to sustain it. Innately this is a collectively understood concept, but even so, our cravings for immediate satiation continue to overwhelm us, with contemporary commodities often serving as our go-to fix. Instant gratification and cycles of goal setting and achievement recreate momentary highs, only to discover we still want more.

We’re not alone.

As the mainstream profit machine for obvious reasons, doesn’t promote authentic methods of self-fulfillment, we’ve ample encouragement to take the acquisitional plunge over and over again. Washing over us in waves of temporary rapture, the enticing colors, tastes and textures we’re so frequently seduced by, only perpetuate these alluring cyclical diversions. Instead of reducing the complications in our lives, these tempting whispers mouthed from irresistible new bling, assure that happiness’ just-out-of-reach status will be secured indefinitely.

We all have a future and what that future brings is uncertain except we will all age and we all will die. Money, fame, power and prestige do not change this. Each of us wants happiness. We all wish to feel whole. But it isn’t until we tire of looking in all the wrong places, that we’re ready to begin an earnest search in the one place we haven’t tried.

Within each of us resides the keys to connect with our higher wisdom; satisfaction and contentment are merely byproducts of this quest. If we desire physical fitness we take up a workout regimen. Uncovering a deeper connection within ourselves requires a routine of a different sort.

The purpose of a routine is not to develop knowledge. This only amalgamates information within our existing belief systems. Establishing a practice is the spinning of the wheel removing these layers of conditioning that separate us from our natural insight. In other words, moving closer to the core of our being is not about learning who we are, it instead involves slowly stripping away who we are not.

We’ve spent our lifetimes accumulating layers of labels, judgment and habits, spreading a colored film over everything we view, separating us from our environment, each other and humanity as a whole. Personal perspective, based on a past that is no longer, leaves impressions in our minds, which we presume are valid due to the seemingly vivid nature of their appearance.

It isn’t real.

The ultimately intangible nature of our beliefs is also true of the perceptions we maintain of ourselves. Throughout the course of our lives we’ve adopted certain ideas of who we are, the things we like and what we stand for. But in any given circumstance these can, and do, change. What we’ve crafted as an image of ourselves is in reality, just that, a picture — no more real than a dream.

In order to reach a place where we may begin realizing this, it must be realized, in the truest sense of the word. This does not come from reading about it; it is derived from experience. Just as a new haircut doesn’t mean we’ve altered our way of thinking, neither does reading (or sharing) the acute understanding of others mean we’ve integrated these words into the center of our consciousness.

Recognition of the thought patterns comprising the view-world we’ve cultivated does not take place on the surface. Taking on the role of both observer and the observed, it is through increased momentary awareness that our habituated tendencies slowly become apparent. Personal practice is the bridge escorting us into this realm of lucidity.

Development of a practice is a very personal endeavor. It entails a desire for true fulfillment and the strength to open our eyes. It involves the courage to look upon aspects of ourselves we may not love with compassion and acceptance. It requires understanding that self-transformation is a life-long quest without a tangible beginning or end. It means giving up the safety and security of the habits that bind us, for the balance and peace that will set us free.

~ by Christine Fowle

Ball and Chain

What if there were no clocks? Not in your car, on the walls, computer or phone. There are no watches or timepieces either. Only skyward approximations illuminating from the universe’s originating source; the faithful rising and setting of the sun.

While we’re at it, let’s also remove calendars. Birthdays, holiday celebrations and election years are no longer. We’ve merely the rotation of the planet and seasonal metamorphosis of climate and foliage reminding us of the fragile impermanence of all that is.

Work still exists and life still goes on, albeit at a more leisurely pace and gracious, forgiving speed. There are still 24 hours in a day and 52 weeks in a year. However, without the conventional tools to tell us so, this tasty morsel of conversational minutiae is reduced to party faire.

What exactly is time?

Ultimately speaking, it is a concept. Much like a country’s borders, it was contrived by man to provide mutually held beliefs by which we may organize our lives. Certainly, there's usefulness in this design. However, as a planetary population, it seems we’ve taken this tool of convenience and premeditated our world around it, losing sight of the fact that at its core, time is an intangible illusion.

Janis Joplin, at the end of this live performance of Ball & Chain, imparts to us, a gift of insightful commentary. It’s an impassioned plea to begin living a life of love and compassion today because, “…it’s all the same fucking day, man.

She plucks an intriguing cord.

By removing the rigidity of calculation, the x number of years we’ve each spent roaming the planet, have been nothing but a single continuum, broken up by fitful nights of sleep. Without fretting over age related accomplishments, milestones, aspirations or projections, we awaken to each new day and what has changed? Everything? Nothing?

The imagery of the past does not truly exist. Neither do our fantasies of the future. These two insoluble states of our existence are poised in constant culmination at the present moment (see fig. 1a). These guideposts have however, instead of providing direction, been mistaken for our destination.

Missing the signs due to our focus on the past and future, something has been lost. Don’t you feel it? In the pursuit of chasing of our dreams, what many of us have traded, in addition to our present, is our ability to give freely. Pragmatic generosity and compassion, on a global scale, are missing on levels that rise above quotes passed through social media.

The late mystic, Osho, is of the belief that compassion cannot be forced; that it may be derived only through the process of mental purification. Because of this, we’ve only a superficial grasp of what it means to love.

This is far too bleak for those of us taking baby steps toward our altruistic ideals. As prosaic as the social trend of quoting sagely wisdom may appear, at least it demonstrates hope. And even the largest of blazing infernos begins with a single spark.

But hope is not a strategy.

If we are the hero in this epic novel of Life, what's the plot? To pay off the mortgage? Take a nice holiday? If the predictability of security replaces our need for raw spontaneity we risk losing interest in our own story. And if absorption within our own pursuits misplaces our ability to freely care about others, we’ve lost something even more valuable.

Hope may not be a strategy but if it sparks desire and this desire ignites action, this is a formula for change. Humanity as a whole is in dire need. We’re losing our ability to see past our own desires and into the lives of the millions that suffer, truly suffer, on a daily basis.

I happen to be of the belief that Osho is misguided in his assertion. It isn’t purity that begets generosity and compassion; it is repeated acts of compassion and generosity that contribute to mental purity. Ultimately though, it is Janis that truly has it figured out:

…if you gotta care for one day…that one day man, better be your life…because that’s all you got. If you got a today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. Cause you don’t need it… Tomorrow never happens.

The only mastery we will ever truly gain over the passage of time is in continually re-discovering the present moment. This seemingly long stretch of days, nights and seasonal transformation, simply provides a vivid stage upon which our temporal existence is acted out. It is not the dawning of each new day, but along every point of life’s continuum that presents an opportunity to choose. An infinite string of tomorrows, only ever arriving in concept, will always remain one day too late to make a difference.

How will the next chapter of your story read?

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

~ by Christine Fowle, Pokhara 2014

Have we met?

Maneuvering baggage from one country to the next, I can’t help but take notice of the subtle and at times, pervasive, differences found within each culture. One such difference is the role religion plays in daily life and how behaviors are reflected within these beliefs.

As cultures, we generally believe something. The foundation on which our values stand is shaped by these ideals, developed by the generations that have come before us. And although it may appear that the influence of religion is waning around the globe, it’s from these roots that the nature of our modern-day convictions have grown. This includes our ideas about life and death and the interplay of the time we spend in between.

Religious doctrine not only includes thoughts about how our actions affect our time here now (karma) but also whether or not we continue on in a physical form after we die (rebirth). These implications influence our opinions, judgments and behavior and it’s between these lines that the moral codes of societies have been written. But what if our views are askew?

The experience and understanding of our thoughts and actions are the parameters that create the world around us and are highly individual. How this information is taught and received however, is largely cultural. Public opinion can be swayed just as powerfully by a lack of information as it can be from its availability and in the West, the value placed on the tangibility of what we encounter inclines the mind to remain closed instead of open.

Death is a fate that no one escapes, and although the matter of what happens after death affects everyone, very few questions are asked. Perhaps it’s that lack of tangibility: with the inability to recall a time before, it’s difficult to conceive of a time after. But just because it can’t be seen, does this mean it doesn’t exist?

Each of the major religions present a position on our experience after death. Using this as a door, we can open a dialogue on rebirth to more closely examine our own beliefs. With Christians comprising 33% of the worldwide population and Muslims following at 23%, this places those who believe we will not revisit the earthly realm at about 56%. With Buddhists and Hindus representing 7% and 14% respectively, this 21%, although the minority, still equates to 1.5 Billion of the world population who believes we do return in some form. (The remainder account for Unaffiliated or Other.).

Viewing rebirth through a religious lens is not meant to distinguish who is right and who is wrong. It’s a course to turn the light inward and perceive our beliefs from a different vantage point. It’s easy to consider ourselves openminded. It can be slightly more difficult to objectively examine our long-held beliefs when they are challenged.  

The truth that we will all die one day is indisputable and whether or not we will experience rebirth in some form is not up to us. The laws of Universe are not concerned with our views, no matter how steadfast. Would it however, change our behavior to know that every thought, word and action reverberates far beyond the limiting scope of death?

Think about it, in this supra-organized Universe, doesn’t it appear slightly imbalanced that God, Allah, Brahma, Cosmic Consciousness, etc., would lavish one individual so generously with wealth and privilege on one side of the globe while his brother, on the other side, is born into struggle, need and starvation?

Would behaviors change, if due to over-indulgence in this lifetime we knew we’d be returning as a Haitian woman in the next, fighting poverty to keep our family alive? What if we were to come back as a Korean street dog due to mistreatment of animals or as paybacks for a role as an abuser bought us a one-way ticket on the receiving end? What if, as part of the rules, we return time and time again to learn Universal lessons until we manage to get them right?

What if this isn’t it at all. What if beyond life as we know it there lies a way of being that our human mind is incapable of wrapping itself around? What if it isn’t something to fear or to know. Actions have consequences and the choices we make and sometimes more importantly, don’t make, predicate the creation of our world. What happens after we leave this body isn’t nearly as important than the choices we make while we’re in it.

Choose wisely.

 

Searching For OM

Why on earth this endeavor? The odds of winning the lottery are greater than the percentage of those who've attained Supreme Consciousness. It's not mainstream and a vastly foreign concept to the Christian based beliefs we're naturally exposed to in the West.

It didn't begin this way. Meditation became an option only because of exhausting every conceivable method of securing and sustaining true happiness. Because of closing my eyes on that fateful day, and because I continued to do so, the content of my thoughts was unavoidable. Although I chose to listen, truly, I didn't wish to hear.

The truth wasn't so much harsh as it was upsetting. The person I'd become, this woman who thought she was caring and giving, insightful and non-judgmental, in reality, wasn't. The thoughts running throughout my head were in direct contrast, primarily self-serving and opinionated. There was very little compassion to be found.

It's not that I was a horrible person. I took care of those in my immediate circle, rarely lied and took responsibility for my actions. But at the core of my humanity I truly cared for only one, me. I'm not looking for sympathy and our cultural conditioning certainly supports such behavior. This doesn't make it right.

When through continued meditation I came to the realization that this process, in it of itself, was a form of de-conditioning, the results encouraged moving forward.

The notion of Nirvana was just that, a notion. I no more thought of it as truly possible than spreading my wings and flying around the moon. Nor did I understand it. The idea of a permanent condition called bliss sounded groovy. I didn't look at it as finding God, transcending mind & matter, developing Pristine Awareness, Liberation — whatever you wish to call it.

A turning point in my understanding occurred when I came to realize what Buddhism refers to as suffering; the basis of our unsettled, unsatisfied, minds. Before I knew what to call it, I experienced it, profoundly. The depiction of suffering as the ceaseless internal commentary regarding how things should be and could be in an illusory world outside of here and now, consuming our thoughts and present moments, is apt.

Something else I understood was that meditation was changing this and bringing me into the present. But I fell into it backward, practicing the cure before diagnosing the affliction. This, however, was pivotal. Had I not already experienced myself, through practice, what The Buddha prescribed to liberate oneself, it is likely that it never would have happened. Suffering would have appeared as a melodramatic term and meditation would have looked like not a lot of fun.

It takes effort, and at times — it's not a lot of fun. I've fallen off the truth-wagon more times than I care to admit and even profound shifts in perspective have not always been strong enough to combat the powerful pull of denial. The life-choice I've made is not a popular one and faith has been very slow to build. But once the Truth is glimpsed it is very hard to ignore. It calls you back with reminders that all that glitters is not gold and reality & illusion are two sides of the same coin.

Searching for OM was not about finding myself; it was about creating myself. The merging of the spiritual being I felt myself becoming with a livelihood that supported it. It was also not about Enlightenment — until it was.

A line was crossed. And it suddenly became profoundly clear. Liberation is possible.

In the last post, What if?eluded to the tremendous power that lies latent within each one of us. This isn't referring to the intellectualized notion in the mundane sense. I am talking about earth-shaking, mountain-moving, power.

But this is the problem. It's only talk. Glimpses of the other shore, no matter how profound, do not qualify one as having reached the other side and the ocean has not yet been completely traversed.

And it is on this note that I thank you for reading. It is necessary for me to drop off the planet for a little while to continue working on what I came here to accomplish.

Love & OM-

Christine

What if?

What if we each hold the secrets of the universe? Both the lock and the key to wisdom beyond our wildest dreams.

What if the music we listen to, poetry we read & art we gaze at are all pointing to it?

What if all we have to do is open our eyes?

What if all limitation were self-imposed?

What if we are powerful beyond measure?

What if?

When was the last time you felt this way? When you were a child, playing super-hero? A time before you were told what was possible and more importantly, impossible?

What if the rules we've been handed are for the wrong game?

What if the right game is a lot more fun?

What if the right game pushes you to meet your full potential and challenges your intellect in ways you've never deemed possible?

What if the right game levels the playing field?

I beg you to ask yourself: What's the point?

In a supra-organized universe, can the very purpose of our existence really be an afterthought?

Can it really be about grabbing as much as we can before we die?

Really?

What if all we need to do is open our eyes?

What if?

Is it really so absurd to believe?

What if there were no risk to finding out?

Buddha Steps

Oppressive. It’s the single word the guidebook chose to describe Bodh Gaya’s heat in June.  A more apt selection need not be desired. It is here the Buddha finally attained enlightenment.

The cycle rickshaw stops at the Mahabodhi temple entrance. I pay the driver, step down and begin my walk between two long, colorful rows of vendors setting up for the day. Sandwiching the walkway, seemingly random displays of fashion and religion are piled upon blankets and tables.

“Which country?”

The question is posed by a twenty-something year old Indian man that began walking alongside me some time ago; I chose to ignore him. “Where are you from?” I respond in kind.

His expression turns quizzical. “Bodh Gaya,” he says. “You?”

I tell him.

It has been one year since I’ve last danced with Mother India and I’m a bit rusty. The navigation of her people are the single most important steps to master; it is here much of my attention will be spent. The young man next to me has posed a question I will hear hundreds of times over in the next three months. It can be grossly repetitive.

I stop, place my sandals on a rack and continue toward the temple. The man appears again next to me on the red carpet leading in; he wears an orange mark on his forehead; it’s indicative of having received a Hindu blessing.

“How old is the temple?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he responds. ”Old.”

If he is a temple guide there are some key facts that require memorization. This is one of them. After paying tribute to the statue inside it is back outside and underneath the hot sun. After a brief look forward I instead follow the man, who’s waited for me, to the path on the right. In answer to a question about faith he responds indicating a belief in one God although raised Hindu. I respond in kind with a Catholic upbringing.

We pass through a small handful of people milling about and within two steps I am engulfed by the shadow braches of a massive Bodhi tree. It’s said to be an offshoot of the original under which Buddha’s enlightenment was attained. It is very alive and very big.

Six years Guatama Buddha’s energy mingled with the essence of this tree. But achieving liberation is not the reason he is venerated. The Buddha is revered because he dissected the truth so that man may attain liberation for himself.

We approach a wall and Karsen, this is his name, turns and points out a relief and explains the depiction of Buddha’s journey. “Twenty rupees for a photo.” Two boys shout as we walk by. It’s an occasional occurrence, temples charging for photos. If this is the case a pass is typically purchased for a nominal charge; fifteen-year-old boys are not generally sent on missions to scour the crowds for flashbulbs.

Karsen waves a hand at them. “I hate that.”

Also worth noting, in the city of Bodh Gaya, is an 80-foot Buddha statue. With no plans but to play tourist and Karsen appearing harmless enough I accept his invitation to play the role of guide.

As one would assume, an 80-foot tall Buddha is friggin’ huge.

“Those are his friends,” Karsen says, pointing toward the sky at the carved monks lined up along the perimeter, hovering conspicuously. Their hands closed tight in prayer.

“It’s good to be friends of the Buddha.” I look back at the smooth stone behemoth and imagine the hefty construct rising from the ground as an offering to the gods of enlightenment. They should be pleased. He is very big.

As one would assume, an 80-foot tall Buddha is friggin’ huge.

“Those are his friends,” Karsen says, pointing toward the sky at the carved monks lined up along the perimeter, hovering conspicuously. Their hands closed tight in prayer.

“It’s good to be friends of the Buddha.” I look back at the smooth stone behemoth and imagine the hefty construct rising from the ground as an offering to the gods of enlightenment. They should be pleased. He is very big.

tri-tree
tri-tree

Karsen picks me up the next day. The cave depicted in the Mahabodhi wall carving is a little ways out of town, down a road, through a field, by a towering tri-trunked tree and across a dry riverbed. Before reaching the mountain base our path meanders through a village. Women tend to babies under the quiet shade of quivering leaves. Men sit on doorsteps talking. Children flee from mud-packed homes, waving madly, “helllooo.” My orange and gray scarf flaps behind, gesturing in kind with the wind.

Incense, candles, and prayer flags complete the Buddha-party-pak I purchase. Ascending the cement steps and onto a landing, a group of men and women sit in silence, staring at our approach.  Two stone-carved stairs and into a black crevice within the rock wall I crawl. Head first. Breathing is an effort, as is acclimating my vision and lowering my body into a cross-legged position.

I now fully understand the Buddha’s decision to move his meditative journey to the Bodhi tree. The cave is bloody hot. I sweat maniacally. Inside is a sculpture; it’s a stone Guatama, ribs exposed, in acetic state, seated in meditation. There is a young man also seated inside the cave. He is alive. The candles are lit and secured to the low stone platforms. Incense is next, every strained inhalation swells with thick fragrant vapor.

Pushing my head out of the crevice is akin to a rebirth. The first gasp of breath fills my lungs with life; my body emerges and is immediately enveloped by the rushing air. The seated group outside begin a melodious chant. Monkeys crawl over the surrounding constructs. I descend the stone steps.