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Buddha in the Details

Image courtesy of the author

Spring is my favorite time of year. It’s not only that I was born in spring, in mid-April, it is just such a glorious time in many parts of the world, with trees and flowers budding, bursting forth with color—exuberant. It brings me a sense of hope and renewal. Hope by itself, of course, is not a preferred state of being. We think more about the teeter-totter of hope and fear and how both extremes bring suffering. Meditation is something like a fulcrum for this seesaw between extremes. And for me, I feel most at an emotional fulcrum point in the spring and fall. The equinoxes bring a sense of equanimity: one foot in the past, one in the future, one foot in the warm, bright months, and one leaning toward a colder, darker season.

It is not only that my grandmother, my mother, and I have tended plants and gardens, flowers and succulents, vegetables and perennials, as well as trees. It is that we are part of this green Earth. We see so much more now, with the tenuous nature of climate change and environmental crises. But we must also remember the joys and the beauty, which are the very reasons we long to protect and nurture our Mother Earth.

Image courtesy of the Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies

It is strange when someone dies in spring. Spring is a time of budding, growth, and rebirth. It is stranger still when that someone is a Buddhist master or realized being who doesn’t really die but simply changes form. Yet for us, it does not feel simple. It can feel quite complex, a sense of loss and sorrow, the immensity of the unrepayable kindness of the teacher, coupled with the deep grace and gratitude of knowing them at all, and receiving their sublime teachings. If we are lucky, we also receive personal time, interviews, and even scoldings to redirect our journey on the path of awakening.

Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche taught me the preliminary practices as one of my early teachers when I was a baby Buddhist. Akin to a parent teaching language, self-care skills, and other building blocks for being human, ngondro brings us lessons in building the foundation of our meditation path. Rinpoche was simple, straightforward, approachable, and had a raucous sense of humor.

It is the fourth time that I have been momentarily shocked awake at the passing of one of my beloved teachers. Their time of death, absorbing the news, sitting with their holy body, in ceremonies with the sangha are not something one to which one becomes accustomed. But as we age and hopefully mature in our practice, and simply as human beings headed ourselves toward aging, potential illness, and our own dying process, we can come to relate to this experience of losing the teacher in their physical form as an expanded awareness and integration with the teacher in their beyond-physical form.

There is a saying, God is in the details. I have never really known what God is or isn’t. Awakened mind or buddha-nature feels closer to home. It is a more intuitive idea to which I can relate. And as a lover of spring and springtime things, I sense the Buddha in the details of everything, even now—especially now—in the wake of my teacher’s passing.

Image courtesy of the author

At these times, things traditionally thought of as negative, difficult, complicated, or confusing are just a little less separate from those things that are joyful and nourishing in my mind. There is a slight easing of the border between positive and negative in what I reject and accept. Still, I need the guidance and redirection of my teachers, and I’m so fortunate that many of them remain in their physical forms to guide and scold and care for me, and—most especially—to gather us together to share the Dharma teachings. These teachers, while in their human form and when no longer in their bodies, are very much like the springtime buds of the jasmine and rose, the clematis, and the wood anemone. Delicate, luminous, impermanent. Or the furious, jubilant rhododendron blooms the size of my skull shock-glimpsed around the corner.

Just as the wisdom, the laughter, the unexpected pith instruction from a great lama shocks the heart-mind into a state of open, full emptiness—if even just for a blink of an eye in which all of our concepts are dropped. The mind can experience a deep sigh of letting go, of carrying the phenomena of this world, ever so briefly, to inhale the suchness of just being a dewdrop clinging to a vine, on the fence, by the wooden gate. I bow to my teachers living and beyond life, and those yet to come. I bow to their wisdom, their kindness, their patience, and humor! I bow to their willingness to bring us all along the path toward that gate, open, available, and free to all who wish to enter the garden of the buddhas.

Photo by Julia Peretiatko

As Mother’s Day in the United States approaches, I relate the Lama’s love to the bounty of a mother’s love for her children—her willingness to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to ensure their survival and hopefully their thriving. While this may vary by culture, place, and people, the urge itself is universal. It does not only apply to mothers, but also to fathers and caretakers of all kinds. Whether a parent, an aunt, a teacher, a friend, a gardener, a farmer, or an animal-tender, there are myriad ways we care for and tend to one another. Meditation is the way we care for our innermost nature, our heart, mind, our spirit, the continuity of presence over time and beyond time. As I look out my window over the writing desk, I see puffs of white viburnum blooms, like miniature hydrangea, next to the scented jasmine. I see deep-purple bearded irises, wild borage and grasses, lavender and rosemary, and, off in the distance, the fig tree and the lilacs that, in my mind, I can smell from here. Up the hill, the live oaks and scrub oaks give a sheltering shade. And all these beauties lend their assistance to my practice, be it yoga, prayer, or meditation, on and off the cushion.

Nature, in her spring robes, this wild crush of color throughout garden and community, brings joy and comfort to the work of applying my mind to go beyond ordinary hopes, fears, emotions, grasping, and anxieties. At this passage of another of my early Buddhist teachers, my heart is sad, but it is also filled with gratitude for the great fortune in having this connection to the lineage, to the masters, and to the teachings. I am also grateful for my connection to the buddhas—female, male, and beyond gender—who nurture me each spring morning as I wake, eager to thrust aside the curtains and see what new colors erupt to delight my eyes, my heart-mind, and my will to continue serving beings through writing and teaching, cooking and cleaning. I am a tender of delicate things, a lover of Mother Earth’s beauty, inspired and nurtured by the Buddhadharma and by all those who help us find the gentle fulcrum points in our own wild minds’ landscapes.

Image courtesy of the author

Related features from BDG

My Perfect Teachers – A View into Guru Yoga, Part One  
A Reminiscence About My Theravada Teachers
Remembering the Whole Person: Honor and Celebrate the Life of a Loved One
Listening to Ourselves and Our Teachers
Acceptance and Autumn Leaves

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