A glimpse of the Buddha

Today (Saturday 7/2) was the first full day of Buddhist Summer Camp at Chuang Yen Monastery. The day is programmed with Dharma talks and Buddhist education, service, “working meditation,” vegetarian meals, and typical camp activities like relay races. I have visited the monastery before but never stayed overnight. It is a peaceful, beautiful, well-used, and welcoming place.

At the end of the day, I walked back to the men’s dormitory, which sits across from a small lake. In late twilight, I paused to sit for a few moments on a flat rock. The lake was before me, mirroring the surrounding trees and the deepening shades of the sky above.

Every few moments carp would break the surface of the lake, each plop a reminder that the lake was a living thing. And also the occasion to think of how nice it would be have a pond with such well-fed fish, who dine on remainders from the dining hall, and who would no doubt make a tasty, sustainable addition to the dining table.

Then I thought of the karma generated by this place, where no animals are killed and campers do not slap stray bugs, but carry them outside. There just may be a different vibe to a pond where fish are never harvested, to a piece of land where deer are not hunted and no slaughtered chickens, pigs, and cattle are trucked in. And to a place-and-community where the people seek to cultivate compassion in their every day relationships.

Then a car came up the road. As it pulled in to park, for several moments its headlights illumined my lakeside scene. Past me to my left, on the small rock cliff that formed part of the shoreline, there was a shadow of a seated buddha, my shadow.

As a shadow, you couldn’t look for all the marks of a Buddha - you could only get a resemblance, a suggestion. While I have the build for a good Chinese Buddha, anyone seated on the rock in that way would have cast a similar shadow.

And that’s about right. Zen Master Seung Sahn writes that “Everyone already has goodness in their mind. It is already present, and needs no special cultivation” The Compass of Zen (Shambhala, 1997, p.38). In another idiom, you might recall “created in the image of God.”

The image does not have to be complete to evoke the truth that Buddha-nature, our God-given goodness, is right here where we live. In truth, I make a pretty crappy Buddha. An image which blurs some of my rough edges is sometimes necessary to see the shape of enlightenment, to recall the hope of deliverance and the peace that passes – or perhaps fully is understanding.

The car headlights went out. The mosquitoes began diving in to test my compassion for them and my equanimity towards even small sufferings. But the Buddha-shadow remains, contemplating Kwan Yin Lake in the moonlight, even as I write.


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