Tuesday, June 24, 2008

magic


This morning I began my day as I usually do on weekdays, with a cup of espresso and a reading from the Flower Ornament Sutra, followed by meditation.

It's tempting to get the impression that the Flower Ornament Sutra is boring. It reiterates the same concepts so many times that it can be difficult to digest. On the other hand, the very structure of the text itself reflects its content: an infinite universe, filled with an incomprehensible number of perfect arisings, all informed by Buddha nature. Taken from this point of view, the text itself is a perfect reflection of its own nature, and that is a considerable feat. Despite the obvious and penetrating differences between this text and Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson," I have found myself comparing them. Each book seems to be unique and extraordinary, and have an aim that transcends any of our ordinary understanding.

Above all, the Flower Ornament Sutra conveys a magical sense of being: a universe in which limitless positive possibilities exist, in which every atom is a unique expression of Godhood. The deluge of blossoming, multiplying, glorious oneness which the text pours over the reader is not only overwhelming to the Western mind; it would be overwhelming to any mind, and the author (or authors) seems to understand that. Again and again, the text refers to the unspeakable and incomprehensible nature of reality.

This idea of incomprehensibility has fallen by the wayside in our technological culture. We have devolved into creatures who believe that everything can be comprehensible, if only we apply our minds vigorously enough.

And comprehensibility, of course, provides for the extinction of magic, because magic, by its very definition, cannot be comprehended.

As my wife and I were walking the dog this morning, I came to a moment where I was walking past a neighbor's lawn where there seemed to be a single tiny drop of dew on every single blade of grass. Here were the selfsame jewels and adornments of the flower ornament sutra, the myriad arisings of perfection and blessing, oceans of worlds, each one suspended on its own green scepter, sparkling in the light of the sun like a moist, tiny star.

At another moment we passed a log, and here again was an entire world within an ocean of worlds, a place of hardness and softness, decay and grubs and worms.

The baroque text of the Flower Ornament Sutra is about nothing more than this present reality. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by an extraordinary universe of vibration, and worlds within worlds.

Because we externalize, we impart the magic to the objects, and indeed, the objects contain something. But just as in the case of art, which I discussed yesterday, what is contained in the objects does not create the magic. The magic lies within the experience of perception.

Our externalization of magic, our externalization of meaning, creates the self by separating us from meaning and magic, by placing it over there, while we are here. What we don't see is that the meaning and the magic arise within us; there is no "over there." Rather than reaching out to the objects so that they can be our touchstones, it is the taking in of the objects through all of the senses -- both inner and outer --that creates food for the soul.

To use the external as the barometer is our profound and chronic mistake. We want to measure the world with books, and instruments, and maps, and perhaps even magical objects.

We forget that the only measuring instrument that can measure our world correctly is the heart.

So don't forget, as you go forward into this today and the next one, to measure yourself from within yourself, to see where you are, and to live as much as possible from the heart -- from the center of the body -- and from the organic sense of your own being.

Look for those drops of water that sparkle at the ends of countless blades of grass.

Look for the clouds of tiny insects that hover in a beam of late afternoon sunlight.

Look for the deer, and the rabbits, and redwing blackbirds speeding towards hidden marshes, where the reeds are rich and green.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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