Sharing by Eileen Dolan
Soon I will be turning 60. The signs of aging are catching up with me. My hair is almost all grey, I get tired more easily, and I find I am a little more forgetful. But I am also calmer, more content, and find I let go more easily of the things which are not serving my happiness or the happiness of those around me. I always loved the above painting it is called “Old Age”. It is part of a series of four paintings called the Voyage through life, by Thomas Cole. The four paintings are Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. In each painting there is an angel close by depicting that we are never alone in our voyage through life.
A few year ago I was given a translation of the Heart Sutra. It begins with the introduction, “Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva, Contemplating with Unobstructed Serenity, coursing deep in the perfection of Wisdom had gone beyond and seeing that the five heaps of becoming were all empty, generated the thought of ferrying across all beings from the realms of suffering.” When I read this the first time, the image in my mind was like the picture above, riding in a boat that carried me to heaven. Recently a new image is emerging in my mind of what these words from the Heart Sutra mean. If I was an artist, I would try to paint it, but alas I am not, so I will try to use words.
The boat is not a wooden boat with paddles or oars that you steer through life. Rather the ferry is the tangible experience of being embraced by love and compassion that dissolves the many forms of suffering in this life. The angel is our inner truth that keeps leading us to enter into this loving embrace. As I have gone through life’s stages I have come to honor my inner guide. In me it is actually a physical sensation, like an ache in my heart, a longing. It has lead me to people and places that have been important in my growth and healing.
The most recent time this inner guide lead me was to Xa Loi Temple. I live very close by and my children and I had walked through the Temple grounds for many years. Gradually, I came to know my neighbors, Master Bao Thanh and Su Co Bao Co. Then that inner guide awakened again and moved me to become more than just neighbors. I could clearly see that here in my neighborhood were spiritual jewels who had the wisdom and compassion I sought to develop. So, I took a step out in faith and trust into the path of Buddhism. It wasn’t until a year or two later that I formally took refuge, but I think I really took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sanga, the day I decided to trust this powerful spiritual guide, my inner Buddha nature, leading me.
I did not understand it at the time, but I have come to see that I was stepping into the ferry of my teacher’s wisdom and compassion energy connected with all the Buddhas in the ten directions. Only I brought with me into the boat all of my rocks of confusion and ignorance weighing down my journey. Day by day, week by week, year by year, I have been unloading these unnecessary burdens. I did not know what I was getting into at the time. But they did, and they held me securely in the compassion energy as I floundered on and off through the years.
In the beginning I was like one of those rescued animals you see on YouTube videos. Some of the things I had learned from my religious past, made me fearful of new ideas. Like the rescued animal I had to trust the new things I was learning and feeling. Yet, nothing felt “wrong” with the spiritual teaching. It all made very good sense, was very practical, and helpful. I began to learn how to practice meditation, and was blessed with the compassion energy from Master and as I learned meditation from Su Co Bao Co she shared her compassion energy also. As I began to feel the compassion energy, it startled me, because I had no idea what it was. The unknown can cause a lot of fear. Gradually, I relaxed and accepted the new experiences as good.
When I had overcome most of my religious fears, other problems arose in me. I didn’t know how I fit in. For a while I was like an annoying toddler who kept getting in the way of her mother. Every time I thought I was being useful it would fall apart. Yet, my teachers still held me in the embrace of their compassion energy allowing me to go through stage after stage of insecurity, confusion, anger, frustrations, personality conflicts, etc. I kept trying to figure out what the spiritual path was, but kept missing the mark.
I started learning the formal teachings of the Buddha, and read a few Sutras, including the Heart Sutra. I learned that everything that arises in our minds is impermanent, and empty. My religious views – empty, my impulse to do things or be useful – empty, my fear, my need to prove something – empty, my feelings of inferiority or superiority – empty. Everything I tried to be or do – empty. All these years, I was trying to figure out what the path was… it is empty.
When all of the clutter was gone, what remained was the compassion which has been embracing me all along. This calming compassion is like the arms of a mother firmly holding her overwhelmed child until the child relaxes and gently falls asleep.
The fear is gone. I am relaxing into the compassion energy. The confusion is gone, I see who I am becoming. Now it is time to sink more deeply into that peace.