— Great Ocean Dharma Refuge, Pembrokeshire, Wales – UK —
Sometimes we know it; sometimes we know it less. Through darkness and light, confusion or sorrow, the Eternal is in pursuit of us, and calls us to return Home. Sometimes we know it; sometimes we know it less. We ourselves long to return Home. We long for a remembered simplicity of heart and to see with bright, unsaddened eyes. We long to love without fear, just as we long for our lives to be an expression of true purpose.
“One calls and one answers.” At heart these two are the same, and when united are an expression of loving wisdom. When we stray from our purpose the Love of the Eternal is so boundless that just as a magnetic field pulls and draws, so we are called to turn about, to look more deeply, to leave our distractions and to live from what we know to be true. “When I behold sentient beings sunk in their suffering and distress, I do not show myself but set them all to look up in their thirsting and when their hearts are filled with fervent longing, I then appear and proclaim the Dharma.“[1. "The Scripture on the Immeasurable Life of the Tathagata," Rev. Hubert Nearman, M.O.B.C., trans. Buddhist Writings On Meditation And Daily Practice (Mt. Shasta: Shasta Abbey Press, 1994), p. 36.]
There is energy in this longing of the heart. Sometimes our restless longing searches in directions that seem to delay and confuse, and sometimes our restless longing is turned in the direction of commitment and right effort, to a way that is true to the Heart and to the Precepts. At times of fruition of some aspect of our life’s purpose the longing can be very great – and at times all-encompassing. The longing holds within itself a great potential. Perhaps we need to be generous and forgive our self or some other for a misguided act that left doubt and sadness in its wake. Perhaps we have been building up fortitude for some necessary step in our training. Perhaps we know we need to keep the Precepts more deeply. Perhaps after all, we simply long to surrender our life completely to the Eternal and surrender our strivings into a deeper trust.
Nothing is wasted. Each step of our pilgrimage, each blind alley, each fumbling footstep brings us closer to Home. Sometimes we may experience a darkness of spirit and feel as if the Truth is beyond our reach, but we are in fact always moving closer to the Eternal – exhausting all possibilities, learning lessons and drawing the conclusions that are necessary to know with absolute certainty. Not because we are required to, or because someone insists that it is so, but because the heart simply longs for Truth. Our need of the Eternal is revealed in its nakedness, so that finally our call for help and Truth comes from the very heart of our being, just as a drowning man longs for air. We need to do our part, and yet we are intimately part of something vaster than our individual striving. Ultimately, there is no other purpose for our life but to surrender completely to the love of the Eternal and to follow the path that springs forth from that place. One moment of surrender after another, one act of faith after another, one step after another in unknowing and without expectation. This is our gift of training. When we take one step in faith the next is revealed and offered to us to choose again.
“One calls and one answers” and yet the timing is not wholly ours. The universe is not answerable to our personal will. We say “yes” to the Eternal in a moment, and yet it takes time and patience for karmic consequence to spend itself just as embers of a dying fire take time to die out. It takes time for us to penetrate the deeper lessons of cleansing body, speech and mind and to break old habits of settling for less than we are capable of. It takes time and committed practice to stop taking shadows for reality and to believe that we can and must rise to our full potential. For this is our true wish.
When we are willing to patiently pay the price without counting the cost, we are undoubtedly helped. Myriad feelings may arise, and being human, we have a tendency to try to externalise our pain and longing in a search for comfort outside of ourselves. The consequence is disarray of body and mind. Saying “yes” to the Eternal is not just about saying “yes” to all that is bright and light, but also “yes” to all that is dark and difficult. We have to accept the pain and discomfort without turning away. All has Buddha nature and longs for true acceptance and love. The Bodhisatvic heart leaps within and vows to stay vigilant and giving without setting conditions or holding back. In saying “yes”, we allow all our striving and concern to settle in the hara. Finally that which seems to fret and pace is allowed to sit on the altar of our heart. This is to turn the stream of compassion within, and there we find true answers and healing – the patient acceptance of who and what we are without judgement and the patient acquiescing to the wish and timing of the Eternal.
There is always time and opportunity enough to ask for help and to bow in gratitude. The offering of complete willingness and acceptance brings peace even in the darkest place. We can be still and rest all in the excellent and loving hand of the Eternal. All conditions will ripen and all shall find and abide in their True Home.
Reprinted from “The Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives”, vol. 19, no. 2: 25–28. (2004)