Monday, August 26, 2013

Appreciating the Least Thing

Impatiens self-seeded by my sidewalk
The moon is serenely shining up in the sky, and she is alone in all the heavens and on the entire earth; but when she mirrors herself in the brilliant whiteness of the evening dews which appear like glittering pearls broadcast upon the earth from the hand of a fairy,--how wondrously numerous her images! And is not every one of them complete in its own fashion? This is the way in which an enlightened mind contemplates God and the world.  God is immanent in the world and not outside of it; therefore, when we comprehend the secret of the "little flower in the crannied wall," we know the reason of this universe.
Soyen Shaku
Zen for Americans
The above is a description of the panentheism of Shin, a Buddhist sect that incorporates features of Shinto, an ancient Japanese nature religion in whose internet  manifestation I've been wandering this morning.  There I found the amulets below, which you can buy to protect your pet.  The love of our animal companions has become obvious with social media, which sometimes seem dominated by pictures of cats.  (Guilty as charged.)  My own UU church has a group devoted to compassion for animals; many American Buddhists don't eat meat out of that compassion, following the precept to do no harm.  I notice that many of the same people campaigning for mercy to animals are also involved with recycling, reuse, and sharing.
 It is also interesting to me that amulets are traditionally returned after a year to the temple, to be burned in a ritual way, part of the respect for all phenomena that also causes the temple to sell recycle bags.
There seems to me to be lots of room in this country for a religion that supports the love of nature.  In fact, the warming of our climate, finally agreed upon by every major scientific group, is telling us we need to cherish nature much more than we do, and stop cutting down trees to manufacture disposable (paper) towels.  When I was a girl, they didn't exist.  My mother used rags, like everyone else, made from worn-out clothes and linens not good enough to go in a quilt.

We are meant to extend the same kind of caring to ourselves, as well.  Americans - overworked, badly fed, sick from spending our whole lives sitting - have a special need to adopt self-care in the face of commercial interests that want you to think a powerful new car or great vacation or ED pill or new shoes or bacon pretzel burger or more money or winning the game will make you happy.  Not so.  Not for long. 

An alternative to the dissatisfied consumer life is the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson referred to above:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,       
I should know what God and man is.
To entirely understand a flower, root and all, qualifies as an epiphany, or awakening, if you like.  It's a grander awakening to understand ourselves the very same way.  For this, you have the serious practice of zazen.
p.s.  Or course, I always notice when the word "man" is used to mean "humankind," which would include the, uh, fair sex, woman.  This dates from times when women indeed had no civil rights, and were seen as sexual objects and helpmeets.  I didn't have a chance to talk with Lord Tennyson about this. 

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