November 10, 2011

Deeper Lessons: The Great Earth Beneath You

We're reading Jan Chozen Bays's How to Train a Wild Elephant at the Tricycle Book Club. At the beginning of this week we posted one of the mindfulness practices from the book, "The Great Earth Beneath You," and today we're following-up with the "Deeper Lessons" to be learned from that exercise. If you have questions or comments for Jan Chozen Bays please join the discussion!

Deeper Lessons
The Buddha gave these instructions to his son, Rahula, "Develop meditation that is like the earth: as the earth is not troubled by agreeable or disagreeable things it comes into contact with, so if you meditate like the earth, agreeable and disagreeable experiences will not trouble you."

The Buddha explained that people can pour any substance, agreeable or disagreeable, on the earth, but the earth is not troubled. The earth keeps supporting us no matter what we humans create, beauty or war. The earth remains solid beneath us. Our practice of meditation or prayer has the power to train our heart and mind to rest in a state that is equally untroubled.

Of course, recognizing the stable, unmovable quality of the earth does not mean we should be unconcerned about the health of our planet and allow it to be used as s toxic waste dump. However, it is very important that we not let our worry for the environment poison our human minds and relationships.

Once Maezumi Roshi attended an international conference on environmental awareness in Buenos Aires. He had never shown much interest in environmental issues and we (his students) were pleased that this conference might educate him. When he returned, we asked him what he had learned. He told us that the conference was held in a group of university buildings that were arranged around a green commons area. He had spent the week watching how environmental activists took short cuts across the grass instead of walking on the paths, eventually turning the little park into a sea of mud. To him, this was a living example of the ignorance at the root of all human problems. Everyone was ignoring the grass and earth as they talked and fretted about how to care for the earth by changing other people’s minds. We can think and talk a lot about a problem, but if that prevents us from being present, having an unpolluted mind, the problems will continue.

Final words
If I could maintain constant awareness of the entire earth beneath my feet and also awareness of myself as a tiny temporary animated speck crawling about on its surface, I might need no other practice.

Image: from the Flickr photostream of liangjinjian

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