As the sun sets in blazing orange and the waxing moon rises bright in cold dark sky over the northeastern hills, i think about the meaning of this moon.
In one way, there is just the awesome presence of the present moment, timeless, with great gravitas. And yet i also know this is an important day to remember in history, in her story, and in all of our human stories and hearts.
Luminaries, like the moon, lead and inspire and compel us, by their example, to awaken what is awesome within ourselves.
I spent this past week visiting my mother's home in Virginia's Spotsylvania Woods on Lake Anna. The eastern woods were beautiful, covered in successions of rain and sleet, snow and mist -- fresh, clear and quiet. Except for the sound of the echoing gunshots of the hunters, killing as sport. And walking down to the lake, with its wraiths of steamy-mist, one cannot help but wonder about the Lake Anna nuclear reactor, which the large and sprawling lake is serving as cooling pond for. The question rises to heart, to mind, "what are we doing to ourselves, and to nature?"
I feel fortunate in a way to have been there, in a place where people watch TV, at the time Nelson Mandela died. I saw many images of him, heard his words, and sensed through sight and sound and heart the transformation that this person, this being, had been through. How it had changed him. The depth of heart, of clearly seeing some of the truths of our basic and shared existence, and of what matters when everything is stripped away. What it means to have such time to contemplate, and to use it well. And then to have a chance to make a difference, and to do so, giving everything of oneself. While living in one's true dignity, one's integrity, not arrogance.
There was something that i saw in him that i have seen mostly but not exclusively in Buddhist monastics, and even then just sometimes, although there is every effort to train such deportment and heart into us. This something shone in him -- shining through the skin, the eyes, the body. And it is inspiring. A kind of inspiration that can galvanize a turn around, seeing how good humanity can be, and how beautiful. Our mirror neurons see it and know it, and then something in our genetic potential as human beings wakes up, turns on, comes alive and blazes forth. There is illumination, and the box of our potential is opened.
We step out of the boxes of our ordinary ways of seeing and knowing ourselves, each other and our world, and realize there are other great new ways to be that are completely possible, that we too can live :-). It is not all just hopeless.
This is the awesome power of lived example as experienced through the senses, in the mind and body.
I think of what it must have meant for Sanghamitta, as a young princess and mother at eighteen, with all the riches of the world at her disposal, to encounter an awakened woman preceptor and woman teacher. So powerful was this encounter and this presence and the practice together, that not long after her entry into monastic life, her own heart too became utterly free from the taints--the asavas. And in this state of heart, she choose to heed the call to leave her native home and country and to travel to a new land, from which for the next forty some years, until her final Nibbana, she never returned.
What must it have been like, for the aspiring women of Sri Lanka who she traveled to meet and ordain and live with, to meet and be with a fully and completely awakened woman who had completed the Path. It is great to imagine, brightening the heart to even pause and think of.
In one way, such luminaries are inspiring to us all, and gender, race, ethnicity, nationality -- all of these things -- are no matter. There is just our shared humanity. And yet, the truth of the heart, the mind, transcends and is not bound to even human identity. And in another way, shared identity is so important. For women and for men, to see a woman free and at ease having completely fulfilled her human potential is different than to see a man free and at ease, fulfilled. The effect on individual lives and galvanizing inspiration is different. The transformative social impact is different.
Even now, twenty four centuries later, it is much easier for Sri Lankan people, who bear this history or herstory as their story, to know this potential. For among their people there were so many who were awakened, both men and women. The first great international religious woman missionary known to history came to their land. The first historical chronicle of their country -- perhaps the oldest such chronicle in the world -- was written by their Bhikkhuni Sangha, a women's religious community highly acclaimed for generations of erudite scholarship, together with its devotion and saintliness. In a way, this can make for a pride of possession of greatness. But in another way, there is the bearing of the knowing that as this was possible for my people, this is possible for me and for us too.
The hindrance of self-doubt can be overcome, and the power and ability within us unlocked and released.
But the arahants like Sanghamitta and her teachers and her brother Mahinda belonged to no one, no nation and no land, truly. They had gone beyond such identity views. If they belonged to anyone, they belonged to all living beings of every realm and dimension, and among us humans, to all of humanity, without differentiation. There was no country, among all of the countries were the Buddha and his disciples walked, where people could not understand and could not benefit from the Dhamma. There was no country were those who followed the Buddha's teaching did not reap its benefits and awaken. Even as far away as Greece, even in the wild wild west (then by the Arabian Sea). In fact, those of the west who were known as "rough" preserved the Dhamma for much longer than in many other places.
When i write of that ancient west, i think of us now with a smile. As well as with a sense of urgency.
I feel there is so much need for the Dhamma, for the wisdom of the Buddha's teaching, in our contemporary world. With all of our wealth (albeit very poorly distributed), and all of our power, all of our medicine and all of our incredible access to information -- how much do we know, really, of wisdom? We know a lot about the search for short term gratification (and leaving big messes), but how much do we know of the way to our long term benefit and happiness, of benevolence and true wealth of heart?
Words like beneficence, benevolence and magnanimity need to be brought back out of the dictionary. Like bringing forth the fine silver and the gold left us by our grandparents, polishing and shining it, and letting it be used by us and those we love. A table set for everyone -- as part of the meaning of the spirit of this holiday time. A gift to share with everyone. Light shining forth from the darkness.
We all have this all within us. Every moment, how we are with each other, and how we are with ourselves -- this is were the heart lies, where the value lies.
My thanks for those who have stood upright, and for those who are learning what it is to be upright. For those who have done the work that needed to be done, and for those who are doing it. For those who have had the courage to live their truth, our truth, and those who are striving to touch into what this is. For those who aspire to a lived and complete peace, and for those who have come to it in moments, and those who abide in it forever.
Undvap Poya -- Sanghamitta Day Full Moon
Those whose hearts reach excellence
fully developing the Factors of Awakening,
having renounced acquisition,
find joy in not clinging to anything.
Free of afflictions,
and glowing with wisdom,
they attain Nibbana in this very life.
-- the Buddha, Dhammapada 89