New Year's Reflection: On Gates, Doorways, Beginnings and Time

Dear Dhamma friends,

Warm New Year's greetings on this first day of the first month of January,
named after the ancient Roman god Janus: god of dates, doors, doorways, beginnings and of time.

Janus' face is depicted as looking in two directions; back at the past, and ahead towards the future. It is a suitable image, as we stand in this doorway of time, looking back on past year; seeing what was done and accomplished, and what is still to be done.

Image of Roman god Janus {image credit}

The image above seems to show the mind divided by the past and future, and there may be the wish in us for coherance; for the faces to come together and become cohesive and unified, to come to center. This quality of full center in full presence is the special characteristic of the Buddha's teaching.

For as the Blessed One said:

Do not dwell on the past - the past is left behind.
Do not dream of the future - the future is yet to come.
Concentrate your mind on the present moment.

Imagine yourself in the center of the gateway below.


Stone Gateway to Angkor Wat in Cambodia with Four [Buddha or Brahma?] Heads Facing the Four Directions Above 


The image above with faces looking in the four directions above the gateway is described in various ways.[*see note below]  In the Hindu story of the arising of the four-faces of the god Brahma, he needed them to seek and see his beloved, the primal goddess of wisdom -- in all directions -- that she never be out of his awareness. Always seeing her, words of the four kinds of knowledge endlessly emerge from his lips. In the Buddha's teaching to Sigala, reverential attendance to the four cardinal directions means to care well for one's four cardinal relationships: in the East with one's parents, in the South with one's teachers, in the West with one's spouse, and in the North with one's friends; with the sky above for holy ones, and the earth below for all those who help and support us with their labors. These directions may also be equated with the Four Satipatthanas - four intense states of recollection, the Four Bases of Psychic Power, as well as to the four Brahmaviharas or Divine Abidings.

Another way of Buddhist description is that of all-around mindfulness and awareness; the highly perceptive state of heightened awareness that occurs when one come to complete presence in this present moment, with the loving-kindness and compassion that holds and pervades everything.

This highly perceptive state of presence, with its softness, ease and fluidity, together with its rock solid and unshaking strength, is the space in which everything appears and enters into awareness just as it is. It is the key, the doorway, and the entry into abiding in the world of the timeless present. Past memories, future dreams and plans, all the various energetic patterns of body and mind all exist only now, and yet are clearly, distinctly illuminated.

Image of the Buddha's life, enlightenment and Parinibbana -- final Nirvana-- all expressed in and around the face

To fully enter and step through this doorway calls for a deep reorientation and reintegration of all of our ideas of who and what we are, what we have been and all that we have experienced. It is like the two faces of Janus must turn towards each another and fully meet, to see and know one another and become one hundred percent whole.

This was expressed in the movie The Little Buddha, in the scene called "the Enlightenment".

But rather than meeting our alter-ego[s] -- no matter how Mara-like -- as the enemy, it is important to remember that in this strength of presence there are no enemies, and even Mara can be met with metta - loving kindness - without hostility and without ill will, and be called "friend".

As one of the Buddha's two foremost bhikkhuni disciples Uppalavanna Theri says in the sutta that bears her name:

Though a hundred thousand rogues
Just like you might come here,
I stir not a hair, I feel no terror;
Even alone, Mara, I don't fear you.

I am the master of my own mind,
The bases of power are well developed;
I am freed from every kind of bondage,
Therefore I don't fear you, friend.

-- Samyutta Nikaya, Bhikkhuni Samyutta, Uppalavanna Sutta 15&17




The heart is then free, bright and malleable,
and may be fully and naturally imbued, internally and externally; above, below around and everywhere, to all as to oneself, with the radiance of the four divine abidings -- the Brahma Viharas. Or these abidings may be practiced to make the mind so present and bright.

As the Blessed One - the Buddha - taught in the self-guided Brahmavihara Catur Obhasam meditation - "The Radiating of the Divine Abidings in the Four Directions":

"I will abide, pervading one quarter of the all-encompassing world with a heart of loving-kindness;
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth. 
So above and below, around and everywhere, 
I will abide, pervading the all-encompassing world with a heart of loving kindness,
abundant, exhalted, immeasurable; without hostility and without ill will. 

"I will abide pervading one quarter of the all-encompassing world with a heart of compassion;
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth. 
So above and below, around and everywhere, 
I will abide pervading the all encompassing world with a heart of compassion,
abundant, exhalted, immeasurable; without hostility and without ill will. 

"I will abide pervading one quarter of the all-encompassing world with a heart of joyful appreciation;
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth. 
So above and below, around and everywhere, 
I will abide pervading the all encompassing world with a heart of joyful appreciation,
abundant, exhalted, immeasurable; without hostility and without ill will. 

"I will abide pervading one quarter of the all-encompassing world with a heart of equanimity;
likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the forth. 
So above and below, around and everywhere, 
I will abide pervading the all encompassing world with a heart of equanimity,
abundant, exhalted, immeasurable; without hostility and without ill will." 


Wishing All
all the beauty and great benefit of the Buddha's teaching in this present time
this New Year,


With great loving kindness,
Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

PS. I would highly recommend listening to this audio Dhamma teaching on Satipatthana and the Bases of Power from the Samyutta Nikaya here. It is the same as what is linked to in Uppalavanna Theri's verses above.



* Note from above

Dear friends,

My thanks to those of you who have appreciatively replied to this posting.

Also my apologies. I try to share with you as accurate historical information as possible, with a particular appreciation, recognition and honor for her-story, that is women's history, which has so often been overlooked and neglected.

As I've been informed by my historian muse friends, the gateway photo here in my letter posted yesterday, according to historical research, is one highly significant in our world's women's religious and political history.

For the faces on this arch entryway may not have been originally chiseled in stone to represent the four faces of Brahma (although sometimes said to be thus), but rather the Khmer king and the two compassionate and wise queens who shaped an empire: Indradevi and Jayarajadevi. In this royal trio's widespread use of religious-political iconography, the king is identified with the Buddha, one queen with Avalokitesvara and Great Compassion and the other queen with Prajnaparamita and Great Wisdom.

You may see the research article here: "Ancient Queens Who Shaped An Asian Empire: Indradevi and Jayarajadevi," together with links to other such articles.

I have learned of such other great and ancient Buddhist dowager queens, queen regents and empresses such as Indian Queen Anoja, Queen Samavati and Queen Kurangi, the ancient Thai Queen Cama, Korean Queen Seondeok, Chinese Empress Wu Zetian and Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, but i was not previously familiar with these two Khmer queens and their benevolence.




I leave you with the kindly face of Queen Indradevi, from the beautiful web albums of Bhante Amarajoti on the site Photo Dharma.

With appreciation
for all benevolent beings of wisdom and compassion,
both ancient and contemporary,

Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
--
the best
better than ruling the whole world
better than going to heaven
better than lordship over the whole universe
is irreversible commitment to the Path
--The Buddha, Dhammapada
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