We are continually presented with opportunities to grow, to learn something about ourselves, to be courageous, to be kind. I see these opportunities offered to others too. What I notice is that, it’s generally not very easy to take them. To say, yes, I will give my last piece of chocolate away. Yes, I will acknowledge that what I said was hurtful. Yes, I will see this deep flaw in myself plainly, as if through crystal clear water.
I know the theory. If I can let go – of my clinging, of my frightened habits, of my need to control and manipulate – then my heart will open up and grace will stream in. I block it at every turn.
The Buddha knows how we are. I can see him now, the golden one in our living room, sitting behind the red incense bowl and beside some last purple verbena from the garden. He is smiling gently, unperturbed by our comings and goings. Sometimes when I look at him, and the other Buddhas scattered around this temple, I imagine some gentle amusement in his smile. Oh, there she goes again…
Step ten of the twelve steps tells us that we should ‘continue to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admit it’. I think that this is good advice. When I am left with a feeling of regret, for example after a conversation with a friend in which I tried to fix them rather than listen to them, I try to say sorry. Continually measuring ourselves against the precepts shows us where we have turned away from the Buddha, and gives us the impetus to investigate what might have happened and why. It gives us an opportunity to make amends.
Sometimes I see my life as one never-ending stream of getting-it-wrong. This is what Ram Dass is speaking about. Everything that we bump up against shows us something new about our crowing ego. This is one of the joys of being a Pureland Buddhist. It reflects our deep experience, if we allow ourselves to see it, that we truly are foolish beings of wayward passion. It encourages us to use it if we can.
But when we can’t, when we slump into eating the last bit of chocolate ourselves, or letting off steam by slandering a mutual friend, or doing the terrible murky things that we sometimes all do, the Buddha just carries on smiling. He sees us – with a depth and an accuracy that we can only imagine – and he smiles his indulgent smile. Namo Amida Bu.