In honor of this day, I wanted to share this poem below, something I scrawled in my notebook one early fall day. I share these words with my hands pulled together at my heart — and the deepest of thanks to my humble teacher, the Tibetan monk Geshe Keslang Gyatso, for his extraordinary wisdom. This poem grapples with one of Buddha's most phenomenal teachings and something that Geshe Kelsang has taught extensively, emptiness, or wisdom teachings. And my mind's clumsy attempts to realize its liberating profundity.
Sitting by the stream on Labor Day weekend. The water has stilled to a mossy green mirror. The crows caw in the forest to the right — that large segment of woods with its swath of trees cut away.
You came here this morning with your cup of milky tea because it had finally become silent, from the sawing and mowing and cutting. Perhaps because now it was becoming hot. That would explain the early morning rush; he was getting all the work in before the heat.
Of course, you couldn’t see that at the time. Your mind was so agitated by the sounds you named "noise". You were lodged in that painful timeline of self-cherishing; the one where you are the central point in the galaxy, and all directions and actions are known by their proximity to you.
The kind and right thing was to patiently wait.
To wait for the sawing to cease. Even though it went against the impetus of your gut, that deep habit within. An ever-present, gravitational pull—to make your needs and wishes come first.
Yet the forest has no concept of Clare.
The forest doesn’t even exist outside of the universe projected by your mind, a consciousness skewed.
That somehow, at the center of it all, is a self worth freaking out about.
It occurs to you that this habit of self-exaggeration is like a generator of hurricanes. And the forest of our lives is perpetually under its siege. It emits this toxic movement, making everything uncomfortable.
But Buddha’s great kindness, and your own teacher's immeasurable kindness, was to reach into your life with remarkable, penetrating wisdom. With medicinal instructions that reveal its entire, illusive architecture.
He stepped into your life with these designs. The ones effortlessly transplanted from Himalayan landscapes to the vertical skyscrapers of Hong Kong—and to cities throughout the modern world. Ancient designs and roadmaps that now appear in any language and upon any surface—from books to iPhones and MP3s. Aligned to fit our experience.
And within it all, every instruction, this one overriding intention: to describe to us the object we’ve spent endless time not seeing. The one truth that has eclipsed us all. The object we’ve been paradoxically spending every moment of our lives thinking about and protecting.
Yet was never there to begin with.
The sounds finally came to a stop.
You picked up your notebook and your tea. You slipped your feet into your weathered flip flops and down the basement stairs, through the dim and dusty air, and out the door to radiant light.
How would it feel to come into complete alignment with reality? To feel that whole whirlpool, those hurricane-force winds finally come to an end? To identify and inhabit your actuality?
Spaciousness. Pure peace. Tathagata. One gone beyond.
Photo credit: Tharpa Publications, 'The Wheel of Life'