Sewing book covers
hands stiffen in the cold air
so sharp the needle!
The first day I lived at a Buddhist centre I was admonished for reading a dharma book at the breakfast table, lest it get covered with jam. I was similarly reprimanded for taking a text into the toilet to read. While I don’t completely agree with arguments that dharma texts should be treated as something totally sacred and that their care is greater than the fact they should be read, I do understand that how we treat books of importance to us says something about our relationship to the contents.
One thing I definitely took away from there was the practice of covering favourite books with pieces of coloured fabric, and tied with ribbons. I like this, as it seems to be an offering to the book itself, and a way of indicating that it is important to you. Of course, a book can’t receive an offering, so the effect is in our own mind, but I similarly like the practice of making offerings to favourite trees and rivers to mark them out as special to me.
This morning I have been cleaning my shrine and the whole area around it in preparation for a week of retreat beginning tomorrow to coincide with Losar, the Tibetan new year. Since the retreat will focus on kriya tantra practice, ritual cleanliness is more important than with more conventional meditation techniques (Alexander Berzin explains this in two excellent talks on kriya (action) tantra found at his website).
As a preparation for retreat this has, for me, achieved a dual purpose of allowing my mind to become more aware of what is to come, and also developing a clarity of purpose and focus. This second development was somewhat surprising to me, although I imagine that most of us are aware of a similar effect which comes with spring cleaning of any kind. Combining a spiritual focus with the cleaning work seems to make the mental clarity even more profound, and is something I will be seeking to utilise again.
In the time of the Buddha many people came to seek his advice for mundane matters as well as spiritual. One story of a lay person who sought out the Buddha has survived over the centuries and that is the tale of Kisa Gotami.
Thus I have heard. One day a woman carrying a child came to the place where the Buddha was staying with his sangha (spiritual community) of monks, lay seekers and attendants. She was granted an audience with the Buddha and, clearly in considerable distress, told him how she needed medicine for her baby son who had fallen into a deep sleep and would not wake up.
The Buddha asked the woman, named Kisa Gotami, to pass the child to him so that he could see what he could do. The Buddha was no physician but was willing to do anything he could to relieve suffering in anyone, be they his friend, enemy or a complete stranger. Upon receiving the child into his arms, though, it was obvious to him that the child was dead and had been so for some days. It was also obvious that to break this news to Kisa Gotami would have a devastating effect on her mind. Continue reading