I was on my way out of the shop when my eyes were snagged by something glittery. I asked my friend Caroline to wait for me, and went over to investigate.
They were sparkling model jellyfish of different sizes, each suspended in glass. Each paperweight was the ergonomic shape of a cartoon rocket without the flames – they looked like they had an urge to leave the table and pulse off towards the ceiling. I placed the heft of one in my hand – what a cool, smooth, stroke-able surface – and admired the light as it played around the glass and the object inside.
After a tortuous period of deciding whether to buy the baby jellyfish or the mummy jellyfish, I decided it was cruel to separate them, and brought both of them home. The larger is currently sitting on the windowsill of my office, and the smaller is in our living room, nestled beside the pleasingly spherical blue pottery lamp I’ve had for twenty years.
When I placed the larger one on the windowsill, something immediately became apparent. My windows were filthy! The panes were covered in smears and dust, and the frames between the double glass were scattered with flies and detritus.
Full disclosure: I am not a good cleaner. I had known about my windows for some time. We do a better job with the temple upstairs, but our flat has many a corner which is cobwebbed, dusty, or just unashamedly in need of a good clean. It’s always been this way. Tidy is important to me, clean less so. It just doesn’t sit very high on my list of priorities, of which there are many.
As soon as I set the jellyfish on my windowsill, I knew that I needed to clean the windows without delay. She sat there glimmering and floating, all clean lines and bubbles of light, and I wanted to show her off, to make her space nice, to worship her. And so I did.
This is how Buddhas work. When we set a Buddha on a shelf, we notice that the picture on the wall behind the rupa is wonky. We find ourselves placing a little vase of flowers next to it, or offering it a tiny red leaf. We get out the hoover, tidy away those piles of paper, redecorate the room. We bow before it when we enter the room and before we leave. We feel gratitude. Before we know it, we have a Pure Land.
The light is streaming in through the window as I finish writing this piece, illuminating the trailing golden tendrils of my jellyfish. Maybe I’ll move her around the house to help me with the cleaning. Either way, I’m grateful for the golden shadow she casts, just like the Buddha.