Last night I had disturbed dreams, and this morning I couldn’t shake off a sludgy, unsettled feeling. I got on with my morning, doing the chores that needed to be done, but I felt sad and disconnected.
Lately I’ve been enjoying the ‘Daily Words of the Buddha’ emails (subscribe here). The emails include a verse from the suttas in Pali and in translation, and you can also deliciously listen to the chanted Pali version which really brings the teachings to life.
Here’s one taken from the Sutta Nipāta 2.321:
If one going down into a river,
swollen and swiftly flowing,
is carried away by the current —
how can one help others across?
(here it is being chanted in the original Pali.)
We are all facing this swollen and swiftly flowing river. The river can be a stressful time at work, a sick child, or a angry or grieving friend. Sometimes it is physical discomfort or tiredness. Sometimes it is the pressure of a million things-to-be-done in not-enough-time. Sometimes it is the way we speak to ourselves in our heads – the voices inside us that are our harshest critics. This morning, I was carried away by the residue of feelings from my disturbed night.
Mid-morning, my husband Kaspa said he was going out for a run, and my immediate thought was, ‘I can do some practice in the living room while he’s gone’. Even though there are lots of Buddhas in this flat, and lots of places I can practice whether I am here alone or not, I hadn’t been able to formulate this thought until I was nudged. Kaspa left and I lit the red candles, offered a stick of incense, and sat in front of our big wooden Buddha for ten minutes. I chanted nembutsu with this tune, and let the feelings swirl in me.
The sludgy feeling soaked through me and down into the floor, or maybe the Buddha took it from me. I found my feet again, and I’ve carried this feeling of groundedness with me into the rest of the day.
We are continually cycling around these three ways of encountering the Dharma. We can learn the theory by reading texts, listening to Dharma talks and immersing ourselves in Buddhist practice. We then begin to translate the teachings into our actual lives, as we try to follow the instructions of the Buddha. Occasionally, we are blessed by an experience of the teachings finding their way into the very centre of our beings, and we embody them – we know that they are true.
When I had the impulse to sit before the Buddha, I was realising the truth of the verse from the Sutta Nipata. Unless I find some way to steady myself, I’ll be less than useless to others. We can’t help others if we are floating down the river, desperately trying to keep our own heads above water. We need to find some way to remain steady in the turbulent waters of life. For me, this means saying the nembutsu. What about you?
If we continue to soak ourselves in good spiritual teachings, they will transform us. We find our footing. Maybe we are even able to show others how to find their own firm ground.
Deep gratitude for the Dharma. Namo Amida Bu.
Photo – author’s own