By Mark Donovan
A Dharma Talk given November 30, 2021
I wanted to start tonight's talk with a poem:
The Buddha's Last Instruction, by Mary Oliver
“Make of yourself a light,” said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal – a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
It thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire -
Clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
Sunday I worshiped in the tradition of my family at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The preacher, who was a child during the Cold War, remembered practicing “duck and cover” at school, the fear that arose in her with the loud and shrill ringing of sirens, images that played in her mind of victims from the nuclear bombs dropped in Japan. In 2018 she was visiting Maui when, you may remember, there was a false missile alert. The alert stated that there was an incoming ballistic missile threat, advised residents to seek shelter, and concluded: "This is not a drill". The preacher commented that once again she was paralyzed with fear. She wondered what had become of her faith. And she contrasted standing strong in faith and hope to a state of fearful paralysis. There is a really huge gulf between those states of being, isn’t there? I think this is at the heart of our spiritual practice--the good news that draws us to this practice like a moth to the light. It’s the message of a cross-stitch sampler that hangs on my wall and reads, “Fear knocked on the door, Faith answered. No one was there.”
In a recent dharma talk on Dharma Seed, Brian Lesage described the spiritual journey in the following way: Exploring what can help our hearts to be here fully for this journey--this spiritual journey from birth to death, a journey that I hope this practice brings us more depth, kindness, love and wisdom. So we can have a wholeheartedness to our journey.
Today I want to explore the practice of gratitude as an element in “mak(ing) of ourselves a light,” of cultivating wholeheartedness. We are in the season of harvest and thanksgiving and I hope that each of you enjoyed Thanksgiving Day last Thursday. For me it was a pleasurable and meaningful day as members of my family came together from out-of-town, there was plenty of food on the table, and I gave thanks for both the physical and social and emotional nourishment, for being part of a loving family. Expressing gratitude reminds me that I am not separate, but part of an interconnected web of life that involves both receiving and giving.
...to this resource for our community. Much gratitude goes out to our entire Sangha – and the numberless causes and conditions – for making this website possible, and for the joy I have experienced in creating it.
Detail of the Great Hall Mural
Courtesy Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Used with permission