the pearl

“Contemplation is any way you have of penetrating illusion and touching reality.”

Parker Palmer

Parker goes on to say that you don’t have to sit cross-legged or chant a mantra and that one of the most contemplative people he knows is a woman who cares for her severely developmentally disabled child. She has to live her own life and be so deeply connected to her child that she has penetrated all of the illusions that modern society suggests make a person valuable. In this way she touches reality.  (source)

A man from times past is the hermit-sage Han Shan, also known as the poet from Cold Mountain. He spent much of his life wandering freely through the T’ien-t’ai Mountains of Chekiang Province in China, living off what he could forage. This was his way of penetrating illusion and touching reality. At one point he expressed this ‘touching reality’ in this way:

“A fountain of light, into the very mind –

Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:

Now I know the pearl of the Buddha nature,

Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.”

When I start my day I love to have a time without conversations or social interactions. My favorite is to be able to be close to trees, a woods and meadows and to listen to the sounds – birds, the wind, frogs and insects. I usually have a notebook for writing and my e-reader with some of my favorite texts by people like Krishnamurti, Han Shan and others. I allow their expression to permeate my being: penetrating illusion and touching reality.

At present I am in a vulnerable state after my hernia surgery and am feeling things more deeply than usual. This morning upon reading the above lines, I felt the reality of this one being that we all are and that it actually consists of, for lack of a better word, light. The image Han Shan uses, A fountain of light, into the very mind, gives me this sense of the absolute abundant flow, like a fountain into the depths of the mind, of this energy being we call Existence. He says, “Into the very mind” and that expresses how all is transfused at every level by this living light. All that we see as the world is this light, only we have subscribed to a filter of concepts that ‘show’ us objects instead of the living light-flow of the actuality.

The poet goes on, Not a thing, and yet it appears before me. He is ‘seeing’ the fountain of light as real as any object, but it is no object and there is no ‘he’ separate from it – he perceives it because he has fused with it.

In this way he enters the ‘knowing’ of the Buddha nature, or as we might call it, ‘intelligent infinity’. Now I know the pearl of the Buddha nature.It is a pearl, he reports, choosing another image that can perhaps somehow convey the reality that he touched. A pearl is exquisite in its light-play. One cannot really even ‘see’ its surface because of its translucence: our vision is drawn inward to the depths of the pearl as into the ocean, with the surface light filtering through myriad particles and substances down into the ocean’s depths.

How does the pearl form? A tiny grain of sand is finely layered with strong, resilient and iridescent nacre (Mother of Pearl) until it becomes a sphere. This nacre is coated around the sand because the sand grain irritates the oyster. I see the ‘me’ as the grain of sand that our being turns into a pearl by coating it with its light. If we look from the center as the ‘me’ (the grain of sand) we miss the pearl, the opalescent jewel which our light-being has created. As we turn more and more from the material (appearance) to the light (our essence), our world is coated with the essence of our light-being

Further, our poet initiates us into his ultimate wisdom gained from touching reality and penetrating illusion:

Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.”  

Han Shan has dispelled the power of all illusions to distort reality and now sees how all of life, indeed all of existence is this pearl, coated in the essence of itself. The Buddha nature is useful because it unveils to us the sphere of the pearl. A sphere is the quintessential form of existence in movement: a drop of water forms spheres of movement in the water and the first oscillation in the vastness of primordial stillness formed spheres of movement radiating in all directions from that first center. If we move our arms out away from us and widen them, we trace the shape of a sphere around us.

The sphere Han Shan perceives is “a boundless, perfect sphere.” This vision is of the infinite, the eternal, the one without a beginning or an end. It encompasses absolutely all in our world and the next. It is our own true nature – it is us. It is perfect because nothing is not it, so nothing can be out of harmony with it. It is self-evident perfection because it is self-contained and boundless at the same time. It allows itself to move without obstruction in any way. The Buddha nature is useful because it soothes us and comforts us amid seeming conflict and contention. When we persevere in transcendence of the mind’s view of opposites and incompatibilities we are able to ‘let it be’ and let God. Then what happens never fails to amaze me.

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