18 November 2011

Gratitude Pure and Simple

Yesterday a few of us were busy setting up and dressing altars for our semi-annual Temple Night to be held this evening. The sangha's Ceremony of Gratitude will follow close behind this coming Sunday morning, and we'll leave the place gussied up over the whole weekend.

This morning I woke up and took a look at what we had managed to get done.  The flowers still needed to be bought and arranged, and there were some last-minute items to take care of, too.  But before getting on with that, before we had even hit the zendo for morning sitting, I took a minute to soak in what all of this points to. 

In the living room area there's a sworded Mañjuśrī figure with attendant figures of Ānanda and Mahākāśyapa to either side.  The principal cloth on the altar is deep blue with gold, great colors to capture just how bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom is.  There's a power there, a cosmic, all-pervasive clarity.

In the dokusan line area the colors are muted.  This is where pictures of our dead are placed in memory.  The figure at the center is Kannon, as one might well expect.  This Kannon is pouring out the medicine of compassion, and she is standing with a combination of ease and strength.  But the rest of the space is filled with Bodhisattvas as well.  Samantabhadra astride the elephant and Mañjuśrī astride the lion flank Kannon, and to their sides are two scrolls, each depicting some 18 bodhisattvas.  The main cloth is a brownish copper, and the cloth covers the whole bay window ledge.  The colors of the figures and the colors of the cloths and scrolls all blend in a deep earthiness, bringing to mind a groundedness that holds firm in everyday life and even through death.  Such is the strength and compassion of the Bodhisattvas!

The altar in the Buddha Hall celebrates the season, with oranges and greens as the backdrop for the fruits of the harvest that decorate the altar as well as the fruits of our practice that will fill the room.  Tonight before this altar we will once again affirm our place in the Buddha's family as we take the precepts together.  On Sunday before this altar we will once again offer our gratitude for all that sustains our lives, our practice, and this temple.

Bringing forth the key elements of our practice as things seen and touched and heard and tasted reminds me of just how much has been done by so many over countless ages to carry on the Dharma.  How absolutely unlikely it is that I should sit in robes in a zendo in Evanston, IL in 2011!  Nevertheless, here I sit thanks to the selfless work of men and women – bodhisattvas all – whose efforts made this opportunity even remotely possible.

Forget Sunday.  If I'm going to be at all serious about this, every breath, every movement and every thought will be a Ceremony of Gratitude.

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