by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 4
Flitting Shadows

When I allow external things to influence me, endless space takes on endless colours and forms that titillate or terrify my senses; when I am still, these shapes, which are the shapes of fear and the negative side of desire, have no means of manifesting themselves. . . . We shape our fears from emptiness and unto emptiness they must return.

--Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett
How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, Plate LXIV (first edition, Plate XLIII)

Spiritual Weather

The temple in which I live is located in a part of the country where the weather changes frequently. Most days, we can look southwest and see in the sky what is coming at us.

Similarly, I am accustomed to "spiritual weather" in which "clouds" arise and pass in consciousness. Sometimes the clouds are darker, sometimes lighter. They can be clouds of fear or desire, hope or regret, grief or joy, and so on.

It is my choice whether I will get caught up in the passing feelings. It is my choice whether I will build a train of thought on the basis of a passing cloud. It is my choice whether I will speak or act based on a train of thought that started with a state of feeling.

It is my choice whether I will get lost in the passing clouds.

The Umbrella

If I get lost in the passing clouds, I am sure to get soaked to the skin with suffering. But I can choose to duck under the umbrella of meditation--the umbrella that is the Place of stillness within the hara. This is down underneath the passing clouds of feeling and thought.

Sometimes the spiritual weather can blow in strong and stormy. Yet there is always safety under that umbrella. In fact, it is the only truly safe place in a world of impermanence.

During a big storm, I have to hold on to that umbrella for dear life. But help is available. I only have to turn to the Eternal with childlike trust and ask for help. Then I have to be willing to sit still.

Shadows and Reality

Rev. Master often referred to these spiritual "clouds" as "shadows," or "unrealities." Yet they can seem real enough. Emotions can be very intense; thoughts can carry great conviction.

Again, it is my choice whether I will run with a seeming reality, or take refuge in the Eternal, which is True Reality.

True Reality does not despise seeming reality. The Eternal does not despise the flitting shadows of feeling and thought. Nor is the Eternal swayed by them. The shadows arise and pass within True Reality: they are not It, yet neither are they apart from It.

In the physical world, when I look in the direction from which the clouds are coming, I get a pretty good sense of what the weather will be doing within the next half-hour or so. I have avoided many soakings by heeding the warning signalled by a dark cloud on the horizon. Similarly, passing feelings and thoughts arise out of a spiritual horizon of complex karma. A familiar feeling or thought can signal "Time to get under that umbrella of meditative stillness. A storm may be approaching." There is no meaningless form of existence.


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