HOW TO GROW A LOTUS BLOSSOM: Reflections in a Disciple's Life

by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Section XI
Looking Up

Everyone shares this fundamental, all-embracing Light,
Even when the Eternal Lord shines His Light within our spiritual home
In greatest darkness.



I had always hoped that the temple that we--the monastic and lay trainees of North Cascades Buddhist Priory--built would be used by the Eternal for the deepest spiritual work. In the spring of 1998, this was happening with two people in full retreat, one of whom was me, and other trainees in retreat part of the time.

At any one time, the monks who are not in retreat provide a protective buffer between those who are in retreat and the world. This is of the utmost importance, as Rev. Master points out in the Foreword (first edition, "Kenshos") to How to Grow a Lotus Blossom:

"It is not always good to do deep meditation and training completely by oneself as the reader will discover as he reads on; nor is it wise to be in any place whatsoever where he can be much disturbed. The world is always anxious to push its way in when someone wishes to do something about himself. When advanced spiritual development is reached the world seems to treble and quadruple its efforts to distract and dishearten, as the reader will very soon find out, and it is then that faith in the memory of the first kensho is absolutely vital; one second of doubt, even the possibility of thinking of the possibility of doubting, can cause the spirit to despair and death is the result. True meditation is not for cowards; it is hazardous, perilous and magnificent. For this reason a place of absolute peace and quiet is necessary. You will also need a friend or disciple who is perfectly willing to go to any lengths to keep the world from bothering you."

In the spring of 1998, Rev. Master Mokushin and my disciples, especially my Transmitted disciples, formed this protective buffer for both Rev. Master Mokugen, who was still in full retreat, and myself. In addition, Rev. Master Mokugen and I were able to provide support for one another in our respective retreats.

Rev. Master's description of the risky nature of deep meditation is not an exaggeration. The spiritual surrender that I have described in Section IX precipitates the trainee into a process the intensity of which cannot be comprehended fully until one goes through it oneself. Even under the best of circumstances, there is no guarantee that one will physically survive. Unlike Rev. Master, who went into retreat in 1976 in a state of rapidly deteriorating health, I was in excellent physical condition on the morning of May 23, 1998. Yet during the next few months I lay wide awake most of the night, meditating, while my heart beat so powerfully that it rocked my body for hours on end. I was in full retreat for four months, and thereafter in partial retreat for several more months--and it took five years to regain my physical strength.

I was fully aware that I could die in undergoing the process that had been initiated with the surrender of May 23. But I had entrusted my life fully into the hands of the Eternal, and so I was not worried about whether I lived or died. I simply knew that if I did die, I would still be safe in the hands of the Eternal. However, it would never have occured to me to wilfully try to either extend my life or shorten it. Lack of attachment should never be mistaken for not giving a damn, which is just reckless despair.

Rev. Master emphasizes the grave danger of doubting, and, again, this is no exaggeration: the trainee must look up as if his life depends on it. Spiritual surrender initiates a great opening of body and mind, indeed, of the whole of our karmic inheritance, to the Help of the Eternal. Spiritual and physical forces of immense power are set in motion. There is an upward direction to this motion--both metaphorically "upward," and literally upward in the body. To wilfully doubt--to wilfully look down--would be to suddenly block that upward-flowing spiritual movement. The powerful backwash of such a wilful choice could seriously injure or kill the body, and/or seriously unbalance the mind.

Therefore, while there is a need for the protection provided by other trainees, the greatest need of all is for the protection provided by our own wonderful True Nature. We can look up in the midst of the darkest place. Our capacity to look up, as I so often emphasize, is rooted in the Buddha Nature Itself. Indeed, this innate capacity to look up is so important and so indestructible that it is called "the residual Buddha Nature" in the ancient writings on re-harmonization with the Eternal. As Rev. Master wrote, "Whether I am well or sick, brightly alive or dying, hold fast to the Lord of the House."

Hands and Knees

Normally, our sensitivity to both internal and external phenomena is contained within a limited range that allows us to be sensitive enough to what is going on around (and within) our bodies to survive, but not so sensitive that we are rendered incapable of acting. There are conditions under which these limits may be stretched at bit, but, again, survival itself can become very difficult if our sensitivity level is either greatly raised or greatly lowered for an extended period of time.

In order for key aspects of our deepest spiritual need to be able to get the Help of the Eternal, they have to manifest fully in consciousness. And in order for this to happen, we are temporarily made much more sensitive. This heightened sensitivity is another reason why it is so important to have the protection and support of trustworthy people during a deep meditation retreat.

During the period of heightened sensitivity, which can last for several months, the trainee feels "skinless." Sensations that would normally be overlooked or barely noticed can be felt intensely. As each knot of spiritual need comes to the surface to receive help, sensitivity--pain!--and the general level of spiritual tension both increase. Then even the most experienced meditators can have great difficulty remaining still and focused.

Several of the illustrations in the early chapters ("Plates") of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom show a human being crawling on hands and knees through a dark and forbidding landscape. This is how it feels when spiritual need is lined up for the Help of the Eternal. And this is where one learns that in the darkest place, there is a true and enduring Refuge within our own True Nature; in the darkest place, there is the capacity to look up; in the darkest place, we are safe in the hands of an Infinite Love. This is where pure meditation and pure prayer are the same thing:

"All, all is defilement, defilement, earth, earth.
Do, do the work within my heart.
Oh great Victor, I hold on, hold on!"



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