by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part VI
Need and Help

The Master said, "Open yourself to the Unborn,
Embrace, as well as show, the True Heart."
The Great Immaculacy is broad, boundless and hard to see;
But the moonlight of faith enables us to perceive the solitary mountain peak of our True Nature.


Spiritual Need: Suffering and Suffering's Cause

We can be confused about the nature of need. Consider the case of a person with a broken leg. Such an injury can be very painful. When we are in pain, we tend to think that getting rid of the pain is the greatest need. But pain is a signal of a deeper need--the need for the broken leg to heal, for example. And, in fact, even if the the pain is temporarily deadened, the pain will continue to return until the injury has healed. So if we want to solve both the problem of the pain and the problem of the cause of the pain--the broken leg--we have to attend to the physical injury.

Just as physical pain is the signal that the body needs help, spiritual pain is the signal that spiritual help is needed. How to Grow a Lotus Blossom is the story of how one human being's spiritual need received the Help of the Eternal.

A substantial part of the first half of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom is a description in pictures and words of the present- and past-life causes of suffering. Some of the causes of suffering lay in Rev. Master's earlier life. The deeper roots of suffering lay in her past-life inheritance. Ignorance and longing, tragic misunderstanding and confusion, grief and despair, and, above all, bitter self-judgment--the actions and experiences of beings whose jangles of confusion and pain we have inherited show the deeper origins of the suffering that we experience in this present life.

All of the present- and past-life causes of suffering are the spiritual need. In the following picture, "spiritual need" is shown at the bottom of a column. At the top of the column is "Help from the Eternal." The column represents one spiritual reality--for now, let us call it "meditation"--within which need and Help exist as two poles. Somehow, Help and need must come together within the context provided by meditation. In order for this to happen, there is something that we must do and there is something that the Eternal must do. The "happy meeting" of need and Help is the subject of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom.



"Help meets need" is a process that passes through a few simple, but essential, steps or stages. This may remind readers of the discussion of the "five kenshos" earlier in these Reflections.--It is all the same process looked at from different perspectives of position and scale.

Meditation Stage One: Beginner's Mind

The starting point for the process through which our spiritual need will receive the Help of the Eternal is always the same: we have to ask for It. There are many ways in which the asking manifests--the Eternal always recognizes and responds to a sincere asking. Here "sincere" means that we do not include any expectation in the asking: we cannot be trying to steer the process and at the same time be doing the complete and unconditional trusting that is necessary.

The deepest prayer arises directly out of the need itself. But it is our choice whether we will point that asking in the direction of the Eternal. We are helped in this by the Buddha Nature Itself. Rev. Master writes, "No matter how great the darkness there is still light to be found therein by those who truly look. . . . One can jump into hell so long as one is looking up. At all times the Buddha is appearing in hell and in this world." (Plate XLIV; Plate XXVII, first edition.) Here "hell" should be understood as "the place of deepest suffering."--In other words, even within the greatest suffering, if we will but look with the eyes of faith, we will see the workings of Infinite Love. This is how it is possible for ordinary people to recognize and to manifest compassion within the most painful--even horrific--circumstances.

Does one have to be a saint in order to do this?--No. Rev. Master writes of this first column, "When I meditate I must do so in the place of ordination--the mind of a beginner is the purest of all minds . . ." (Plate LIV; Plate XXXIV, first edition). How does a beginner come to the genuine religious practice of meditation?--With an intuitive awareness of spiritual need, with humility, and with an open mind and heart.

This first column shows the fuller spiritual context of the Buddha's First Noble Truth: "Suffering exists." It shows our suffering humanity taking refuge in the Buddha Nature in faith and in stillness. And it shows that That to which we hold fast with faith and right effort is always available to us in the midst of all difficulties, all confusion and all pain. Yes, suffering exists. And Infinite Love is with us through all suffering, and leading us toward the cessation of suffering.

Meditation Stage Two: Strewing Flowers before the Buddha

When we offer all that we are and have at this very moment to the Eternal we are in the second stage of meditation.

This "offering" sounds fine when we are full of compassionate thoughts, when we feel love and tenderness, when our mind is focused in the present moment and serene. All of that makes a great offering. But what about desire, fear, anger, grief, frustration, restlessness, confusion, doubt, despair, shame, guilt, regret, pride, ambition, argumentativeness, envy. prejudice, hate? How does one offer this dark and mucky stuff?--By choosing to keep the heart open to the Eternal, allowing the dark, mucky stuff to be there when it is there, and to go away when it goes away. "Do not grasp after that which arises in meditation, and do not push it away."

This offering is sange--a word for which there is no adequate translation in English, but which contains aspects of the meanings of "self-forgiveness", "contrition", "acceptance" and "confession". But the best definition I have ever seen (and I do not remember where I saw it) was "strewing flowers before the Buddha". For "sange" means to open our mind and heart to the Eternal without blame and without excuses, making an offering of everything that we have, are, think, have done and feel. It is not just compassion and tenderness that are flowers that can be spread before the Buddha. All the darker aspects of our humanity are also flowers that can be spread before the Buddha. The Eternal knows how to help the need that is contained within these flowers of pain and confusion. Sange is entrusting everything within us to the Love of the Eternal. This Love never judges, despises or condemns, but always does the best for everything. It will do the best for whatever we present to It.

In response to this offering, the Love of the Eternal does indeed flow to all that within us that needs help. Suffering's cause has deep roots which need to be exposed if the Help is to get at them. Therefore, the way in which the Love of the Eternal manifests in this second stage of offering is as a spiritual scouring that exposes deeper layers of spiritual need. This can entail exposing layers of pain along with layers of cause.

This second column shows the fuller spiritual context of the Buddha's Second Noble Truth: "The cause of suffering is craving rooted in ignorance." It shows how we bring the cause of suffering to the Eternal in meditation. And it shows that the cleansing and scouring (or "reaming") Compassion of the Eternal flows forth to our need.

Meditation Stage Three: The Flow of Wisdom

When we orient our attention toward the Eternal (meditation, first stage) and present our spiritual need (meditation, second stage), we cease to ignore the Teaching that is always flowing forth from the Eternal. This is the third stage of meditation.

Rev. Master describes this third stage of meditation as "the Dharma constantly given to those willing to receive it" (Plates XLIV-XLV; Plate XXVII, first edition). The Dharma is the Teaching, the Truth. The term "Dharma" is most often used to designate the traditional teachings of Buddhism. Here the term definitely means "the Teaching flowing from the Buddha Nature Itself"--this is the Teaching that is "constantly given". Rev. Master also writes: "I must stay in this state [of meditation] at all times when dealing with worldly matters of whatever nature--government officials, lawyers, people caught up in fame and gain--all must be met from the standpoint of meditation with the mind at peace and the heart open . . ." (Plate LVIII; Plate XXXVI, first edition).

From this position of meditative effort, one can entrust every thorny problem to the Eternal, waiting patiently for the teaching that will help the need. As noted above,timing is critical, and very often the way forward will not appear until it is actually time to take the next step. It is essential to remember that the Eternal is the One in charge, not oneself. This helps us to be patient. But it also helps us move as quickly as necessary if and when the "green light" goes on.--Senior partner: the Eternal; junior partner: me.

The teaching that comes from the Eternal is usually suited to a particular need manifesting within complex conditions. If we insist on the explanation of why it is good to do an action (or not to do it, as the case may be) after we are given the teaching that the action is in fact good to do (or not do), we throw a wrench into the works. The Eternal will not lead us to break the true spirit of the Precepts; but that does not mean that we will get an explanation of why it is good (or not good) to do a particular act. In the end, we have to decide whether it is more important to actually follow the lead of the Eternal or to insist that we cannot act until we understand everything that we want to understand.

We do not have to be a special kind of person to receive the Eternal's Teaching. Nor is It ever far from us. Anyone who has sat down to meditate in a state of some confusion about what is truly good to do in a particular situation, and got up from meditation less confused, and with a sense of the direction in which to proceed, has experienced the flow of Wisdom to need.--All we had to do is settle down, stop running around in our head, and allow the Eternal to get a word in edgewise.

The Wisdom of the Eternal belongs to the Eternal, not to any person. To be wise in the true spiritual sense of the word is to be content to know nothing except how to turn to the Eternal in childlike trust in all need.

Meditation Stage Four: Healing Love

The darkest ignorance is the ignorance that comes with and from wilfull acts of self-judgment. No one can convince us of our unworthiness of the Love of the Eternal unless we wilfully give our assent to such a belief. No other act sends the wheel of karma careening down the mountain like self-judgment. As soon as we judge ourselves as being separate from Infinite Love, a fierce longing to reunite with Love is born. In how many tragic ways do beings strive to reunite with Love when in fact the separation was, is and will be an illusion!

Wherever there is the conviction of separation from Love, there is a spiritual wound of grief and longing. Just as Wisdom flows to ignorance, so the infinitely tender, compassionate Love of the Eternal flows to the wound of "saddened love" in the fourth stage of meditation. Rev. Master describes this healing flow of Love in the following words: "Sometimes that which comes forth is compassion, sometimes love, sometimes understanding, always it is the water for the healing of the spirit . . ." (Plate LIX; Plate XXXVII, first edition).

Just as Wisdom belongs to the Eternal, so does Love belong to the Eternal. If we try to seize hold of love, make it ours, and use it wilfully, the Eternal will stand back and allow us to persist until we realize that we are making ourselves miserable. It is enough to know the Eternal; it is enough to love the Eternal. Wisdom and Love can make the best use of us when we are content to listen for the guidance of the Eternal, doing that which is good to do when it is good to do it without concern about how we appear to others.

Again, one does not have to be a saint in order to know this Love from one's own experience. Every time we sit down to meditate in a pained state and arise a short while later with a more peaceful, less anguished heart, we are experiencing the healing Love of our wonderful True Nature. What did we do?--Only give Infinite Love the opportunity to help that which was, is and will forever be part of Itself.

The third and fourth stages of meditation show the fuller spiritual context of the Buddha's Third Noble Truth: "There is the cessation of suffering." For when the cause of suffering has received the Help of the Eternal, suffering ceases. "Suffering ceases" must here be understood in its primary meaning, which is that suffering is no longer perpetuated through non-Preceptual action. Thus the cessation of suffering cannot be separated from what we do, for it is always our choice that starts the wheel of suffering rolling again--or not. And so the third and fourth stages of meditation also show the fuller context of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path--the life of training.

Meditation Stage Five: Unborn and Undying Meditation

The above four stages of meditation are successive steps in a continuing process of training and enlightenment. They are also simultaneously existing aspects of one Meditation which is the natural activity of the Buddha Nature. Different aspects "light up" in our experience at different times in accordance with causes and conditions, but all the aspects are always present.

Rev. Master called this fifth stage of meditation, very simply, "The Buddha within." (Plate LX; Plate XXXVIII, first edition.) It can also be called "Eternal Meditation."

All seeming opposition between the spiritual and the mundane is harmonized within Eternal Meditation. This harmony is not static; it is not a heaven. Suffering exists; there is a cause of suffering; there is the cessation of suffering; there is a Path leading to the cessation of suffering--all are within Eternal Meditation. If we grasp after fleeting things, whether they be physical or spiritual, we blind ourselves to Eternal Meditation. But that is only our blindness; Eternal Meditation is still there.

Meditation is a refuge. This refuge is always with us. We may temporarily blind ourselves to it. We may temporarilty forget it. But it will never leave us. We call it "meditation" and think of it as a practice that we do. In truth, what we call "the practice of meditation" is our choosing to make room for Eternal Meditation in our mind and heart, our choosing to entrust ourselves to It.

I think of Eternal Meditation as "Eternal Following"--glad following, following wherever the Eternal leads in unconditional willingness and unconditional faith, through heaven and hell if that is what is good to do, through birth and death if that is what is good to do, dissolving into Infinite Love and being reconstituted as Its vessel if that is what is good to do. I wrote a short poem in 2002 expressing what this Eternal Following means to me. It is the fourth poem on the "Poems" page (a link is provided below) and is entitled "Following".



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