If no waves arise, water will settle of itself; If no shadows cross it, the mirror will naturally be bright.
Thus, the heart cannot be made pure, but if you avoid muddying elements Purity will appear on its own.
Thus, pleasure should not be sought after, but if you avoid things that cause suffering, Pleasure will exist on its own.
*Hung Ying-ming (600s). Master of the Three Ways. Trans. William Scott Wilson. Poem 150.
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As with other wise teachers, Ying-ming's view differs significantly from that many are raised with in conservative religion. That religious perspective is, in the language of my evangelical Christian upbringing, that we are born in sin, meaning we are inherently sinful. A modern way of saying this is we are conceived totally screwed up. In this view, we are like vehicles coming new out of the factory wreaked and in disrepair. This doctrine led to the need for churches to baptize babies, though there is no foundation for that in the Christian Scriptures. Likewise, this practice implies that baptism is essential to get admitted to a christian heaven.
Nature provides us a wiser view. Look at an example from Buddhism in line with Ying-ming's analogies. Water is innately pure. When the mud settles in what we call muddy water, its purity appears. I say "what we call" for water cannot be muddy. The purity was there before, only obscured. Buddhists teach meditation is a practice of letting the mud settle. Our innate purity is already present. We cannot become pure or sinless anymore than a mirror become clear: the mirror is clear, the shadow only makes it appear otherwise.
This purity means nothing added, nothing extra. Hence, not even what we call holiness, goodness, righteousness, or enlightenment can be added. These words can only signify the purity free of all opposites of "dark" and "light," "plenty" or "lack."
Purity, like joy, appears naturally, meaning "on its own." Purity could not arise unless present. Arising means manifesting. So, I often use the image of clouds moving so one sees the sunshine.
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The challenge is the transformation of "muddying elements"-myriads of religionists have wanted to be saved from their sins, not understanding that transformation is the path of healing.
We all have contracted additions to ourselves, like barnacles attaching to a boat. One would be unwise to discredit the boat for having barnacles or think the boat and barnacles were one entity. Compassion arises when we see the tremendous suffering arising around us from persons who have come to trust in the barnacles, thinking that is integral to their selves. When we come to that point of trust in the barnacles, it does little to assist us in manifesting purity. Our religion becomes little more than trying to be good boys and good girls.
Spiritual transformation needs to be grounded in the wisdom of innocence. The spiritual path is a growing onward to reclaim the purity. Innocence is not lost, for it cannot be lost but can appear to be lost to us.
Hence, the spiritual way is not trying to be a good boy or good girl - which much religion teaches. The spiritual path is the firey conversion of "muddy elements," so spirit-alchemy can work inner transformation, transmuting all that covers and, so, conceals innate beauty, grace, and love. How can what arises from the Source be other than like the Source? How can what arises from God not be godly?
Much of this spiritual work is about the emotional wounds and trauma that have covered the brilliance of our native effulgence. For purity is not an absence of something; purity is the illuminative Presence that expresses itself as the source of all life-giving, life-affirming qualities. The potentials of those qualities are innate, then, in our true selves.
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I grew up taught I was saved by Jesus but still a saved, sinful person - that is, just as marred as before. This was called "a sinner saved by grace." I was a dearly loved, patched-up Christian. Sin remained my nature as it always had been from before birth. Now, I know that anything - called "good" or "bad" - added to my true self is not what I am. That means the work is to engage the path for the liberation, as much as possible in this lifetime, of the innocence - again, with no contrast, such as, guilt.
The work continues for me. I best discern the subtle transformation by looking back over past time. Day to day, the change is rarely seen. It is not wise to keep inspecting how you have grown spiritually, like standing in the yard trying to see grass grow. Trust the subtle, sure process: just do the work. Jesus wisely compared spiritual transformation to yeast -
Jesus also said: The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a woman mixes a little yeast into three big batches of flour. Finally, all the dough rises (Gospel of Matthew 13.33, CEV).
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And subtle can be the shadows before the heart-mirror. But working from innate purity or badness is a remarkably different starting point. The second does not work well; the first is the wise. Which one you choose will make a world of difference, for from where you begin will cast its influence over the entire journey. I choose the Sun's brilliance.
May we each shine brightly, illumining all about us.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2023. Permission is given to use photographs and writings with credit given to the copyright owner.
*Brian's book is An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love. The book is a collection of poems Brian wrote based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.