This Language (written 2018)
I don't speak a second language. Often wish now that I did but my parents were uni-lingual and English was the language of my home and culture. Could have learned at school, where I took French in my junior high years and Latin in highschool, but like a hot house flower, the smattering of these exotic languages I absorbed in those artificial environments did not survive in the outside world where I had no opportunity to practice them. Why am I thinking about this?
Because, the study of Dhamma is also something that strengthens with immersion. With this “language”, I've been much more successful. Rather than cramming and memorizing for an exam and then forgetting everything, I listen to and read Dhamma daily. I reflect on the words. I work with the suggestions. And the result is the not surprising way in which this “language” permeates my experience.
Pouring batter from a heavy glass bowl into a pan one morning, my arm trembled and burned with weariness. In this act alone came a multitude of teaching reflections. All related to the direct experience in this moment of the three characteristics or qualities of experience, a central teaching.
Impermanence: This body is aging. A simple act that I took for granted for so many years has become a bit more challenging. I have some chronic joint issues that don't like this sort of activity. My strength is not what it was.
Suffering: I don't like to think of myself as getting old. And the aversion I feel to such physical reminders compounds the misery. Not just my trembling arm and aching joints then, but my stubborn and cranky and saddened mind. I remembered too, because of the weight of an ordinary mixing bowl, the reminder that the lightest weight held over time becomes heavy. This does not apply just to physical experience, but to the mental one I was having. A fleeting thought of “aging” is just that. A thought that arises and passes. But if I grip onto it with the claws of aversion, I am unable to let the thought pass. And its weight continues to drag at my mind.
Not-self: When I claim this body as mine, when I see aging as my personal loss, when I feel the pain in my arm as mine, I create a me who is hard done by. The classic “Woe is me” character, head in hands, alone under a dark cloud of misery. Contrarily, if the experience is just the experience, lifting, pouring, aching, holding, setting down, then it passes as any moment does. Nothing lost. This is just action in progress...both in terms of the pouring, a short term action, and in terms of the weakening, a more gradual process happening to the body itself.
Again and again throughout my day, simple acts are transformed by this translation into Dhamma. This happens because of immersion. A Buddha is someone who is awake, but more importantly, someone who reaches realization on his/her own. Most of us are ordinary beings, relying on instruction, absorbing the teaching, learning in this way.
This week all over the world, Buddhists celebrate Vesak, also called Buddha's birthday. It is a marker of the Buddha's birth, his enlightenment and his death. For me, as a practitioner, it has importance as a reminder of the first candle lit, leading to the flame that burns in my own heart today. Dependent on the teachings in my own journey, I am grateful for the Buddha's decision to teach and the momentum of that through 2600 years, making my own immersion in the Dhamma possible today in rural Alberta, Canada. For me, Dhamma is the language of transformation that translates my life into a meaningful and intentional undertaking.