This is what came out when I set to writing. It’s not what I expected but it’s what came…Karen.
I have an altar in my bedroom; an altar that one might politely say is more in the ‘Chinese style’ than the Japanese. It has a Buddha, once white, long since painted gold but with the original colour creeping out around the toes and edges of His flowing robes.
The Buddha stands on an old turquoise gift box, the type you buy to send shirts, or hats and scarves to fathers, sons, brothers, husbands…. It is turquoise because it is a favourite colour of mine, it is the colour of the lay minister’s small kesa and also because it matches the room. It has an incense burner that could use a little TLC in the cleaning department, a stylised lotus flower in a glass bowl, also turquoise, a large ceramic vase, once again turquoise that appeared after a friend had stayed in the room overnight and which, after due deliberation, I decided to leave there, a wedding invitation which, once received, I placed as an offering of future peace and happiness for the bride and groom, a remembrance day poppy, a text that I purchased from the Throssel Hole bookshop many years ago, which states Dogen’s teaching ‘When the opposites arise, the Buddha Mind is lost’ (the latter two items both fall into the category ‘lest I forget’), a copy of The Kyojukaimon (also ‘lest I forget’) and a photograph, in a pewter and turquoise frame, of my husband David and me.
There is no water offering on the altar, a fact that, as I write, I am slightly puzzled by, until I remember that there always used to be one before life became so spectacularly ‘interesting’! I recall the thought and the subsequent decision that willing as I was to accept this latest offering, from the Universe, into my ‘fathomless begging bowl’, I simply didn’t have the time to ‘deal with all that’ and be topping up water offerings and keeping them clean and free from limescale, so I replaced the goblet with a large gold and turquoise pendant, a colour co-ordinated jewel at the Buddha’s feet!
Now, whilst I could be commended for my pragmatism, I’m fairly certain that my thinking was a little ‘out’. For beautiful and awe inspiring though the Buddha jewel is, it cannot be fully seen, experienced and appreciated without the constant flow of the water of compassion. Deciding to ‘set it aside’ at any time has to be a mistake but to do this when we are ‘really up against it’ is surely a recipe for disaster and ‘up against it’ is how I would describe life for the past three years, since my husband David became seriously ill.
So, this is why I write, to turn the wheel of the Dharma, to let compassion flow by telling the story of life with David. It is a life both unique and very ordinary. It is our own but not unlike yours, I am sure. It has its highs and it has its lows, it pain, its joy and it is abundant in its daily opportunities to train with a bright mind and an open heart.
These are my first thoughts and there will be more but first I am off to get the goblet from the cupboard and make my offering.
Karen and her husband are long time congregation members and lay minister within our Order. I look forward to more articles, hope you do too.