From In Search of the Medicine Buddha
by David Crow, L.Ac.
I walk into the forest and find the ideal meditation place. A small stream splashes through a shady grotto below my seat, sparkles beneath the alders, then disappears into the rice terraces. The face of the rock beside me is adorned with grasses, herbs, and moss, where butterflies come dancing down from the heat and play unconcerned among treacherously hung webs. The air is lightly accented with sounds of insects and the occasional grunt of a water buffalo; eagles are nesting in the gorge below. I watch them preen, then lean lazily into the drafts, letting their flight draw my eyes toward the shimmering sunlight on the far shores of Lake Fewa.
My meditation seat is perfect. With a small flat area conducive to proper posture, high, steep, and narrow enough to keep me awake, it is an excellent support for practicing physical stillness and undistracted attention. Breath and mind flow seamless and smooth as I sit, mingling my awareness with empty space, like a child returning to its mother. Thoughts effortlessly dissolve of their own accord, so what need is there for the endless activities of grasping? Absorbed in the truth of our own presence, we find comfort and ease.
Contentment is medicine. It soothes the body like a healing salve, calming the currents agitated by mind's turbulence, restoring the peace lost in whirlpools of preoccupation. Contentment loosens the knots of muscular constriction, relaxing and softening layers of tension, bringing lightness to the body. It is an elixir for long life which protects from disease, giving potency to the immune system by harmonizing the physiological functions. From the flowing stillness of deep contentment come the rejuvenating powers of life force, restoring equilibrium to the humors and organ systems. The heart becomes calm, the circulation of fluids and essences smooth, and the breathing open; habitual thought patterns slow down. We remember a time before our lives became filled with worries and concerns.
Tranquility is potent medicine for all illnesses, and the antidote for samsara's troubling complexities. It is the pearl of great price, the flower of serenity, found hidden within the depths of perception where time's movement slows. Time's motionless river now spreads like a rich nutrient through my blood, unhurried in the gentle undulation of quiet breathing. I absorb this feast of spiritual nourishment, as life unfolds before my undistracted senses. There is renewal in this ancient yoga of non-action, so empty and uncluttered; overflowing contentment liberates from hungers and need. What a joy to be released from all cares and burdens of the self!
I remember a faraway place, Los Angeles, where time is a precious commodity. Time has evaporated like the plentiful springs and creeks that once nourished the Southern California desert. Lost in the relentless rush of continual anxieties and overwork, pushed out of our lives by the demands of complex ambitions, consumed by the repetitious routines that maintain technology's frail comforts, time has become harder to find than food.
The streets are on fire, blazing with the hot exhaust of 10 million cars painting a smoggy still life of perpetual motion. Pulled by the tides of hope and fear, the traffic swells as the sun rises and sets, waves of faces framed by tinted glass and steering wheels, faces filled with financial worries, with aspirations to riches and power, with the desire for simple gratification in this complicated world, with boredom and preoccupation.
The breath of contentment courses through my quiescent body.
I think of people I know, sick from lack of time. No time to prepare food, to eat without pressure, to digest without something disturbing the mind. Lacking time to rest, with bodies wearing down, they are sinking deeper into exhaustion and depletion. In the race against the clock, stimulants become routine, then sedatives to counteract them, toxic saturation is inevitable. We have trapped ourselves in the nets of our hungers, and are quickly exhausting the forces of life.
"What is the most important thing you have learned?" I once asked the sadhu Narayan Giri. He was a man who knew the hearts of others, so I listened to his words, and have thought about them through the passing years.
"The most important thing to know is who and what we are, where we come from, and where we are going," he had replied, as the sounds of the monsoon-swollen Kali Gandaki river swirled softly below, and the smell of moist greenery hung in the mists floating through the forest.
"What is this body?" Narayan asked, pointing to his brown belly; his smooth skin, warm eyes, and gentle movements revealed how years of yogic solitude in the jungles of India had brought the comfort of royal ease. "It is only the five elements that are dancing ceaselessly. We are born into this form, but it is always changing, and then we pass away. Everything is impermanent. This world is a dream. Knowing this is Self-Realization.
"And why is there so much suffering in this world?" I asked, as clouds descended around the tiny village of Devghat, God's Place.
"It is because people have forgotten Self-Realization," the sadhu replied. "It is because their minds are on fire, because they are attached to the things of this world, because they thirst."
The dark sky opened and rain fell on the oasis of quiet, where elders come to retire from the "world of illusion."
"With more devotion, peace will increase," Narayan had said, smiling, as the flowering plants lifted their open lips to receive the blessings from heaven.
Now, afternoon radiance warms my meditation garden, so beautifully enfolded within the forested cliffs above Lake Fewa.
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