The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bird Skeleton, Kiki Smith, 2000

This morning I dreamed that I was galloping through open fields and wooded land, riding on the back of a deer. Effortlessly, we ran beneath a deep blue sky. At our feet were small white animals that had laid down to die, not suffering. Were they mice? Their pelts were pure white, and from my place on the deer's back, my vision was like a microscope and I could see each downy hair and how it lay on the body so perfectly.
We passed through an open field, running beside a fence. A huge red tail hawk sat on the upper barbed wire and watched us run by, undisturbed by our action. With my microscopic vision, his feathers were awesome!
Song birds were close. Other animals joined us. My deer just kept running.
As we entered a wooded area, I realized that I wasn't even holding on to the deer for balance, and that the ride was so smooth--I marveled at the comfort I felt, even as the woods became darker, denser, and space closed in around us.
I became aware of the deer's breathing, faint yet steady. I did not want to tire the deer out, and thought it might need water and food.
We stopped in the middle of the woods, in an place where people had built homes, and lives, and though it was a tiny village, it was a good place to live a life. I found water and food, but then the deer was gone, and it was just me, wandering further, walking, looking and looking and looking.

Sometimes I can see how a dream heralds a new space of conscious awareness, and the days of my waking become a little less informed by habit action, the workings of the skandhas.

Yesterday morning I unloaded our big high fire kiln, full of student pots, and a few of my own. One in particular was foremost in mind--a low, unglazed bowl, with the corpse of a small sparrow inside, something a student had found and had given to me to incinerate in the kiln. She thought at first to bury the sparrow, but then decided on the "kiln burial".
Initially I thought this was a great idea, and saved the dead bird. But as the days went by, I lost my nerve and simply wrapped the corpse in plastic and threw it into the Dumpster. Later that day, as I began loading the kiln, one of my colleagues asked where the bird was, and when I showed him, he leaned into the Dumpster and retrieved the bird.
"I think you need to try this, see what happens," he said. I gave him my bowl, and he tenderly spread the wings out, arranged the tail and tiny legs. "Now, just leave it."

I did not just leave it.
I thought about my action all through the 24 hour firing. At one point when I cranked the heat, I thought I saw feathers rising from the flu....

Finally, when I was able to take the bowl from the kiln, all I could say was, "Holy Shit!", and stand there, staring, mouth agape.
The bird's perfectly formed skeleton was curled around a puddle of deep amber glaze, relics of a spirit that had flown freely through the sky, that had perhaps raised countless young that now flitted around the kiln, a small spirit that knew what it was like to be nearly weightless in a vast universe, threading the clouds together with its song.

Living and dying is what we all do, there is no escaping this path.
Through many lifetimes, I am the bird. I am the deer I ride, the breath I listen to, and the white-furred animal, forever dying in the path; the hawk on the fence, the raccoons in the corn fields, the village dweller, and the one who walks away from the village; the wooded land, the open land, the breath through the animal and the wind that goes around and around the planet, scattering and joining very living and non living thing.

The word for this is Buddha!

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