Monday, February 5, 2018

The Buddha's Eyes

I found this essay by my friend, Felicia Miller, who became a Buddhist, in my files the other day, something she wrote and shared with me  toward the end of her life (she passed in 2009 ).  And then I found a poem she gave me long before that time, when we were both young students during  halcyon years at Berkeley.  I just felt like sharing and pairing the two here as I remember my friend as well.  

I think Felicia would see the connection.  There are gaps in a life, but again, the same song, no gaps, just an open window.


This longing to see the gaze of the Buddha, what is it? What would it be to look into this ancient, ancient man’s eyes? 

Like entering the tractor beam of a powerful darshan? Perhaps, but not only, also something else. “The taste of freedom is everywhere in my teachings,” the Buddha said. Maybe like looking through a window to see a limitless sky.

My friend Claude told me about a ritual that Korean priests perform to bind the community to the temple and to each other. They go to the temple hall and attach strings from the lanterns that hang near the ceiling and run these strings from each one around the temple, going from each to each. All the strings converge at the eyes of the  Buddha above the alter. Like the tiny buddhas in a certain Tibetan practice that we picture streaming through the practitioners’ eyes,  back and forth moving along rays of light that connect us all. After the Korean temple ritual is completed,  priests cut the strings into  threads of protection  for others to wear. People tie them around their necks or wrists and wear them until they disintegrate. Protected by the community, the sangha, protected by the dharma, protected by the Buddha.

So what would I be looking for, if I could look into the Buddha’s eyes? 

Surfing Amazon, I came across a book titled “To See the Buddha.” An image of curious eyes accompany the caption, “Look inside this book.” I look, and find: “the Buddha is an absent presence.” Present and absent, yes. The Buddha is an act of the imagination, really, an absence we fill with our desire to be ruled no more by desire.

In Sri Lanka, an artist has finished an image of the Buddha. The last thing he must do is to paint the Buddha’s eyes. He does not do this painting the  vacant lids up close. Instead, he  holds up a mirror, using  the reflection in the mirror to guide him. The statue’s eyes are thus  not part of the representation of  form.  They are a  gap  introduced through the device of the mirror’s reflection. A point of reflection for the artist,  a gesture that says “This is a statue of the Buddha, but not the Buddha. This isn’t it.” 

A gap. Bardos at every level of being - at the end of life, and at the ends and beginnings of every breath, if we can but look for them. 

The Buddha is a presence that denotes absence.  We  stand and stare, but to see the gaze of the Buddha, one would have to look with the eyes of the Buddha. A shift somehow.  A trick with incense and mirrors.  What does one see through the Buddha’s eyes? 

What is seeing when no one is looking? Nagarjuna says “the horizon of enlightenment is the same as the horizon of samsara.” The same, only different, but not.

Felicia Miller  (2009)

Someone was the Sun

            calling from across
                        the little island fields

we turned,  and took the last
          glimpse of the closing lid

"Let's go, shall we?"

I could not answer
         but only followed after

         just someone's glance
                    along the rock path.

Felicia Miller (1972)

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Fascinating piece. I think Felicia nailed the idea perfectly!