I continually find myself drawn back to surrender. At times, the desire to relinquish the grasp of the self and fall back into the stream of becoming is almost painful, a sharp longing miles from any greed or physical hunger. It is like the need for solitude, in some ways – and in any case a degree of solitude seems to be necessary even for the inclination to begin.

But surrender to what, or to whom? In theistic terms the answer might be straightforward, but otherwise? A lay neuroscientific way to put it might be to suggest something like the left brain’s analytical, critical faculties giving way, for once, to the intuitive, creative pondering of the right brain – but I’m not sure this tells us much more than the idea of surrendering to God, except without the emotional and metaphysical baggage!

We seem to need a bridge between the human experience of, longing for, surrender, and that surrendered to. For intellectually, conceptually, anything we might surrender to seems lost in a bright mist, invisible to the mind’s eye. it would be fatally easy to take a shortcut, to fall on the one hand into new age woo woo, or on the other into some traditional religious formulation such as the indwelling Christ or the pure land of Amida Buddha.

But, given that these attempts to frame a clearly spiritual experience are trying to get at something beyond mere cultural personification, they may in fact be attempts at bridging the gap, at carrying some kind of message to the courts of reason from out in the coastlands of the spirit.

In an interview, Taitetsu Unno once said,

The way I understand it, the historical Buddha, like you and me, had physical form, was born, and was destined to die. But the content of his being did not die and continues to live. And that is immeasurable life. And not only life. Because it brings us to awakening, it is also immeasurable light. We call it Amida.

Even Dewdrops Fall: An interview with Taitetsu Unno, Tricycle, Summer 1995

If we are happy to let “the content of… being” rest as the underlying, existential ground, rather than ascribing to it some individual essence or soul (which I doubt Taitetsu Unno would have meant in this context) then we do have something a bit more like a bridge, perhaps. The immeasurable, unknowable isness which precedes all things, illuminates and gives life to all beings, is given a name.

Satya Robyn:

As foolish beings, it is easier for us to form a relationship with unlimited light when we give this light a form, a story and a gender. Sometimes we connect with this light through an enlightened human being, as was the case with Jesus or with Shakyamuni Buddha. Sometimes we connect with it through a relationship with a more mystical figure, such as Amitabha Buddha or the bodhisattva Quan Shi Yin. A mystical Buddha has the ability to appear in whatever form is most valuable to the seeker.

Behind our human spiritual teachers and our mystical figures is the light, and the light itself is beyond gender…

Satya Robyn, Coming Home: refuge in Pureland Buddhism

In a way, practice itself, in whatever tradition – given that we who practise are frail, temporary, limited beings anyway – is no more than a bridge over the incoming tide, at the estuary of the spirit. Beyond is the limitless sea that bears us all.

[also published on Silent Assemblies]

1 thought on “Bridges

  1. Pingback: Bridges | Silent Assemblies

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