Posted by: madhyama | February 22, 2010

The Lotus in Muddy Water

The Lotus in Muddy Water

There is a very old tradition or teaching in Zen, of which monks remind each other frequently.  It goes like this: “May we exist in muddy water with purity, like a lotus.  Thus we bow to Buddha.” 

What does it mean  to “exist in purity”?  It is one of the basic monastic vows.  It is also a story, a Buddhist story; one which envisions a being (the lotus flower), as much a part of the surface light/air as it is the dark/mire; which is intimately connected to pervasive disatisfaction (muddy water) yet which is, Pure.  This is the sort of existence toward which Buddhism claims it is worth striving.  Thus monks collectively renew this vow to Buddha every day.

The metaphor of the lotus describes well the relationship a spiritual coach ought to have with those who seek her or him out..  Like two lotuses in the same pond, essentially emerging from the same dark and mire, largely in agreement about purity and visited by the same bees and birds.  Anyone who can read these words and know their meaning could find value in the sort of personal consulting relationship which the right spiritual coach would offer.  I, for example, have a lot of practice at analyzing everything in terms of the harmony between the various elements in which the lotus exists.  The lotus is pure and needs no correction, but everything changes and the task is to maintain harmony within change.  If I were a Christian I might think that the lotus would be just fine if only it would reach out more energetically toward the sun; but as a Buddhist I suggest paying most attention to one’s own bit of muddy water.

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