April 07, 2010

What we see where we are

Several weeks ago while in California, someone sent me a series of photographs of caves. The spelunkers had entered vast caverns and canyons underground with magnificent waterfalls and rivers. These scenes equalled the beauty of our great national parks, yet the caves are places most of us will never see.

The caves, for all they are underground, are still different from mines. This week we've had two major accidents in mines - one in China, one in the U.S. In both places, men are still trapped underground. About six months ago, a cave was closed when a young man was tragically wedged between stones while hanging upside down on climbing ropes. He died during the rescue and was left to be buried there. The cave was closed to other adventurers.

All this recalled the story of a member of our Sangha who moved to Idaho and took a well paying job with a mine company. I don't remember what Doug's tasks were in the mines. It was a specialty mineral perhaps. At any rate, Doug went on the first day and received instruction in how to enter the mine and how to work once he reached the floor of the shaft. he described the frightening event to me. The shaft was straight down into the earth and was approximately wide enough for one human plus a small amount of equipment - about five feet by four feet. The platform elevator fed downward into this black tomb. The elevator operated manually something like a dumbwaiter on a pulley system. Doug got onto the elevator and after going down quite a long stretch, made the mistake of looking up and realized the hole was so small and he had gone deeply enough that he could no longer see light above him. He panicked but decided to keep going. He was a good Zen student who wouldn't let a little thing like fear take over!!! He said when he finally got to the bottom, it was quite beautiful down there. He did the work he had agreed to do, brought back hours of work, pulled himself up to land and light, shook hands with the mine manager, thanked him for the work, said good by and never went back again.

Well all this leads me to think about "being trapped" and what this means in the mind of the Bodhisattva, in the mind of wisdom. It's true that the miners who are down there have been going into the mines for years and years and I can't apply my own thinking to their situation. In my mind, they are claustrophobic, as I would be just going ten feet below. They are in known territory, but they are not in a common daily situation. They are likely cold, perhaps injured, hungry. They are trapped.

There are many ways to go with a metaphor of "being trapped" but I'm interested at the moment of working with the mind of wisdom in the midst of the experience of being in a tight situation in which we cannot easily maneuver or extricate ourselves. What do we do? How do we handle ourselves? How are we present to a greater Reality that is the essence of true light and vision?

I heard Ryushin of Zen Mountain Monastery talking about a group of children who were asked to name the biggest thing in the whole word. Some mentioned whales, some mentioned dinosaurs, some mountains. Then a little girl said that the biggest thing in the world was her eyes. After all, her eyes could see even wider than the dinosaurs. Her eyes could see the whole mountain and even more space around it. So this little girl could see the whole world within her mind. Her eyes were opened to true space and light.

The spiritual notion on the other side of 'being trapped' is "release." On the one hand we have to completely understand and accept the situation. We can't run away. We are trapped. And on the other, we have to see that there is complete release within the situation itself. We are always released when we see with and through the Mind of Wisdom. Something that may be learned in such a situation could be far greater than the simple release of the body alone.

There is no doubt that there is tremendous suffering for the miners and their families. At the same time, the spiritual dimension can release them in the midst of great anguish.

Without the dimension of Wisdom and the penetrating light of Dharma to lead the way through the dark passages of life, we are stuck, trapped in our own tunnels. When we hear the news of miners trapped, we can see them within ourselves, opened to wisdom and light in the midst of circumstance. This way they are saved within us even if their bodies give way. And this is true of any situation in which we ourselves are trapped. The Light of Wisdom is a point of release.