It’s Sunday morning and when I’m in town like I am today I stroll down the hill to the local Buddhist Temple. I sit in the back row off to one side. That’s a habit from attending school a lifetime ago. I never was a joiner and the back row provided both anonymity and a place to pursue my own train of thoughts.
It seems the congregation is celebrating ‘Bodhi Day’ in commemoration of Sakyamuni’s rendezvous with destiny beneath his tree of enlightenment. Curiously close to Christmas and the shortest day of the year I muse while the sensei at the front shares his dharma.
Then my thoughts shift course. “Buddhahood, enlightenment, dharma,” I fancy, are all just masks for something else, something indescribable, unexplainable, something at the heart of the great mystery, which two words of course are yet other masks.
What is forever hinted at and yet forever hidden behind the masks?
My eyes and imagination turn to the branches of a tree outside a nearby window. It’s early winter and the tree is asleep. No squirrels climb its limbs in search of nuts, no birds make their homes in the higher reaches, no insects go about their business on, in or around it.
But if it were summer tree, squirrel, bird and insect would be engaged in the all-consuming vocation of Life, the blind propagation from one generation to the next. Thoughtless instinct would be propelling them forward, and being thoughtless there would be no need for masks, they being one with the propagation.
It is us humans living in communities, cultures and civilizations and dependant on language and thoughts who resort to the masks. They point us back to what we have forgotten, having largely lifted ourselves free of thoughtless instinct and its blind propagation.
That is what I play around with in my imagination while the sensei shares his wisdom.
That, and then this: Joseph Campbell titled his wondrous four volume series ‘The Masks of God.” But that is a bit of a misnomer. Like saying the masks of yet another mask.
I prefer ‘The Masks of….”