Do you remember the Chilean miners? They were stuck underground for several months but then were miraculously saved. After they were rescued, they traveled the world like heroes, being feted wherever they went, having a grand old time.
Imagine being stuck down a mine. Imagine you have been down there so long that you don’t even register the possibility of a bright shiny world outside the mine, or, if you do occasionally wonder about such a thing, the thought quickly fades.
Then imagine that one day something amazing happens. A crack appears above you in the solid darkness, and light rays stream through.
When I was at high school, before I discovered Buddhism, these David Bowie lyrics from his song Starman inspired me for some half-remembered reason:
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’s told us not to blow it ‘cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”
I had always had an intermittent sense that there was something more to life than these painted appearances, all this superficial stuff, and that I was supposed to be striving for something deeper and more cosmic than just getting through life; I just was not sure what it was. I also felt that someone somewhere was trying to tell me something, I just wasn’t sure who or where they were!
I think everyone has thoughts like these, even if it is 3am in the morning and the thought quickly fades or is pushed away. These are tiny cracks of light. They don’t amount to anything consistent or even life-changing, but they are an expression of the actual interdependent nature of all phenomena and our pure potential or Buddha nature (mystic theistic traditions might say our divinity and potential for apotheosis) — and they give us an intuition of something beyond this world of ordinary appearances. Whether we choose to pursue those existential thoughts or not depends on many things, of course.
Back in the mine, imagine now that the crack above your head becomes larger. And there is now a voice coming through from outside.
That voice is telling you that he wants to come and meet you and not to blow it because there is a way out of this mine…
… in fact he has all the equipment we’ll need to dig ourselves out with his help.
I remember when I first realized I had met my own Spiritual Guide. I was a student at university and was, strangely enough, at a disco (it was the 80s!) dancing with a friend. We had both met Geshe Kelsang a few weeks or months earlier, I don’t really remember. Suddenly, I was hit with a very blissful understanding — my starman had arrived. I shouted to my friend over the music, with unchecked teenage exuberance and somewhat to his (and probably everyone else’s) embarassment: “Do you realize our Spiritual Guide has found us?!!” And yes, it did blow my mind.
Since then, my teacher Geshe Kelsang has given me exactly everything I need. If all the enlightened beings had gotten together to figure out what I personally needed to escape from ignorance, anger, attachment, mistaken dualistic appearances and suffering, and start helping others to do the same, they would have done exactly what they have done. They would have emanated as someone I can communicate with and relate to because he appears in a relatively ordinary form, and given me through that person all the teachings, inspiration and conditions I need.
If I want to get out of the mine, I need to stay close to that light source and voice — not stray too far or get all skeptical about it — and keep believing that there is another world beyond the world of suffering. As my teacher says in Transform Your Life:
“Without faith, everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and we cannot even imagine that pure faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist.”
In truth, the world outside the mind is not somewhere else – the Pure Land is right here, it is the emptiness (lack of independent existence) of all phenomena that is always mixed indivisibly with the blissful wisdom of all enlightened beings. (When Milarepa, the great Buddhist meditator and poet, was asked in which Pure Land he had attained enlightenment, he famously pointed to his cave.) This bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena, and we are only subtle mistaken appearances away from that experience ourselves. Faith in the enlightened beings and teachings necessitates faith in one’s own infinite potential. I sometimes like to think that we are just a trick of the mind away from enlightenment. As Geshe-la says in Yoga of Buddha Heruka:
“The moment our mind is free from subtle mistaken appearance, we open the door through which we can directly see all enlightened Deities. For as long as our mind remains polluted by subtle mistaken appearance, this door is closed.”
Through understanding that, I think we can understand what blessings actually are. But perhaps that can be the subject of another blog article.
Your comments are welcome!
(If you are interested in knowing more about my teacher, see this article.)