I was raised in what I would describe as a "secular" family, in the midst of the typical North American "Christian" mindset of 1960's. Let's just say I don't recall Bible discussions around our dinner table. If the topic of religion did come up, it was usually in the context of how fanatical views often seemed to be the root of world problems. We collectively rolled our eyes upon hearing any public proclamation that "God is on our side."
Perhaps this is what appealed to me about Buddhism. As a non-theistic religion, it isn't centred around belief in a supreme being. It is, instead, a set of moral practices to live by. Ever since Alan Watts told me in the early seventies that "as the ocean waves, the universe peoples", I have been drawn to this non-dualistic way of perceiving reality.
I have read the works of several different modern day Buddhist teachers. These have included the Dalai Lama, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Shunryu and Daisetz Suzuki, to name a few. Thich Nhat Hanh's books are small, and easy to carry, making them easy to travel with. For me, they are as close as I will come to "reading scripture". They are teachings for my heart and soul.
Here is an excerpt from the first page of Touching Peace that spoke to me today:
Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. Peace is all around us- in the world and in nature-and within us-in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice. We need only to find ways to bring our body and mind back to the present moment so we can touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.
I found myself reading over this early in the evening as I travelled toward Ottawa on the bus from Toronto. I would put the book down, and glance at the passing landscape. I would feel awash in appreciation of the Universe in every glistening speck of melting snow, or in the passing silhoettes of the cedar trees. Everything simultaneously the same, yet unique. The ring of cell phones against the beauty of a spring sunset. All perfect.
The final chapter opens with this:
We come to the practice of meditation seeking relief from our suffereing, and meditation can teach us how to transform our suffering and obtain basic relief. But the deepest kind of relief is the realization of nirvana. There are two dimensions to life, and we should be able to touch both. One is like a wave, and we call it the historical dimension. The other is like the water, and we call it the ultimate dimension, or nirvana. We usually touch just the wave, but when we discover how to touch the water, we receive the highest fruit that meditation can offer.
In the historical dimension, we have birth certificates and death certificates. The day your mother passes away, you suffer. If someone sits close to you and shows her concern, you feel some relief. You have her friendship, her support, her warm hand to hold. This is the world of waves. It is characterized by birth and death, ups and downs, being and non-being. A wave has a beginning and an end, but we cannot ascribe these characteristics to water. In the world of water, there is no birth or death, no being or non-being, no beginning or end. When we touch the water, we touch reality in it ultimate dimension and are liberated from all of these concepts.
To me this reads as scripture. Teachings that touch me, and simply make sense. I don't know all of the terms, I have never been one to follow dogma or ritual. One thing I have learned, though is that there is no where to go, as I am already here.