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This Tree is For You

One of my first encounters with Tibetan Buddhism was a weekend program with a lovely lama from Ohio. She was wise and funny and relatable. It was spring, and she brought in a chocolate Easter bunny to put on the shrine. I liked the idea of the chocolate bunny up there -- the gold foil made it fit in -- but I wasn't so sure about some of the other items. Relics? Really? The Buddha's fingernails or some such thing? C'mon.

I left the dharma center with a 10-page handout on how to set up an altar, what to put on each of the many levels and so on. It seemed overwhelming and suspiciously similar to Roman Catholicism, the altar and the gold and the relics and all that. As a former Catholic, I preferred the simplicity of Japanese Zen settings.

In another moment that tickled the dusty back realms of my brain, she recommended a practice of offering everything to the buddhas and bodhisattvas -- the beautiful day, the new grass, the chocolate bunny.

It was an interesting practice of noticing things to offer up, finding beauty in the world, but who was offering and what was the offered and who was it being offered to? How was this different from giving all glory to God because I was unworthy of it?

On the surface, not much. But, oh, there is so much below the surface. There is no offerer or offering or offered to. Nothing is permanent, you can't hold onto it, and you can't really give it away.

But you can let it go.

This probably was explained to me by the lama from Ohio, but I couldn't comprehend it at the time. When you give away the day, the light, the fluorescent orange maple leaves to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, you're relaxing your grasping mind, the one that wants to preserve the leaves, hang onto the day, save time in a bottle. You're seeing the impermanent, transitory nature of things, accepting that the satisfaction things bring is fleeting. And that you don't exist just as the buddhas and bodhisattvas don't exist -- but you do exist just as they do.

The deities in Buddhism are not separate from you; they are you. All beings have the same inherent, clear, compassionate nature -- buddhanature. In our human form, though, that's covered up by our humanity: Our fears, foibles, and judgments.

When you offer something to the buddhas, you're offering to your self and all beings rather than holding it in your grasp. 


“Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.”

-- Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More than You

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