After touring the grounds of Shugsep nunnery, in July, 2017, I walked inside the darkened and silent main sanctuary. Everything was completely undisturbed; no one else was present. I noticed the colors, the familiar designs, the empty seats marked by the heavy woolen robes collapsed like ghosts on the benches, the teaching throne. Everything was in its place; there was only my breathing.
Then, in a slow wave, all the “things” in my view became one thing. All objects knit together into a single object. Everything became one teaching. Down to the smallest detail, even the fake flowers were a teaching. The decaying fresh fruit, the wooden bowls, the gold, the fading paint, it was all teaching; a single non-conceptual communication that had no words. It was entirely uniform, as if everything became tuned to a single harmonic to which I myself was becoming tuned. Everything was in its place; nothing was out of place. There was no other place for anything other than where—and what—it was. It was all an intricate code, like pieces of a puzzle suddenly, upon assembly, becoming a coherent image, conveying a single message.
All the activity outside the temple space was teaching. Everything beyond was also teaching, the weather, the mountains, the pilgrims on the way. Everything in every living moment is the same message. I was inside the space of all teachings, all schools, all teachers, all of the past and stretching into an undefined future, a vast dynamic universe of infinite nuance, the tiniest ripples part of a vast ocean, having no language, no structure, no predetermined activity.
I wasn’t expecting this.
I dissolved into all of it, again, in communion with the heart-mind of the victorious ones. “I” was a part of it, even as “I” no longer existed. The barrier between the perceiver and the perceived dissolved. There was no Other. Everything was image. Not many images; one seamless continuous image encompassing everything. Nothing I saw had any solidity, any material quality or substance whatsoever; it was none other than teachings, a uniform message available to all who would listen.
There were no words for or about anything; not the deities on the walls, the colors on the ceilings, nor the figures by the altar; neither the hands that crafted those figures, nor the statues of teachers nor the teachers themselves. Not even the Buddha himself.
There were no words–or thoughts, or concepts–at all. There was only a simple, unitary and direct knowing, an all-knowing that needs no words, that could not find words if it tried; without a source, a wind blowing across centuries, populated by an infinite number of beings, uncountable know-ers who didn’t (and mostly still don’t) know that they know, permeating everything and every one, “my” thoughts, all thought, my body of light, the same light from the doorway, the sky beyond. There was no differentiation between words and thought and knowing.
There was no time. The truth, the seamless image of truth lives outside of time. It permeates the construction we call time and it is not time at all. Then again, neither is it other than time. I was not standing there at that moment, not in any discrete moment—or any moments. I was standing there my entire life, from beginning to end and without beginning or end, standing in every “event,” as if discrete events ever existed, and though “in” events, also not separate from any event.
The material nature of a temple, a sutra, a speech or treatise, the perceptual apparatus that produces them all, the sky, the mountains rising to that sky,…it is all the same, a dynamic display of color for which there is no name, only nuance beyond comprehension. It is generation itself, just as I had first seen at Mount Madonna Center in 2013, rising and disappearing in every instant.
There is no longer anything I can call not-teaching, anything that stands apart from the essence of truth, anything other than a bottomless knowing that cannot be spoken. The sacred may not always be apparent. But it does not lie at the edge of or beyond or within…anything. We may imagine that that reality is just beyond our grasp, that a ‘crossing over’ is necessary. But from what, into what? It is already everything….without any edges, living beyond the illusion of being separate.
It is all mandala. It is all Buddha-field. It is all Buddha. Nothing is other than Buddha, not the suffering of the lost, the greed of the wealthy, the deceit, the derangement, manipulation or ruthlessness of the powerful, the striving of the seekers, the violence of the deluded, the nobility of the compassionate, nor even the amorality of the psychopath. Every look on every face is a changing color in the ever-shifting magic mural of the living dharma. It is all Buddha. It is all perfection. There is nothing out of place. Nothing “happens” at a wrong time.
No decision we face can ever be postponed or avoided. We are always coming home and we are always at home. There is no place that is not home. There is no place to go. There is no away. We are home. There is no remote cave of feeling, perhaps blocked up for decades, generations or even lifetimes that is not worth exploring. There are no chambers of the heart to be abandoned. There is no dead-end of relationship.
There is no limit to a commitment to truth or to the invitation always present. There is no wrongdoing that cannot be faced, no darkness that can remain unseen, no search for justice to be abandoned. There may be exhaustion, but there is no sleep that cannot be interrupted. Nothing exists outside the temple. The temple is everything. Everything is the temple. The Buddha field is everything. We cannot give everything–or anything–to it. It is already everything we are. We have nothing. Our absolute poverty is our true nature. We have everything we need, we already are everything we need in every moment.
We may still retain will. Or at least that is what we imagine. We both exercise it and surrender it to realize essence nature. Not “our” essence. Essence does not belong to anyone or anything. It has no source. Yet, it is not other than everything. We exercise will to pursue what we do not yet believe we already are. Will, entwined with self, is both freeing and also a form of bondage. The exercise of will releasing bondage is the great surrender, the great paradox, the Two Truths in operation, inextricable, inexplicable, perpetual and ineffable, without condition or attribute. The Great Mandala. The Great Perfection.