I suddenly felt sad. Not depressed, but low and sorrowful. I realised that it must have been because I had just exploded and answered my husband in an angry, tense voice. He had said something and I reacted in this overblown manner. What he said could have been construed as an encroachment on my rights as a woman and a human. Whether this was the case or not, I was saddened by my own violent reaction.
How did that happen? Earlier that very day I was walking outside, quietly surveying autumn scenery of the North West England. The leaves were starting to turn in earnest. The birch trees sent their yellow carved leaves to the other side of the road, which did not have birch trees. I was in a state where my “I”, my “Ego” was relaxed and not constricted to just the confines of my body. I became conscious of this fact and a thought arose: “Here we go, finally I am getting close to Liberation.”
Rodney Smith from Seattle Insight Meditation Society once said that “Ego” will not let any such thought slip past it. The moment we decide on any identity for ourselves, including “a spiritual person”, the Ego will do everything to prove us wrong and to make us feel a failure. Another word for these “attacks” is Mara – The Evil One of Buddhist mythology and iconography.
It was Mara who, according to the tales of the Buddha’s night of Enlightenment, sent a sequence of hindrances down the Buddha’s way. Different versions of the story list images of the past, spirit armies and arrows, which the Buddha turned into flowers. Finally, when all this proved futile, Mara sent his own daughters to seduce the Buddha. The Buddha was able to withstand every attack. He also put his hand down to touch the earth, indicating that he has the right to be here in this spot where he is going to attain Enlightenment. This posture has become one of the traditional ways to depict the Buddha.
These stories are absent from the canonical texts. However, Mara is a character from the Canon. And the legends about the Buddha’s life are still part of Buddhist tradition, if not the official scripture.
My attention was previously focused on the attacks by the Mara and on the Buddha’s skillful and fearless deflecting them. I also noticed the lovely connection between the Buddha and the Mother Earth, whose blessing and protection he needed in order to get enlightened.
However, after reflecting on my experience, I realised that Mara’s attacks on the night of Enlightenment were not the essence of the story: they are simply plot lines. They could have happened earlier or later. And they did. According to the Buddhist Suttas, Mara appeared in the Buddha’s life on several occasions, prior to and after his Enlightenment.
The main focus of the story is actually the Buddha’s gesture of being in one spot and knowing that he had the right to. Where does this right originate? From the Buddha’s past and present lives’ virtuous deeds and accumulated spiritual practice.
To put it in other words, it does not matter if Mara tries to seduce one or not. The point is to be prepared (yes, like a Girl Scout), at every moment. To be grounded at every moment. To have all the work you have done supporting you at all times. To know that you are giving your all at every moment.
What happened at the moment when I heard my husband say something that I took to be offensive was a “knee-jerk reaction.” After seeing my pride in my grounded and boundary-eliminating state, Mara threw me a curved ball: he used my sense of self-righteousness. I immediately contracted from the expanse I experienced earlier. I became tense, and this tension was released in the form of an annoyed utterance.
The sorrow I felt almost immediately afterwards must have been my grief for the freer state that I myself ended and also exhaustion from wasting so much energy. This is what Mara does: he tricks us into reversing on our path to Enlightenment. He steals the energy that might have gone onto good causes into building an “Ego”, which then feels the need to protect itself.
This is why I said at the start of this post that it does not matter whether my husband’s statement was patriarchal or not.
My reaction came from “Ego”, and not from my rightful spot on the Mother Earth. “Ego” does not care about feminism or any other cause. It only cares about preserving itself and will use anything to make people proud, isolated, and opinionated. In short, Mara will use anything to keep “Ego” from disappearing and to keep Enlightenment from happening.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a frame drummer, writer and an artist at http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and had been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention. Oxana is exploring the Sacred Feminine through frame drumming, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Her frame drum band can be found here.
6 thoughts on “Touch the Earth by Oxana Poberejnaia”
Going outside to touch the earth now. Thank you for a beautiful post!
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Thank you for your kind words, Elizabeth! I still cannot believe that we connect like this through this blog. Amazing!
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There is a teaching that the classic image of the Buddha touching the ground, indicates that he attained enlightenment in this world, our world — thus we don’t have to die in order to attain bliss. And there’s something humble in that too, in that sense, that we don’t need to attempt some exceedingly difficult thing. Simply to keep still and let go of your thoughts and worries, can enable you to enter into realization, thus anyone, even a little child, can do it.
Enjoy reading your posts always, Oxana! But would also like to see more Buddhists contributing. I’ve read Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, and recently her book, titled “Most Intimate,” very fine. Are there any other recent books you could recommend regards women writers in Buddhism?
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At Thich Nhat Hanh retreats, we did a practice called touching the earth, repeating gratitudes and letting go of “stuff” – placing our fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, etc – our Mara – into the earth and imagining it turning to flowers and fruit. I am smiling just remembering this beautiful practice which I once brought to a storytelling retreat.
I love a Dan Fogelberg song called “Part of the Plan” where he starts by saying he has moments “all steady and strong, feeling so holy and humble…” and soon “all worried and weak feeling he’s starting to crumble. The meanings get lost and the teachings get tosssed…” Yep, EGO. Our good friend ego waiting for just such a “sure” moment to jump in . Thanks for your words.
Like Fran above, I always enjoy your posts, Oxana. At the very least, they make me think, In this case, I know I have a very different take on ego than you do. I see it as a tool that can be either used for me or against me. In your story, it seems that it was used as a very sharp tool that hurt you. But I’m wondering if there’s another part of this story that hurt you as well: “The point is to be prepared (yes, like a Girl Scout), at every moment. To be grounded at every moment. To have all the work you have done supporting you at all times. To know that you are giving your all at every moment.” Every moment? Giving your all? All the time? This seems like a very high hurdle, in fact, a perfectionist goal. I know in my life, perfectionism has always hurt me, because it makes me feel ashamed of myself. So I let go of my perfectionism as soon as I catch it, reminding myself that I’m human, and perfection is something a human can’t attain.
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