Church on Fire

My primary house of worship is not a house. It is not bound by walls. It is the unconfined natural world that calls me to spiritual practice. But now my spiritual home is on fire. For obvious health reasons I cannot risk the flames and smoke to venture into my beloved forests and deserts. This causes me to experience much sadness.

I am buoyed a bit by brief moments of tending to the garden outside the door of my home. We also feed the birds and provide them water, something especially important in these smoky dry days. So elements of nature are not far away. Still, I long for hikes in the wilderness far from the contrivances of human occupation. Something about nature feeds me in a way that nothing else can touch.

Of course, this is only my mind’s perception. On an absolute level, every moment is as precious as the next—regardless the circumstances. But while I am still in this relative body, I will take every opportunity to sojourn in the wilderness. I understand why spiritual masters have tended to sequester themselves far away from the madding crowd. These same masters recommend retreating to wild places as good support for one’s spiritual practice. Here is a sutra dedicated to that aim:

Arañña Sutta: The Wilderness Sutra

Thus have I heard. At one time Buddha was staying near Savatthi, at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika’s monastery. Now when night was passing a certain devataa (dakini), lighting up the whole Jeta Grove with her extraordinary beauty, approached Buddha. Having drawn near and prostrated herself she stood to one side.

Standing there the devata said:
Those living in the forest,
Peaceful and calm, of pure life,
Eating but one meal a day:
How is it they appear so radiant?

Buddha replied:
They sorrow not for what is past,
They have no longing for the future,
The present is sufficient for them:
Hence it is they appear so radiant …

Having not attained complete radiance, I am only a buddha hidden to myself and others. But I do sometimes experience the present moment as being sufficient, especially when resting in the natural world. As wildfires make it impossible to wander in nature, I will pray for the loss of forests and streams, deer and fish, jackrabbits and sage. I will make an offering of my sadness along with the grief of those who have lost their homes. I will help where possible and invite everyone to discover equanimity inside impermanence. And I will wander in the wilderness again.

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