Now, Water

Springs have a particular allure for humans. Water flowing out of the ground offers life-giving water with seeming abundance, symbolizing new life and regeneration. On this first day of autumn, we are hiking to the headwaters of Tyee Creek. The springs that feed this short waterway magically pour from the base of a dry hill. The waters flow in finger-like rivulets interspersed by tufts of deep green moss and algae. The energy is refreshing and a slight breeze generated by cascading liquid caresses my skin. Moist vapor drenches the landscape. I visualize the mist rising into the sky, condensing into cascading rains, and dousing all the wildfires in the world and in our minds.

One of the meanings of water, in the Buddhist sense, is ‘water of the spirit’, that is, Buddha Nature in general as well as one’s own true nature. Someone ‘walking on the water’ is thus descriptive of that person’s training and practice—following the ever-shifting, ever-flowing path of Buddha Nature. This is most noticeable near the source of a spring as water flows fresh and unsullied by the vagaries of conditioned patterns. We catch a glimpse of our true nature, a reflection of the pristine mind.

In the Shobogenzo, a treatise written by Zen Master Dogen, there is a section entitled, Mountains and Waters Discourse (Sansui Kyo). In it he describes the character of water, hence the Buddha Nature:

“It is not only that there is water in the world, but there is a world in water. It is not just in water. There is also a world of sentient beings in clouds. There is a world of sentient beings in the air. There is a world of sentient beings in fire. There is a world of sentient beings on earth. There is a world of sentient beings in the phenomenal world. There is a world of sentient beings in a blade of grass. There is a world of sentient beings in one staff. Wherever there is a world of sentient beings, there is a world of Buddha ancestors. You should thoroughly examine the meaning of this.”  

Everything is interconnected, vast and unlimited. As a spring breaks forth from the earth’s surface, it offers new life and we may experience re-cognition of our Buddha Nature. It is experienced as sameness, no separation between water and the flow of one’s own conscious awareness—the unimpeded movement of compassion for all beings in the universe. Ah, wilderness!

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