Tuesday, May 6, 2014

the end, the beginning ... or something

Yesterday, I did what I had promised myself I would do -- cleaned, wrapped and stowed in a shopping bag the two Buddhist reminders I had cared for over the years.

One was a many-armed version of Kuan Yin, sometimes referred to as the Bodhisattva of Mercy. S/he had sat on a small shelf in the living room with an incense bowl in front of him/her. The other was the head of an unnamed bodhisattva that sat on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen ... also with an incense bowl, but also with a small cup of water that I would replenish from time to time.

Each representation was done in metal of some sort -- Kuan Yin purchased years ago when I saw it in a shop window and "had to have it!" and the bodhisattva head, with a hole in the back and fitting onto a hand-made pedestal/stand which made me love its creator ... a shop owner gave me the head for free after I promised to care for it.

And each morning, for years and years, I would light some incense -- really, pretty good incense -- for each of these reminders and the slow, wafting smell would reach out into cracks and corners around the house.

Years and years and now no longer.

In one sense, it was like a funeral. I was not sure exactly what was being lost, but there was a sense of loss, as at a funeral ... only more gentle, perhaps. It was time. Why was it time? I really don't know. It was just time to honor what I had honored without adding on any glowing description like "honor." It was time to put aside childish things ... gently and with care. It was time for friends to go home ... and for the memories they inspired to linger on the air, like incense.

I washed and wrapped and placed the implements in a bag and then put the bag on a closet shelf in the zendo. I washed the top of the fridge and made sure it was clean. I replaced the Kuan Yin statue with a lovely carved bowl.

In one sense, removing these old friends saved the money I spent on incense ... and I could use the money. But that wasn't the whole story. There was the attention I had paid and now no longer needed to pay. Attention, attention, attention ... good ol' Buddhism. And there was a sense that these exemplars that I honored would be consumed by the no-attention objects accumulating around the house ... that, as ever, the mediocrities would rise up and wash away something I considered not-mediocre.

But "mediocre" is not exactly the right word -- it's too critical and comparative. I liked these two old friends and appreciated their efforts. I liked them -- it was inescapable. And I defy anyone to show me something that is not inescapable.

I put the bag on the shelf in the zendo. Perhaps it will be found one day and the contents will have a whole new meaning or impact. Something for the tag sale. Something to revile. Something to honor.

Placing the bag on the shelf, I realized I wasn't entirely sure: Was this a farewell or was it another version of hello?

Take your pick. It boils down to the same thing.


The end, the beginning ... or something.


  1. Master of CeremoniesMay 7, 2014 at 9:18 AM

    Thanks for keeping us posted on your Buddhist Puja Evolutions. It is a bit interesting in a strange who-really-cares-about-this way.

    At first I wondered about whether your dedication to your spiritual ideals was wavering, then worried about your tendencies towards being OCD. Next I wondered how very grateful you were that your family was able to tolerate all that incense over the years. I know cheap Chinese and Indian incense gives me big headaches. I love good incense in a small, rare, occasional doses. In any case your incense bill is sure to decrease to some extend.

    Bowl? Buddha Head? Both a just dust collectors! What about the appreciation and enshrinement of Empty Space and Fresh Air?

    Spring cleaning and changes in decorations are usually good. Unwavering dedication is also usually a good thing, too.

    Change is never necessarily good or bad; but it is far better to initiate it than to be subjected to it.

  2. I just saw this article and it made me think of your blog post:


    I don't usually burn incense because my husband doesn't like it, but I do have a bit just in case.