It is the beginning of the Jewish new year. It begins with a month of repentance. This is rather like the Buddhist idea of always beginning anew. Beginnings are dedicated to Vajrasattva who is the bodhisattva of purity. It is a common idea that things start off pure and then get soiled later and every so often one has to wipe the slate and begin again.
At the same time, there is, in Buddhism, also the idea that we only exist because of past karma and karma is inherently problematic precisely because it is what ties us to samsara. So here there is a kind of opposite ideal picture that one starts off as a mess and gradually lets go of the habits and compulsive tendencies that keep the wheel turning.
Living in relative isolation in my hermitage I can appreciate both ‘models’. With our Western cultural history we always tend to think that the right and good course is to do something. By doing something we hope to heal the sick, relieve poverty, end wars and make everybody happy.. However, there is a lot to be said for desisting from doing things, too. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. There are many situations when restraint is the best policy. Sometimes it is true that “least said, soonest mended,” and many things sort themselves out better when we give them the space in which to do so.
Self-restraint is something that the Buddha emphasised strongly. To exercise it takes faith. One has to trust that the universe can manage without one - that one is not so important. Spring comes and the grass grows by itself, as it says in the Hsin Hsin Ming.
There is a middle path. When doing things, it generally works best when one can co-operate with natural processes. Here on our land nature is always busy changing the balance of things. We add a few touches here and there, but it is hopeless just making a plan in the abstract and ignoring what nature is up to. It is better to give a fair amount of time to simply watching and contemplating. then one can see what is possible and when one does act it is in some harmony with the natural grain of things.
This morning I needed a baton for a piece of woodwork and did not have one of sufficient size for what I wanted. I thought to put it on my shopping list. Then, walking across to the shed, I saw the heap of old timber that we turned out of the barn ages ago. I pulled out a piece. It was much bigger than the baton I needed and it was partly rotten. I took it back and cleaned it up. Out of it, eventually, I got my baton and it looks a lot better than a machine cut shop one would. The twists and scars all add character.
This old piece of wood is hardly ‘pure’, but I can ask Vajrasattva to bless it nonetheless. It is starting a new life now and I, repenting of my over hasty wish to impose my plan on things, am delighting in this new old bit of timber. It certainly must be carrying a lor of karma, but therein lies the beauty. We can learn a lot from that.