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Author of this essay:

Rev. Yao Xiang Shakya, July 21, 2013

No, Not That! Anything BUT That!
by Rev. Yao Xiang Shakya

"Questions, questions – you wear me out with your questions, child. Find out for yourself – we all have to in the end. No one can give you faith. It is a gift…Seek and ye shall find….There is no other way. Do not pester me with your everlasting questions."
-Jennifer Worth

In this short almost curt response we find the pith of the teachings of the Buddha shouted by the aging and somewhat daft Anglican Sister Monica Joan. It is from the sweet and successful British trilogy, Call the Midwife, an endearing PBS television series based on the memoir of a midwife in England in the 1950's. It is down-to-earth and disarms the viewer because it is ever so matter-of-fact about the great matter of life and death.

The war is over and the East End of London although blitzed, rebuilds in the bosoms of mothers.

Jennifer Worth's memoir is a first-hand reminiscence of the mothers who struggled to give birth to and rear babies in the squalid conditions, too small, too dirty and too unsound for even the most robust. These mothers looked after their kids in broken-windowed flats without adequate heat or water, and there never, ever was enough money or food.

Her work captures the beginning of restoration in London after World War II, with the great gush of dropping babies in flats of buildings that showed the worse for wear from Nazi raids and persistent insidious scarcity before, during and after the war.

She, a young woman, found herself living in an Anglican convent where the nuns as well as 3 other nurse midwives spent their youth in catching babies. In an interview Ms. Worth lauded her experience as formative for life. Not raised in a particularly religious home she was startled to find her first assignment as a midwife was side by side with Anglican nuns. She is the one who pesters Sister Monica Joan with questions. She is the one who seeks an answer only to receive the swift and piercing come back from Sister Monica Joan.

Sister Monica Joan, a notable woman on her own, relinquished her noble English seat of wealth to seek and find a spiritual life as a nurse, a midwife and a professed Anglican nun. In the one simple reply she reflects the Buddha's wisdom to put no head above your own. The spiritual path is a do it yourself one. She did it. She was willing to surrender her title, her family relations and her moneyed comforts to serve selflessly those in the East End of London during the baby boom years. The material consequences were many, her family disowned her, her privileged life abandoned for long hours of work, prayer and service to others she did not know and who were in many ways foreign from her upper class upbringing.

When asked whether her renunciation of privilege was for the love of those in need she replied crossly,

"Of course not...(H)ow can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don't even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness and carrying on working, in spite of it? One cannot love these things."

An honest woman! She was not pie-eyed with piety or sanctimony. The nuns in this house struggled right along with the young nurses and the burdened mothers. They were not saints or angels but women not unlike the mothers. They worked long hours, laughed, and cried. But there was something that the young Worth sensed about these women, something she called "goodness."

So what was it that this British aristocrat, the old Sister Monica Joan knew? What was it that she loved?

Holy sages from all spiritual traditions seem to know something that turns things upside down for them, turns them into lovers, but not of mankind but something beyond words. This inexpressible, ineffable something is the "goodness" that Worth describes. It is not without intimate experience. "Goodness" of this kind is never without intimacy. It is "something you must find…for yourself." Buddha tells us the same thing "...to taste the truth..." and no one can taste it for us but us.

There isn't any other way despite our attempts to make it otherwise. We need to seek and find the spiritual treasures on our own. Much of what we share is a set of directions or instructions and heedful admonitions. "Try this!" a common and steadfast remark. "Stop THAT!" But even these revelations from one to another must be eaten by each one of us. Sister Monica Joan's admonition must be eaten. Buddha's wisdom tasted. We must eat it by following it.

"It's up to you!" is another and it is not unfamiliar to the Chan Master. In this shot of a piercing arrow of a sharp-eyed Chan master we meet the Seeker who is none other than us. The Seeker is not unlike us. We all want to know the answer to the Seeker's question.

Seeker: "What am I supposed to do?"
Chan Master: "Why are you asking me?"
Seeker: "Where else can I find what I am looking for?"
Chan Master: "Are you sure you lost it?"

The arrow bursts into the fretting mind of the seeker and spills the mind wishes onto the dazzling Dharma. IT, by whatever we call IT, the Buddha self is never apart from us right where we are.

Stop pestering the Master to give us something we already have. All the Master can do is point us in a direction. It's a revelation in itself to see we haven't lost anything, we just haven't found what is already present.

We may find some dislike or distaste for the Master's blow of Dharma because we may want to be handed the Dharma rolled up in a sacred scroll especially if the scroll matches what we think a spiritual path should be.

We'd rather avoid and ignore the experience of unearthing the Dharma right in our own muddy backyard. We bug the Master with pleas for instant salvation. We are inclined to open our mouths wide for spoon fed pabulum especially if we "like" it. Let's face it we all like to take the easy road especially if we think it is a shortcut. We like things to match up and conform to our cherished ideas of what we think the Dharma is. And many of us like black and white, detailed steps of start here with a written guarantee.

Faith often stated as confidence in Buddhism isn't black and white, detailed and offers no guarantee. There is no assurance of any particular result and if anyone says differently it is suspect. Faith is something quite akin to intuition or a seventh sense that is not easily enumerated. It is endowed. It requires time and practice and work to rely on what might feel like a hunch initially. It develops muscle like all muscle development, by exercising it.

There is nothing we can do for Buddha to get Buddha. Buddha does not need our help. Buddha is not apart from our living breathing being. There is no religious law that brings about salvation. And justice does not tip the scales in our favor. Yet, over and over again we think good works, religious laws and justice pave the path to awakening. It's rather shocking to recognize this reality but once we do we might find ourselves relieved that we no longer need to polish the brick that wants to masquerade as Buddha.

We may feel light-headed and dizzy when first we see this Dharma. We are much like the young midwife looking for what we need to do to get awakened. We may be crestfallen at the suggestion, "find out for yourself." This hint does not negate the path it's an encouragement to buckle down right where we are. It's not formulaic. And yet, when we see this Dharma we feel relieved that there is nothing we need to do. Oh sure, there are some standard instructions about the body, the breath, morality, a concentrated mind but the work of what Worth describes as "goodness" is found not figured out. Conceit and ambition are often confused for discipline and devotion. Consider the Anglican nun, she let go of wealth and position for hard work and practice tending to strangers. The message is clear, seek and find, there is no other way.

Hafiz, a 14th century mystic and poet in his poem, Tripping Over Joy makes it plain, simple and...AHEM! Find out for yourself.

Tripping Over Joy

What is the difference
between your experience of Existence
and that of a saint?
The saint knows
that the spiritual path
is a sublime chess game with God
and that the Beloved
has just made such a Fantastic Move
that the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
and bursting out in Laughter
And saying, "I Surrender!"
Whereas, my dear, I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

Humming Bird