The Text of the Month No 9

By Jos Slabbert

Do you understand?

The source of our self-nature
Is the Buddha of innocent truth.
Mental and physical reactions come and go
Like clouds in the empty sky;
Greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.

(Shodoka)

Explanation and comment

The first two lines of this passage make me realize how near and how far we are from paradise. It is frustrating, isn’t it? We are born full of innocence, but then in our vain effort to find the truth, we lose our innocence. It’s almost as if these two qualities cannot co-exist. The one seems to eliminate the other. This is probably because we often falsely see truth as intellectual matter, something we should acquire through analytical thinking, research and academic activities, or through fervent religious activities full of hardship and suffering.

In this passage, truth is clearly something else, for it exists as an inseparable part of innocence.

Think about it this way. When we study or do research, are we really searching for the truth? Aren’t we just acquiring the means to utilize power? We cannot else but lose our innocence this way. As for acquiring truth? Forget it. Knowledge? Yes. Insight? Yes. But truth?

By the time you start searching for the truth, you have already lost your innocence. Isn’t this a reason to despair? Aren’t we in this age desperately searching for truth only after materialism and greed have alienated us from ourselves? Are we really defeated even before we have begun?

How do we regain our innocence? Isn’t this a question human kind has been struggling with for ages? Doesn’t this touch the very core of most religions?

The author tries to answer this question in the next part of his passage.

Mental and physical reactions come and go
Like clouds in the empty sky;
Greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.

If our true nature is one of "innocent truth", then all our negative and destructive reactions and emotions are "like bubbles on the surface of the sea". They are not really part of us.

I find this passage brings within reach what seems to be unreachable. In fact, you don’t have to search for your true nature. You just have to realize that your natural state is one of innocent truth. Negative qualities come and go like bubbles on the ocean, but the ocean, your true nature, remains, and this true nature is full of innocence and truth.

Let me extend the metaphor. All you have to do, basically, is to reduce the bubbles. It does not quite work, though, does it? I mean, there are always bubbles on the ocean, aren’t there? The passage itself admits that they "appear and disappear". Does this mean that we will somehow never completely liberate ourselves from those moments where our true nature is disturbed by jealousies, or fits of anger and hatred? Can’t we become totally tranquil so that we permanently become like the ocean in those rare moments when it lies before us in total tranquility and beauty?

Unfortunately, life, like the ocean, is mostly not tranquil and serene. Often storms not directly caused by us will hit us, and we will have no choice but to ride them out and survive them.

But it’s good to know that all the negativity and destruction cannot really touch our real nature. We are not the clouds and the storms. We are the gloriously empty sky.