The Flower Ornament Scripture (Lower Mental Plane)AC 234: May 26, 2004 (Boston)
About ten days ago a friend called from work asking if I wanted to go see a movie that night. He had in mind a Buddhism-based film from Korea called Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. I’ve known about the film for a couple of weeks, but haven’t felt the urge to see it. I surprised both myself and my friend by declining to see the film. Then I forgot about this interaction.
The present adventure in consciousness helps me understand why I didn’t want to see the film. It wasn’t just because I was so busy with revising my book on music, Music and the Soul.
The film is not of the commercial variety, which I usually eschew. It’s supposed to be aesthetically beautiful and spiritually moving. My adventure explained that my reaction against the film had to do with a mental backlash against Buddhism, a result of my having recently finished reading a translation of the Avatamsaka-sutra called The Flower Ornament Scripture, a 1600 page Buddhist text from 1800 years ago. (This same text is referred to in AC 229, where it’s called the Flower Garland Scripture.)
I’d gone to the Avatamsaka-sutra hoping to find some clues about Buddhist views of nonphysical reality that I could write about in my next book, an as yet untitled sequel to Otherwhere. I did find a few such clues, but mostly the book seemed to me to be grandiose and spiritually unhelpful. I read about ten pages from it per night just before going to bed for the last several months--mostly to calm my mind and prepare for sleep. Such reading was often sufficiently soporific to guarantee a good night’s rest.
In the present adventure, which occurred while I slept, I found myself in a small library, a one-room storefront filled with books on Buddhism. I scanned the shelves for The Flower Ornament Scripture. But it wasn’t there. A few other people were sitting at tables reading.
A man who appeared to be in charge of the library was sitting at a wooden desk on a platform that was a couple of steps above the level of the floor. The storefront seemed to be in a shopping center near where I grew up, called Washington Square. [Libraries are often a sign of being on the lower mental plane, where vast stores of human wisdom may be encountered.]
I sat down at one of the tables. In front of me on the table was a diagram. It appeared to be a photograph of a page from an ancient text that resembled the Egyptian Book of the Dead, except that it had its source in Buddhism. My task was to examine the diagram and write about it.
The diagram was divided into several regions separated by lines of various widths. Some of the lines were unbroken, creating regions that were closed off from one another. Other lines were broken, creating passages between the regions on either side.
The diagram appeared to be a map. As I wrote about it, I found myself saying that the diagram describes zones of the Buddhist version of what I call Otherwhere, or nonphysical reality, including a city that represents the Buddhist version of the Afterlife.
What I wrote seemed to be extraordinarily complicated: “If you’ve achieved a certain level of development, then you’re born into this region and have access to these other areas, but not those.” The same thing seemed to be true for each region of the diagram.
[In Buddhist belief, there are six realms of rebirth into which people are constantly reincarnating, based on their karma while alive on Earth: the hells, whose denizens are demons (i.e., people whose chief feature in life was the desire to harm others); the realm of the hungry ghosts (people whose chief feature was gluttony); the realm of the animals (people whose chief feature was the desire to survive); the realm of the humans (people whose chief feature was spiritual ignorance); the realm of the titans (people whose chief features were pride, envy, and spiritual arrogance); and the realm of the gods (people whose chief feature was being absorbed in the pleasures afforded by their spiritual attainments while ignoring the growth needs of others). These were the regions I saw in the diagram and was writing about.]
As I wrote, I became aware of a central portion of the diagram that none of the regions that surrounded it opened into. It was completely sealed off from them, a large empty area.
[This central area represented Nirvana, a term that means “extinguishment” and refers to liberation from the endless cycle of karma and rebirth in the six realms.]
For some reason, at a certain point in my exploration of the diagram, I turned it upside down, so that the top became the bottom. When I did so, I discovered a completely different image from the one I’d been writing about. The lines of the diagram flowed together to yield a picture of a seated Buddha with a large belly, lounging back, surrounded by jewels.
[Jewels are a constant presence in The Flower Ornament Scripture. They symbolize spiritual attainments.]
I was shocked. Was I reading the whole thing wrong?
At this point, the librarian, whom I recognized as a Facilitator, came over to me, smiling. “So, you’ve found the secret,” he said.
“What secret?” I asked, thinking that I had simply been wrong about the orientation of the diagram.
The Facilitator flipped the diagram back to its original position, which I was now thinking of as upside down. He pointed to something toward the bottom that I hadn’t noticed before--an image of a large fish, a carp. It was worked into the lines of the diagram in such a way that one wouldn’t noticed it if one were too focused on the details of the diagram, as I had been. Like certain optical illusions, once I saw it, it seemed perfectly obvious and I wondered how I could have missed it before.
Then the librarian flipped the diagram again, and there was the Buddha. The most remarkable thing about the diagram was the rigidity and squareness of the lines and regions when viewed in one direction and how smoothly they flowed together into gentle curves to form the Buddha when it was flipped over. Even the colors were different. The map-like version of the diagram showed red and black lines on a golden brown papyrus-like surface, as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. When reversed, the primary colors were slate blues, grays, and blacks. I was amazed.
Then the librarian, or Facilitator, began explaining to me what I was seeing. “You’ve been looking at the Buddhist perspectives on the Afterlife from the wrong angle. The fish represents ignorance or unconsciousness of spiritual truth. For those who operate from that perspective, the Buddhist cosmos is like a maze: You can’t get there--meaning Nirvana-- from here. You’ll be born into a particular region, die, and find yourself born into yet another one, depending on your karma.
“The large central area represents Nirvana. You’re told that Nirvana represents freedom from rebirth, but it also seems empty, like the extinguishment of consciousness, something to fear rather than to embrace. In any case, it’s closed to you, since it can’t be understood by reason.
“To understand the Buddhist cosmos, you’ve tried to use the same mental tools that seemed to work when you were investigating the Egyptian Book of the Dead. But you haven’t had any luck doing so with The Flower Ornament Scripture because that scripture poses a riddle, something like a zen koan. This riddle can only be resolved by transcending the reasoning mind.
“Once you flipped out, so to speak--which is to say, gave up on trying to figure out the scripture--you began to see the ways in which it refers to the things you’ve experienced in your own adventures in nonphysical reality, by reading between the lines. In the same way, your reading between the lines has allowed you to see the picture of the Buddha in this diagram.”
[For example, I kept encountering inexplicable references to oceans of beings and lands, and finally realized that more than simply referring to a very large number, the idea of an ocean of something is an apt metaphor for describing the zones and beings of nonphysical reality, in which time and space are infinite as the ocean, and all beings and all “locations” are dissolved, as salt is in the ocean.]
“You have to know how to read The Flower Ornament Scripture in order for the realities it portrays to become clear to you. Its profusion of description is intended to overload the mind, to force it out of the mode or reasoning, at which point it may become clear, as it has to you, that its point is quite simple: the reality in which illumination resides, represented by the Buddha (you call it the Cosmic Normative Balance) is accessible at any point in life, from any activity or perspective, without hindrance or obstacles--if you’re able to let go of the reasoning mind.
“Early on in your reading of the book you had a direct experience of what I mean. You were walking down the bicycle path from the train station to your house thinking about all the celestial beings and spirits listed in the gathering in Book I of the scripture. You realized then that the message of this comprehensive listing was that any component of physical reality can become a gateway to nonphysical reality and the state of illumination represented by the Buddha.
“At that point it seemed as if every twig of the empty winter branches of the trees lining the path was pointing the way from here to there. You felt a sudden opening and expansion of consciousness, as if you were being lifted up into that higher state. This occurred so suddenly and unexpectedly that you shut it down and talked yourself out of it.
“You’ve often said that the mistake that people make when reading ancient scripture is to assume that it contains a step by step method or recipe for achieving enlightenment. That is how you were viewing the Flower Ornament Scripture. In reality, scriptures are intended to help people understand the altered states of consciousness of other realities they’ve stumbled into or achieved by long practice of meditation. Only someone who has already experienced the realities described in these scriptures will fully understand them.
“Your stumbling block with Buddhism has been a rational understanding of Nirvana, which makes it seem undesirable. The only thing that’s extinguished in Nirvana is the ordinary waking mind.
“Now you’ve seen that Nirvana is no different from the state of consciousness you’ve experienced and identified as the Cosmic Normative Balance--inexpressible in words, so it seems like an extinguishment of the verbal aspect of the mind, inconceivably bright, hence all the jewels surrounding the Buddha in the picture.
“You see the image of the fat, happy Buddha because you’ve experienced your connection with the cosmic normative balance as full of joy.
“Incidentally, the big belly is a symbol for Buddhists-- whether they’re aware of it or not--that their own enlightenment is constantly gestating, like their souls in the nonphysical reality of Nirvana, or the cosmic normative balance. It’s a symbol of spiritual pregnancy, of the possibility of freeing yourself from rebirth in what are called the realms of suffering, such as the human or animal realms, into that of enlightenment or Nirvana. Thus, the Buddha is pregnant with your own soul’s future enlightenment.
“Why is he gray and blue in this picture?” I asked.
The Facilitator replied: “The other side of the diagram looked like the Egyptian Book of the Dead to indicate that you were using the wrong tools to understand The Flower Ornament Scripture. When you flipped the diagram over, the Buddha’s colors were intended to remind you of the statue of the Buddha that you rescued two summers ago from your neighbor’s trash. Your strong response to that Buddha was an inner call to explore this religion until you were able to discover how it linked up with the idea of the cosmic normative balance, a lesson that has come to completion with your visit here.
[I’d looked out my third-floor bedroom window one afternoon and saw an eighteen inch high concrete Buddha, painted slate gray to look like oxidized bronze, sitting by the trash cans next to the apartment building across the parking lot from mine. The Buddha was in bad shape. It had been scratched by my neighbor’s seventeen cats, and smelled like a litter box. I brought it home and gave it a good scrubbing. It now sits on my back porch.]
“You developed a negative impression of Buddhism based on your reading of this scripture, which has seemed to you like a vehicle for proselytizing and brainwashing people. That’s why you see the external environment, here, as a shopping center--as if the book were trying to sell Buddhism--named Washington Square (brain washing). The word square aptly describes the root of your problem, a rational approach to understanding this religion and scripture.
“The library itself represents The Flower Ornament Scripture, which is said to contain all aspects of Buddhism that had developed by the time it was written. It contains thirty-nine books, which are represented by this sparsely appointed library. The people you see studying here are representations of your own scholarly attitude in reading the book.”
“So, who are you?” I asked, “some kind of specialist in Buddhism or The Flower Ornament Scripture?”
“Not at all,” the librarian replied. “The basic principle of the book is so simple that a specialist isn’t needed to understand it: overwhelm the reasoning mind with verbiage, grandiose descriptions, and soon you might be able to get past it to a direct experience of the Cosmic Normative Balance, or Nirvana, which does after all contain everything, stretch it until it snaps, giving up the attempt to understand infinity, and opening it up to a direct experience of the simultaneous time and space of nonphysical reality.
“Any of us Facilitators could have been responsible for guiding you toward that realization. I just happened to be the one on duty just now.
“As for the little library, you should recognize this space from previous encounters with similar ones. You’re in the Dream Zone [on the mental plane, rather than the astral plane Dream Zone]. We’ve set up this space to pose a problem and keep you focused on it without distraction until you’ve solved it. That task has been accomplished. You’re free to go.”
“So, you’re what I call a Personal Trainer?” I asked, realizing that the steps up to his desk meant that he was operating from a higher level of consciousness than I was.
“Yes,” the Facilitator replied. “I could indeed be called such. But I’m more related to this [mental plane] region of the Dream Zone than to personal growth. Some Personal Trainers are assigned to particular dreamers. Others are like aerobics instructors--they teach their speciality to whoever shows up in class needing to learn it.
“You could call me a ‘Special Operations’ agent, if you like. I create specialized dream environments, custom made to establish a particular problem and guide the Dreamer toward an appropriate solution.
“This [mental plane] area of the Dream Zone gets less traffic than others. Only scholars, creative types, and certain kinds of spiritual seekers end up here, by dint of their passion for solving a particular problem. We don’t give them the answers, just guide them to discover such answers for themselves.”
I thanked the Special Operations Agent and left, heading into another more mundane dream [back to the astral plane Dream Zone].