Loving Hands

HH Dalai Lama holding the hands of a leper in India, March 2014

HH Dalai Lama holding the hands of a leper in India, March 2014

I have returned home, from my journey into the Womb World on Mt Koya in Japan and the initiation from the Dalai Lama, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to all the people in my life who have helped and supported me to reach this profoundly significant point in my own spiritual life path. During this journey I was very privileged to have been entrusted with the prayers of several hundred fellow pilgrims, which I offered at the sacred places I encountered on my pilgrimage and which were ritually burned at the end of my journey. My own prayer now is that I can find skilful ways of passing on the great blessings I received during this time on the mountain to everyone I meet so that this flow of blessings can ripple out into the world.

I will write further about this experience in subsequent blogs, as the teachings I received – from my own teacher, from the Dalai Lama, from the mountain spirits – settle into me and I can find adequate words to describe what precious lessons I learned. For now, I would like to share with you two experiences I had during my pilgrimage.

The most sacred place on Mt Koya is the Gobyo, the shrine where Kobo Daishi (774-835), the founder of the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism, is interred and is believed by many to be still living, seated in a state of perpetual meditation. As well as being the starting and finishing point for the 1,200 kilometre Shikoku pilgrimage, pilgrims come here from all over Japan to ask for Kobo Daishi’s help with problems in their lives. Every day during my own pilgrimage in Mt Koya I visited this sacred place as part of my ritual practice.

Path to Kobo Daishi's shrine

Path to Kobo Daishi’s shrine

On one particular day it was snowing hard and the two-kilometer path through the ancient cemetery of Okunoin that leads to Kobo Daishi’s inner sanctum was treacherously slippery and hard going, and there were very few pilgrims about. However, while I was reciting prayers in front of the shrine, a very old man came and stood before the shrine, dressed in pilgrim clothes of white and wearing a pilgrim’s straw hat, now dusted white with snow. He held the hand of a middle-aged woman, who was intellectually disabled and had difficulty walking, taking small staggered steps and holding firm to the old man’s hand. As he explained to her in a quiet, gentle voice, like speaking to a small child, that he was now going to say prayers and instructed her to stay close to him and not walk away, it became clear that the woman was his daughter.

The old man released his daughter’s hand so that he could hold his rosary beads in one hand and a small, well-used prayer book in his other hand. He lit a stick of incense, placed it in the brazier, and began to quietly and fervently pray. His daughter watched the puffs of steamed breath coming from her father’s mouth and found this very amusing, so she made huffing breaths of her own and delighted in the little clouds of smoke-like vapour coming from her mouth, laughing at the way the vapour moved over and around her father’s head. She then puffed out clouds closer up into her father’s face, mingling with his breath and continued huffing breaths around his head and neck. In the process of her happy game, she accidentally knocked off his pilgrim hat, but her father didn’t stop his praying to pick up the hat or to admonish his daughter, but just kept chanting in a rhythmic, lilting voice.

When he finished his prayers, he stooped and retrieved his hat; then, taking his daughter’s hands in both of his, he caught her attention and looked intently into her eyes, whispering something urgent and intimate. Then he just stood there for a moment in silence, holding her hands, with tears streaming down his withered old cheeks as the swirling clouds of their breath intermingled. His gaze was one of complete and unconditional love. Then he said, “Would you like a cake now?”, and in response to her wide smile and nodding head, he took he hand and led her away, back out into the snowy landscape.

I wondered what pressing prayer had driven him through the snow with his daughter to get here – was it perhaps a concern about who might care for his daughter upon his death? There was something deeply humbling in his act of prayer, and the purity and complete openness of that gaze of unconditional love for his daughter had pierced my heart, so I stayed and prayed fervently for their well-being and protection and that whatever he had asked for would be received.

HH Dalai Lama entering the temple at Mt Koya

HH Dalai Lama entering the temple at Mt Koya

The following week, when the Dalai Lama first arrived at the temple in Mt Koya, he came up to me and, greeting me as if we were old friends, he took my hands and held them and looked into my eyes with an expression of infinite compassion. Just like the old pilgrim. In that moment, I tried to bring to mind all of the people who had entrusted me with their prayers and all those who had supported and helped me to get to there, so that they too might share in this moment of blessing, together holding the hands of the Dalai Lama. And I received his blessing with the mind of a child, fully trusting that the gift of his teaching and initiation were bestowed upon me unconditionally and out of compassion to heal all suffering in all beings. And then I cried…

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Sacred Places

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I enter one of the sacred sites dedicated to Kannon (Kuan Yin) on Japan’s ancient pilgrimage route, it feels as though I am walking through an energy veil, a kind of force field that separates this space from the mundane world around it – I am stepping onto sacred earth, imbued with a special energy that I can feel permeate my physical body. What makes this energy flow? What makes me feel it? What is a sacred place?

Is it because over the course of hundreds of years, thousands of pilgrims have stepped here before me, all offering their prayers and opening their hearts. Or is it because the wisest of sages, hundreds of holy men and women have trodden this path and offered their deep wisdom and compassion to be shared by all who follow in their footsteps. Or is it the very ground I tread on, percolated with a special earth energy that permeates the ageless rocks and stones and sand of this sacred place and then imbues every footstep as I tread on this ancient path. Is it my own response of awe to this place, which is named as “sacred,” that brings my awareness to the potency of all the sacred signs in the statues, carvings, paintings, architecture, and priests in robes, and incense, and flowers, and the beams of soft light penetrating the mysterious darkened alcoves of the temple. Perhaps it is the sum of all these elements that casts its sacred spell upon my mind and all my senses, all at the moment of crossing the threshold of the great gates at the temple’s entrance.

Warrungup Spring by Gloria Keering

Warrungup Spring by Gloria Keering

2014.03.29_egretYet, today I felt that sacred energy once again – right here where I live. This morning, I walked my usual route, starting and ending at a local indigenous sacred place called Warrungup Spring. This site is a sacred women’s place, where women came to give birth on the edge of  a great estuary, at the junction of three water courses, where there is fresh water. I looked out over the estuary: the sun, as it rose, splashed the water with sparkles of golden pink, a white egret in the reeds paused to share the view, a flock of black swans elegantly glided out from the shore, pelicans were scooping up fish in their huge bills, and raucous galahs cut through the soft whispers of the sheoaks.  And in the western sky, the crescent moon hung languidly pale in the still dark blue. As I stood in this timeless vision, I imagined countless generations of women who, in the peaceful dawn after their long painful night of labour, holding their baby in their arms, also looked upon this same view. I was filled with a sense of profound awe at the resilience of these women and the expression of sacred beauty all around me. I felt the sacred presence of the Wargyl, the ancient Creator of the water courses that fed and nurtured the people and animals who passed through this sacred place. I felt humbled and full of gratitude for this gift.

2014.03.29_estuaryWhen I returned home, back to the profane world and the mundane everyday chores of housework, I felt as though I left that sacred world behind me. And then, while I was in the midst of doing the dishes, I happened to glance out the window and saw the crescent moon, so pale and fleeting, and in an instant I was suddenly reconnected to the scene of the early morning, reconnected with the awe I had felt. And in that moment, I realised that the sacredness of the Warrungup Spring was carried home within me: I was a container for its sacred energy – my body was imbued with its sacred beauty and meaning by having simply been there and breathed the air and touched the earth. I had born witness to its sacred nature with my body and had honoured that sacredness by the act of remembering.

A sacred place exists as a geographical location, but also as the living breath of the place that is carried away by anyone who visits, and as the breath is expelled, so the sacred energy is passed on to other living beings and other places. This is the healing nature of sacredness and the way that any place, anywhere and at any time, can be made “sacred.” We all “know” that the whole of the earth itself is sacred, and so everywhere and at any time we should be able to feel the same awe of the sacred that these special places bring. But we forget to recognise its sacred signs. It is our spiritual practice to not only connect with awe and gratitude to the sacredness imbued in the beauty and wonder of our world, but to remember.

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Pilgrimage to the Womb World

Mountain Pilgrimage - entering the Womb World

Mountain Pilgrimage – entering the Womb World

2014 Pilgrimage – Journey into the Womb World of the Divine Feminine

For this year’s pilgrimage, I will be undertaking mountain ascetic practices at sacred sites associated with the Divine Feminine in Japan. Undertaking a pilgrimage, especially in mountains, is a physically demanding meditation that takes the pilgrim into a transcendent liminal space that is between life and death, drawing in the inherent power of these sacred spaces wherein spiritual transformation is possible, which then culminates in being reborn into this world. This is why pilgrims in Japan always wear white clothing: white is the colour of death. The journey itself is an act of entering into a sacred space that is a three-dimensional mandala, beyond and yet contained in this world. The Esoteric Buddhist practices that I will undertake in this year’s journey will be focussed on entering the Womb World Mandala, which represents the principles of the Divine Feminine, such as compassion, nurturing and unconditional love; it also represents the source and the reality that we experience in our everyday lives, in all its organic messiness, but which is imbued nonetheless with Enlightenment. Undertaking this journey is a meditation on our own innate enlightened being.

dalai_lamaMy journey this year will culminate in a unique initiation into the Womb World Mandala by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is being hosted by my own guru and home temple in the sacred precincts of Mt Koya, Japan, for four days of teaching and initiation. This is an event of great karmic significance and I feel overwhelmingly blessed to be participating in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As always, in my role designated by my guru as “The Prayer Vessel,” at the various sacred sites along the way, I will be offering the prayers, wishes, intentions and hopes of anyone who wants me to offer a prayer on their behalf. In the past 20 years, I have offered thousands of prayers for people of all spiritual paths, from all over the world, and I have witnessed many miraculous events as a result of offering these prayers. It would be a great privilege for me to carry your prayer on this special journey as well. Please don’t hesitate to ask for what you feel you need in your life right now, or offer a prayer of hope for those you love.

Because this year’s journey is dedicated to the Divine Feminine and its manifestation in the Womb World, I will be especially focussing on blessings related to women’s issues, such as women’s health, conception, safe pregnancy and birth, pregnancy loss (miscarriage or abortion), relationship happiness, looking for a partner, looking for love, peaceful family life, success for children’s school life, success for children finding jobs, etc.

Womb World Mandala

Womb World Mandala

How to write a prayer

A prayer is simply a written account of whatever it is that you wish for or hope for; it is a statement of your intention for change in your life. I believe that when you write down your innermost hopes and wishes and desires and intentions, then you are activating that energy into the world: you are actively participating in creating your own desired destiny. My role, in offering your prayer at these sacred sites that are so powerful and ancient, is to magnify your intention – to ripple it out into the cosmos and help that energy to grow. So it is a combination of the energy of your own intention, which is made manifest by writing it down, then amplified by my offering your written prayer in places that are focal points of great spiritual energy, where transformation is made possible. Prayer is a very powerful tool in creating your destiny, and I have witnessed many miracles that have resulted from prayer – even though these miracles may not always be what the person had envisioned for themselves! You may be very surprised at the blessings that enter your life!

The most spiritually beneficial way of offering your prayer is to write in on the back of a sacred text called The Heart of Wisdom Sutra, which is an ancient text succinctly describing the nature of Reality. Because each Chinese/Japanese character is a pictograph – a symbolic picture of an idea – when you trace over its letters, you are creating an abstract painting of that Reality. Even if you don’t understand these words, there is a great spiritual satisfaction in ‘painting’ it as a writing meditation. So, first you can trace over the letters of the sutra, and then when you’ve finished, you write your prayer on the back and then send it to me. I recite your prayer at the sacred sites, offer it at the temple, and then it is ritually burned by the priests at the temple, which completes the offering of the prayer. You can find a copy of The Heart of Wisdom Sutra and more information about sacred calligraphy in the section “Sacred Calligraphy” on my website www.catekodojuno.com

Please contact me at catekodo@gmail.com and I will be happy to help you with your prayer. Or, once completed, send it to Wabi’an, 8 Bouvard Drive, Bouvard WA 6211, Australia by March 31st. I do not charge anything for this service, however, it is appropriate to send a monetary offering to be made at the sacred sites as a sign of your commitment and intention. And any donations towards the pilgrimage are gratefully appreciated 🙂

Offerings/donations can be made by cash, money order or direct bank deposit (please contact Cate for details)

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Rose-coloured Glasses

2014.02.04_rosy copyTo look at life through “rose-coloured glasses” means to see things as better than they really are, or to think that things are more pleasant than they actually are. It has a negative connotation, as if the person with the rose-coloured glasses is avoiding an unpleasant reality. However, I actually think that we all need a bit more rose-tinting in our outlook on life.

At dawn this morning I took my dogs for a walk, relishing the cool morning air, bracing for another scorcher of a day. And as the sun rose, everything was suddenly bathed with deep pink light – the trees glowed pink, the black fur of the dogs reflected pink highlights, the leaves on the hot dry earth shone pink, my skin had a rosy glow. Everything was awash in warm surreal pink. It was as if I was looking at the whole world through rose-coloured glasses – and it was just so intensely beautiful. Yet it was real; there wasn’t anything unpleasant that was being avoided or a reality that was being ignored. Instead, I was bearing witness to a spectacular show put on by Nature and I was fully immersed in a world of ‘pinkness’. Not only was I seeing everything as rosy, I felt that I could smell, taste, feel and hear PINK. And I just laughed because it made me feel so happy! I laughed in the way that child spontaneously laughs – with joyful delight in a sudden magical moment.

The pink light, though, was fleeting. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared and the world of familiar green trees, black dogs and grey sand returned. But what didn’t disappear was the sense of awe and euphoria I felt, which stayed with me. I remained in a rosy glow, as I continued with the humdrum of doing my daily chores, still seeing the world not as actually bathed in pink, but as being imbued with some new quality. After experiencing the intense sensual immersion of the dawn, I became aware of the colours of everything I was engaging with – everything seemed edged with a radiant glow. Of course, my everyday world was in no way changed in itself; instead, it was the keen awareness I now seemed to have of the way light reflected off the surface of things and into my eye. In the aftermath of the pinkness, everything seemed more vibrant and alive.

I believe that a spiritual path is an engagement with beauty; spiritual practice is an awakening to beauty. In our media-driven bracing-for-the-next-crisis world it becomes harder to connect to the profound and awe-filled beauty that is all around us, waiting to be experienced at any moment. After all, I think it is significant that the Buddha experienced his awakening whilst outside, sitting under a beautiful tree. As well as encouraging you to take a walk at dawn and experience this awakening of the day in its glorious light and birdsong, I think we should all try wearing rose-coloured glasses more often, not to escape the unpleasant realities of life, but to see into its beauty and hold that in our hearts so that as we do confront head-on the difficulties of living, we can do so with images of beauty in our minds. Even in the midst of the fray, we can experience joy by simply remembering to ‘see’ what is also present that is uplifting. So, today I am sending you all blessings bathed in pink and a wish for you to awaken to beauty and to see the rosy glow in the world around you – look up from the computer, look out the window – what do you see?

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Happy New Year of the Wood Horse

[This is a repost from my Buddhist Astrology blog]

2014.01.31_horse copy

Happy New Year of the Wood Horse, fellow pilgrims 🙂
I wish you all blessings for a joyful year full of nurture, peace and love.

Today is the first day of the Year of the Wood Horse. Because the Horse element is fire and this year’s element is wood, it is considered an auspicious interaction: wood is the mother to its fire child; that is, wood will nourish a fire, so it indicates a generally good luck year. This is a YANG year; that is, it is full of outwardly directed masculine energy that is very active. The wood element suggests a time of growth, of working on and developing current projects, and a horse year is full of activity and forward motion, so this year is one of great activity and the potential for transformation – galloping into the sunset, so to speak. However, this year contains many YANG-heated elements and it will be very easy to get burnt or to suffer burnout. You must be careful not to burn up all that precious growth wood energy early in the year or you might find yourself in the midst of an out-of-control fire before the year is out! You need to reign in that horse and keep it firmly in control, carefully pacing out the year, using your energy with a focussed awareness.

For your spiritual practice it indicates a year of positive growth and development in your current practice, which will lead to a sense of satisfying progress. It is the Springtime of your practice where you have laid the foundations and now you can really move forward and experience some sense of achievement in your practice. Wood indicates growth and fire indicates transformation, so these are very productive elements for spiritual maturity. However, because this is a very YANG hot year, if you just go headlong, feet-first into your spiritual practice, without taking time to add periods of quiet, inwardly focussed activities that will keep you in harmony, then you will burn up the opportunities presented by the year’s energies before you reap its promising rewards.

2014.01.31_windhorse copyIn Tibetan Buddhism, the horse represents our soul, or rather our life force vitality, and is called Lungta, which means “Wind Horse”. This horse represents our innate enlightenment and our unlimited capacity for love and compassion. When this horse is strong, then our vitality enables us to transform, when it is weak, then we feel flat and discouraged. So this year of the horse gives us energy to transform and feel really alive.

During the year of the horse, if you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed or overdoing things, take time to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. The wind horse is there to help you this year, so meditate on the image of a white horse galloping gracefully and effortlessly through a spring meadow full of flowers and on into the cool forrest, where the trees are green and flourishing and nurturing. The wind horse is full of vitality and freedom, so if you ride that horse you too will feel its strength and power, carrying you on. The horse is full of energy but galloping is natural and effortless, and so it should be too with the energy you focus on all elements of your life. This is a very empowering image and will help to encourage the positive energy that comes with the Year of the Wood Horse and its potential for profound transformation.

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