In Media Vita
The Northwest winds continue and the temperatures have really dropped: the weathermen and women forecast snow on the tops of the Scottish mountains: Snow! In August! Gives me fair warning, for I have signed up to undertake a ten-week Tibetan Buddhist retreat on a remote Scottish island starting in January. At my age—I must be crazy! But finishing volume one of Silence: A User's Guide (pub date in the USA is October 1 and in Europe October 29) has left me drained and exhausted, and I feel the need for something completely different before I embark on volume two. The version of Christianity we have today (which has little relation to the first five hundred years of its history) seems to have little to inspire me in the wake of finishing the first volume of the book. A friend who is a professor of theology here has urged me to keep a journal of the retreat, and to note how it changes my perspectives on Christianity. It took some doing to persuade the Tibetans to accept me; now I hope I don't wash out!
As I consider the various religions to be a multiverse with the heart as a nexus, there is no conflict: each tradition should be practiced in its own integrity. Anyway, in my view there is no conflict between Buddhism and Christianity: the former is a philosophy in search of a religion, and the latter a religion in search of a philosophy, as a late mentor used to note. And as I read in preparation for this retreat, I am finding the same mistakes in Buddhist texts and translations coming out of the West as I have found in Christianity: a lack of understanding how the mind works, and a concomitant misuse of the word 'experience'. 'Emptiness', for example, is not nihilism, but a non-objectifying 'beholding'. This is not perennial philosophy, but rather a perennial psychology. Similarly, there is not 'nothing' but rather a 'luminous ground', perhaps similar to what I am calling deep mind. I am eager but also a little apprehensive, which is probably a good thing.
During my two weeks' absence the garden changed dramatically. Kind friends and timely rain took care of it while I was away. Before I left it didn't seem to be doing much, but on my return I found pumpkins turning orange, tomato plants groaning with ripening fruit, enormous cucumbers and courgettes, and quantities of beans—a cornucopia. Everything is crawling over everything else, with little explosions of colour in the form of nasturtium blossoms and dahlias. My landlady is a bit askance that I grow more than we can possibly eat, but to me the garden speaks of the abundance of the love of God. And its fruits make wonderful gifts to kind friends.
With so much going on in the world that is painful, the garden gives hope; otherwise the pain would be unbearable.