Jun 16, 2024
Martin Goodson

A Solstice Celebration

The Alchemy of Transformation

The symbolism of the summer solstice point to our true nature.

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The Alchemy of Transformation

This article is being written on the first day of June. Within this month, the sun reaches its yearly crescendo with the solstice on the 20th. 

One function of religion is to reveal spiritual truths around natural events, hence the creation of festivals. It is no coincidence that both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birthday of the Buddha (in the Zen tradition) are commemorated and celebrated in Spring. Also, that the birth of Jesus, who was called the ‘Light of the World’ and the Buddha’s Enlightenment (in the Zen tradition), appear close to the Winter solstice, when the sun turns around from its descent and begins to ascend once more. 

In Mahayana/Zen Buddhism, the sun is an epithet of Vairocana Buddha, known as Dainichi Nyorai in Japanese. He is one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas and takes the central position in the middle of the other four who sit on the cardinal points of the compass. He is the centre because he is the representative of the Dharmakaya, or Dharma Body, or True Body of the Buddha. In the teaching known as ‘The Three Bodies of Buddha’, the Dharmakaya is probably the nearest Mahayana Buddhism gets to an equivalent mystical representation of the Godhead.

During the initial stages of his mission in Japan, the Catholic missionary Francis Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used Dainichi, the Japanese name for Vairocana, to designate the Christian God. 

(Wikipedia)

This being has correlates with Western mythical forms. Vairocana is seen as the ground of all being, simultaneously immanent and transcendent. Thus, he operates like a hologram where each part contains the whole universe. Therefore, he makes an appearance in the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Garland Scripture), whose central thesis is, ‘One in everything and everything in the one’. It is this scripture that contains the wonderful image of Indra’s jeweled net. A vast net stretches across the whole of space. At each intersection lies a jewel which simultaneously reflects itself and every other jewel. If one jewel moves, it is reflected everywhere all at once. In this way, this matrix is the ground of all being; it is both one and many at the same time. 

This form is also reflected in certain creation myths where a primordial deity gives rise to multiple deities before one of its offspring dismembers it and creates the heavens and the earth from its body.

The Babylonian myth of the war in heaven between the hero Marduk and the female dragon Tiamat is one example. Marduk splits her body in two, creating the heavens from the upper part and the earth from the lower part. The same motif appears in Norse mythology, where a primordial giant known as Ymir is carved up by Odin, assisted by other gods, from which they create the various realms, including earth. So, here again, we have the emergence of many from the one. 

In the Bull Herding pictures, this ground of being is reflected in the term ‘one gold’ which is realised by the herdsman as flowing through all beings. 

Reading the Sutras and listening to the teachings, the herdsman had an inkling of their message and meaning. He has discovered the traces. Now he knows that however varied and manifold, yet all things are of the one gold, and that his own nature does not differ from that of any other. But he cannot yet distinguish between what is genuine and what fake, still less between the true and false. He can thus not enter the gate, and only provisionally can it be said that he has found the traces

(Gentling the Bull by Myokyo-ni)

Here, the Sun is reflected on earth through the gold, which also shines with its colour and spiritual light. Thus, this metaphor demonstrates its own truth by uniting two disparate things through a spiritual principle. 

It is this 'ground of being' which is referred to in living beings as being the ‘True Face’ or ‘Original Face’ referring to the inherent Buddha Nature. 

This realisation of one in everything underpins our ethical understanding when it comes to human behaviour. It can be referred to as the ‘golden rule’, which can be articulated as either:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Or: 

“Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”

And it has as its basis this way of seeing sameness and difference as an interconnected relationship. 

Whilst the ‘one in everything’ is to be realised, it can also lead to error if the seeing is not clear.

In one story, a guru teaches his pupil (chela) that ‘God is in everything’. He tells his chela that in essence ‘You are God, in all things, as am I’. This revelation stuns his pupil and, in a daze, he goes out for a walk. He finds himself on the highway and coming towards him is the Maharajah’s elephant. The mahout shouts for people to get out of the way, but the chela thinks: 

“I am God, you are God, does God get out of the way of God?”

He walks on, and as he comes close to the elephant with his mahout still shouting at him to get out of the way, the elephant snakes his trunk around the boy and unceremoniously tosses him into the ditch by the side of the road. 

Shaken as well as dishevelled, the chela returns to his guru and, weeping, asks how this could happen if all things are a reflection of God? The guru replies: “Did you not hear the voice of God telling you to get out of the way!”

Wishing everyone a happy summer solstice!

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