Verses from The Dhammapada 217
Jenny Hall examines the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II and her long reign as the Monarch of the United Kingdom.
‘The righteous man who has right aims and does his duty is respected wherever he goes.’
This month we mourn the death of our Queen. As Queen, she was the Head of the Anglican Church amongst many other roles.
Zen Master Gasan was once asked by a university student whether he had read the Christian Bible. Gasan answered that he hadn’t. He asked the student to read a passage to him. The student chose to read from St. Matthew’s Gospel.
‘And why take ye thought of raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow. They toil not neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these… Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’
Zen Mater Gasan’s appreciation of Jesus’ words illustrates a remark of Ven. Myokyo-ni. She said that amongst religious scholars there is always much dissension. Amongst religious practitioners there is always deep accord.
Likewise, the Queen respected the followers of all faiths and this respect was reciprocated.
Like many religious texts, the above passage encourages us all to turn inwards to the source of our own life. Whether we call that source God, the Buddha nature or life-force, it is the ground of our being. As the Bible passage promises, it can be trusted completely.
The Queen in her Christmas broadcasts and recently during the covid lockdown brought much comfort and reassurance by speaking of her own deep faith. For seventy years her whole reign was a moving expression of it.
In the Zen tradition we have faith that we are all endowed with the Buddha nature. In the Zen training we have the opportunity to be reunited with it through Zazen and daily life practice.
‘The righteous man who has right aims…’
‘Right’ can be translated as ‘I-less’ from the Pali word samma. ‘Aims’ become free from ‘me’ when ‘I’ am emptied out. This ‘I’ is made up of thoughts driven by conflicting emotions. We cannot see any situation clearly. It is always coloured by them. The Zen training encourages us to meet their hot energy and to suffer it.
A heavy crown could be seen as a symbol of the discomfort of suffering the emotional onslaughts. The Queen admitted that the coronation crown was both heavy and uncomfortable. She spent many hours practising wearing it until she got used to it. Ven. Myokyo-ni’s work concerning the Zen practice come to mind, “Better than learning it, get used to it.”
Ven. Myokyo-ni also said that correct deportment is a great support when allowing the emotions to work on us. The Queen’s posture, whether standing at the Cenotaph or shaking hands with a world leader was always exemplary.
When the ‘I’ is burned away, the emotional energy is transformed into the Buddha nature (‘the righteous man’). It can be trusted to respond appropriately for the good of and in the service of all.
‘ … and does his duty…’
The performance of the Queens’s duties was the manifestation of such selfless service. When life is lived in self-abnegation, what are known as the Four Divine Abodes reveal themselves.
The Abode of serenity was always expressed in the Queen’s composure. Whatever the circumstances she remained calm and serene.
The Abode of compassion was shown in incidents such as when a very shy girl began to cry and was unable to present the Queen’s bouquet. The Queen smiled, knelt down and gently took it from her.
The Abode of goodwill and friendliness was also continually shared. On one occasion she invited a troop of W.I. members for tea at Buckingham Palace and served all the food herself. After a long chat she said she was sorry to leave them but had to feed the corgis.
The Abode of sympathetic joy was also never far away. The Queen was well known for her sense of humour. A politician accidentally knocked a piece of cheese off the table at a royal party. She dithered momentarily not knowing whether to leave it or put it back. She decided on the latter. When she looked up, she saw the Queen watching her every move with an implicit twinkle in her eye.
‘… is respected wherever he goes.’
People from all walks of life have shared the deep sadness that has welled up in response to the Queen’s death. Comfort has been found in placing floral tributes at the royal residences.
As she lay in state, thousands have queued many hours through the night to pay respect and express their gratitude. Her funeral was watched by millions all over the world.
The outpouring of such affection reflects the Queen’s unfailing devotion to us.
It flows from the warmth of the open heart which unites us all.
Verses from the Dhammapada
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