June 01, 2007

Of Mice & Humans

I have posted this photograph before, calling it “The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya from a Mouse’s Eye View.” At the time I took it, the tall grass was waving, and I found it amusing to wonder what a mouse must think of the stupa. The second half of the stupa’s name is “Which Liberates Upon Seeing.” As I understand it, just seeing the stupa is supposed to wake you up, even if only for a moment and only on a very subtle level. It shocks you with its very presence into a state of liberation. I wondered if mice, ravens, deer, and the other animals which live around the stupa benefit from its presence.

Also it is a lovely photograph and when I got my new computer, I chose it as the background. Looking at it again, months later, it has gained more meaning for me, deeper meaning. It is a pun. It is now a reminder to me, as so many things are, not to take anything for granted and not to take anything too seriously. I’m not sure I can even explain exactly what this photograph has come to mean to me.

I am struck how the grass, with their full seed heads waving in the wind, is just as beautiful (to me) as the stupa itself. That all the beauty and glory of the stupa can be contained in a single blade of grass. That all the culture, history, effort, and intention which human beings poured into the stupa, nature can produce and outdo. Both the grass and the stupa arise from cause and condition and both will pass away, yet the distinction lies here: one was made by human hands and one was not. So why then do we glorify the work of our own ambition and fail to glorify the grass, or the wind, or the clouds?

Ego. “I made this!” We look at this great work of human hands, of thousands of years of artistic achievement and cultural evolution and we marvel. We look at the grass and see only grass, mundane, and something we (humanity) had nothing at all to do with. If it is untouched by human hands, it is somehow insignificant. Arrogance. There is a photograph of Chögyam Trungpa’s which I have long admired. It hangs in the dining hall here at Shambhala Mountain Center. It is a single full head of grass against the glorious blue background of the sky. I think Chögyam Trungpa understood.

To mice a single grain of grass is as wonderful as the stupa is to us.

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