“Everything at rest, dusk: a bird calls,
returning to its forest home. Chanting,
I settle into my breath. Somehow, on this
east veranda, I’ve found my life again.”
(from Mountain Home, The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, translated by David Hinton)
This is probably my favourite book of poetry and though I’ve read the quoted lines many times, they never resonated as deeply as recently. It’s very true that I have found my life again, but what draws me especially is, “Chanting, I settle into my breath.” Not just the idea of the chant but how comfortable and casually it fits into T’ao Ch’ien’s life and moment.
About 25 years ago I took a book of mantras out of the Thunder Bay Library, thinking it might provide some tools for meditation. As it turned out, mantras were never going to play much of role in my practice. However, “Om mani padme hum” found its way into my life, coming and going over the years. It was one of three notes taped to various workstation walls. “Work hard and relax” and “Be still and know that I am God” being the other two.
After several years, when I’d forgotten about Om mani padme hum, I found a treasure in a used bookstore “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism”. The entire book turned out to be a study of this mantra! So it arrived for another, longer visit. But to be forgotten again for sure… until now.
While the mantra sounds quite lovely, as a poet, storyteller and spiritual guy, the magic is in the meaning. Don’t quote me, but what I remember these 6 syllables to represent is the journey of the lotus. Born in the black mud of the swamp, the lotus makes it’s way through silence and darkness to ever increasing light, ultimately to rise above the surface and blossom into a vision of splendor. No wonder the lotus is such an important Buddhist symbol.
So anyway, yesterday driving to a business meeting in Halifax, for awhile I stopped the churning of thought and chanted instead. Easy words. This morning, “Om mani padme hum” was on my breath, mingling with the wind as we crossed the dam.