My dear friend, Julie, posted this blog post recently:
I walk around [a] pond every day at lunch (weather and workload permitting) and today I noticed how I tend to watch my feet. I look down at the paved walkway instead of at the billowy clouds, the cattails and willows swaying in the breeze. Presumably I do this to dodge the abundance of goose poop along the path.
I think watching where I'm going has some value. I think it's good to look down every once in a while to make sure I'm not about to step in some. But where I am is quite beautiful and I shouldn't let the prospect of a little poop on my shoes distract me from all that is praiseworthy about my life as it is in this moment.
When I read Julie's post, I immediately thought of the "earth touching" Buddha or "earth witness" Buddha. The image of the Buddha sitting in meditation with his left hand, palm upright, in his lap, and his right hand touching the earth, has always held special meaning for me.
Julie watching where she is walking, dodging goose poop, served as a mini symbolic teaching of the earth-touching Buddha. At once, the image of watching for goose poop/watching where we're going juxtaposed with looking at the billowy clouds, represented to me the value Buddhism offers as a philosophy of being of the world and being in "things as they are".
According to the story, just before the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, realized enlightenment, the demon Mara (representing the passions that keep us clinging, craving, and enslaved to suffering) tried to frighten Siddhartha from his seat. But Siddhartha did not move, despite Mara's taunts and claims that he should have the seat of enlightenment for himself, because his spiritual accomplishments were greater than Siddhartha's. Mara's monster army cried that they were Mara's witness of his spiritual priority, so Mara challenged Siddhartha--who will speak for you?
Siddhartha reached out his right hand to touch the earth, and the earth itself rumbled, "I bear you witness!" With that Mara disappeared, the morning star rose in the sky, and Siddhartha Gautama realized enlightenment, becoming the Buddha.
What I love about this story is that it distinguishes Buddhism from religions we are most familiar with. Founding stories of most religions involve gods and angels from heavenly realms bearing scriptures and prophecies. But Buddha's enlightenment was confirmed by the earth.
Compare this connection to the earth with the Abrahamic religions. Jesus, Moses, and Mohammad all claimed the authority of the sky god (the "god of heaven"), Jehovah. And in classic Greco-Roman literature, the chief of the gods is the sky god Zeus/Jupiter. All sky religions are patriarchal and hierarchical
The Buddha did not ask for help from heavenly beings. He asked the earth, "Mother Earth", if you will. Religious historian Karen Armstrong wrote in her book, Buddha (Penguin Putnam, 2001, p. 92), about the earth witness mudra:
"It not only symbolizes Gotama's rejection of Mara's sterile machismo, but makes a profound point that a Buddha does indeed belong to the world. The Dhamma is exacting, but it is not against nature. . . . The man or woman who seeks enlightenment is in tune with the fundamental structure of the universe."
Buddhas and Buddhism belongs to the earth, the world. It teaches that nothing exists independently. The existence of all things is interdependent. Our existence depends on earth, air, water, and other forms of life. Just as our existence depends on and is conditioned by those things, they also are conditioned by our existence.
The more we realize that we are a part of both goose poop and billowy clouds, the more we will realize our Buddha Nature, our inherent wisdom, and escape our our essential ignorance. Goose poop and billowy clouds are expressions of us, and we are expressions of them. When the earth confirmed the Buddha's enlightenment, the earth was confirming itself, the Buddha was confirming himself and ourselves, as part of the Buddha and the earth, as the earth and Buddha are part of us.
About these blog posts
A mix of older posts I wrote for the blog, Suchness: It's All Good - Buddhist Ramblings, LinkedIn articles, and Career Coaching blog posts.