Terma, The Word Made Flesh, and Divine Manifestation
I had an unusual occurrence last night, that followed my thinking about the magical side of Dharma, and writing about terma, or the tradition they speak of in Tibetan Buddhism of teachings coming into this world as a precise result of the needs of the time.
I was familiar with this idea of divine manifestation also in Christianity, where they speak convincingly of the Word having power, to heal, to enlighten, and to guide our lives.
In the introduction to the Buddhist Methods for Healing, that I gathered together over the course of the last couple of weeks, owing to the urgency of these times, I wrote:
‘The tantras have been collected and passed down over the centuries with this very purpose in mind, to help us to respond to difficult conditions as they arise. They are the result of compassionate and accomplished teachers who have preceded us, and left us their blessing in the form of pure energy, sacred texts and images.
‘In addition, new practices have been formulated, or revealed in response to the needs of the time. These terma, or revealed treasures are considered to have fresh blessings, to be more accessible and in some cases more effective methods. If we have a connection, they will work for us, just as they say.’
Overlapping with my preparing to share Buddhist Methods for Healing, I was reflecting on a list of names of my spiritual ancestors, for the sake of inspiration and encouragement, and I came across one I had written down that I did not remember – Michael Casey OCSO. I looked him up and learned that he writes about Lectio Divinia, or Sacred Reading, and I also found a wonderful article by him called The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us.
This idea, of the Divine manifesting in our world to heal, guide and redeem us really turns our ordinary concepts over. (and I will have to write more about this extraordinary essay) It is a challenge to us to even begin to include a reality such as this into mundane concepts, and is exactly what the Wisdom Teachings of the Mahayana – Vajrayana also seek to accomplish.
Which brings me to the experience of last evening. I was thinking about The Word Made Flesh, and Terma – revelations, and sitting up in bed and meditating lightly when I saw… a peaceful face in the folds of my sheet in front of me… Now, I know this sounds almost comical, and it is something scorned in common culture . Jokes, for example, about the image of Jesus on a corn chip or a piece of toast come to mind, but more than the image, I’d like to point out, is the peace that was in his expression (and it was a he). It reminded me of another, similar experience I had, that I remember from more than 30 years ago…
I recounted this event a few years ago in a set of stories, that were in A Belief in the Miraculous – Buddhism, Magic, and a Sense of the Sacred. Here’s what I wrote there:
The face in the window
I worked security for a number of years, mostly by myself, but I recall once, when working with another, I came downstairs to the security station and found my coworker drawing a face. He pointed out that a face had appeared in the fog in the window – as if someone had blown their warm breath and sketched an intricate drawing. It was still there when I looked, and I had to admit his rendition was very accurate. Sometimes visual artists, like writers, have the feeling that something, some spirit is trying to come through, and this seemed to be the case here, with the addition that the face appeared spontaneously. I have heard of such things as Buddhas faces or forms appearing in rock, so such things have been known to happen.
Here is a definition of this phenomena:
Rangjung in Tibetan expresses the concept of a self-arisen manifestation. All over the Tibetan cultural sphere there are sacred seed syllables, mantras or depiction of deities that a presumed not to be man-made, but “rangjung”, self arisen or autogenic.
I don’t know the relationship between the two occurrences, only that they were different, and yet had the same feeling, of something coming through, an energy, a spiritual presence, manifesting there for me and my co-worker back in the 1980’s, and, last night, just for me.
As it is with other events or manifestations, I had to ask, what good does this do? After all, a face is just a face, right? or, a teaching is just words, but here I have to pause and ask if I, and others who think this way are seeing it thoroughly.
Images in rocks, relics, or texts appearing, I have learned, are said to be the result, through dependent origination, of people’s faith and virtue, together with the Buddha’s and Realized Being’s blessings and compassionate activity. And they are onward leading…
I’m open these days, and reflecting on the spiritual world meeting this world as it is now, and especially on the responsiveness of the divine to great spiritual needs of human beings at this time.
I’m left feeling again, more keenly now, that this world truly is a magical place, if we but knew it. It reaches out to us in countless ways, every day, I am sure. This has got to come as a comfort, and as encouragement to open any door to the spiritual realm, and to return to this human world, of ordinary perceptions again, bearing gifts.