Monday, November 30, 2009

Sensory Reality

There is an iconic image of the Buddha sitting in meditation, with the fingers of his right hand touching the earth in front of him, in what is sometimes called the Earth Touching Mudra. It happened during the time when the Buddha-to-be was sitting in contemplation under the Bodhi Tree. During this long period of meditation, he was visited (or attacked) by "Mara," a demon who serves as a metaphor for delusions, doubts, or strong desires that can arise during meditation practice, and in daily life as well.

Mara tempted the Buddha many times with visions of wealth or sensual images that could be his if he would just get up and walk away. Every time she visited him, however, he would call out to himself, "Mara, I see you!" Then he would touch the earth so that he would know through his physical senses the reality of something tangible, instead of being swept away by the non-reality of his thoughts. Whenever he did this, Mara would disappear.

In our own meditation practice and daily life, we are constantly besieged by confusion, doubt, and desires for things to be other than the way they really are. When we notice this happening, we can also defy these expressions of Mara, just like the Buddha.

First, we recognize that these events are actually happening ("Mara, I see you!"). This alone may have the power to dissolve the suffering that these events can cause.

Then, we need to do our own Earth Touching Mudra by coming into contact with a physical sense object. Feeling the movement of the breath in and out is one of the most powerful sense objects, and it is available to us any time we need it. However, anything we can experience through the five physical senses will serve as fingers touching the earth to help ground us in the reality of the present moment.

The difficult or upsetting thoughts will then dissolve by themselves without our having to do anything about them. Like Mara, they will disappear into the darkness and stop bothering us for a while.

The Task, by Guillevic:
When each day
is sacred

when each hour
is sacred

when each instant
is sacred

earth and you
space and you
bearing the sacred through time

you'll reach
the fields of light.


  1. Nice posting. Do you know about these mudra books?

  2. Thank you for your comment. I am familiar with all except the Shiva Samhita, and I have only seen the Gheranda Samhita in photocopy form. For some really practical and informative mudra instruction from a Western perspective, I highly recommend pamphlets by Richard C. Miller, Ph.D, available at Blessings, Roger