Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What light through yonder window breaks?

"Imagine the world as a vast cathedral. Contemplate the windows. In the Cathedral of the World there are windows beyond number, some long forgotten, covered with many patinas of dust, others revered by millions, the most sacred of shrines. Each in its own way is beautiful. Some are abstract, others representational, some dark and meditative, others bright and dazzling. Each tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning
of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. The windows of the cathedral are where the light shines through.

"The same light shines through all our windows, but each window is different. The windows modify the light, refracting it in various patterns that suggest discrete meanings. Even as one cannot believe usefully in 'everything,' to find meaningful expression Unitarian Universalism must be modified or refracted through the glass of individual and group experience (which by definition will be less than universal). One can be a Buddhist Unitarian Universalist, a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, a Pagan Unitarian Universalist, a Humanist Unitarian Universalist, a Christian Unitarian Universalist.

"As with all extended metaphors, this one is imperfect. The Light of God (or Truth or Being Itself) shines not only upon us, but out from within us as well. Together with the windows, we are part of the cathedral, not apart from it. Together we comprise an interdependent web of being. The cathedral is constructed out of star stuff and so are we." - excerpt from a sermon titled The Cathedral of the World by Forrest Church.

If you've read the book A Chosen Faith, which is an introduction to Unitarian Universalism, or if you have attended the right UU service on the right day, you have heard this analogy before. It has been used in a number of sermons and can be readily found in many places through a brief internet search. But the lesson isn't limited to UUism per se. Many in the interfaith and interspiritual movement who are not UUs will nonetheless recognize and in many cases agree with this sentiment. I think in particular this imagery is also very useful from a Buddhist perspective, regardless of whether one is a Buddhist and a Unitarian Universalist.

From Chan Buddhism, one can recognize the light as the illumination of Pure Mind. Seeing the illumination in each window is a way of expressing how Enlightened Beings see others as Buddhas and the world as the Pure Land. Nor is this insight of the power of perspective limited to Chan. The Shin layperson and poet Saichi wrote:

84,000 delusions
84,000 lights
84,000 joys abounding

From Sri Lanka to Thailand, from Mongolia to Japan, and now in the West, one can find Buddhist teachings which echo the lesson of the image of the Cathedral of the World.

May you recognize the Light.

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