Wednesday, September 01, 2010

When You Look Upon the Land

A Cahuilla woman, around the turn of the 20th century

With respect to the practice of Dzogchen, I occasionally have this idea that Dzogchen is continuously practicing itself, and all that is required is for one to just relax into appreciation of that. Similarly, it would be impossible to assign a beginning or an ending to any of this, or develop any sense of ownership.

So, then... and with that thought in mind...

When you look at the hills, depending upon what time of day it is, or what month of the year, you might see something you don't see at any other time. 

For example: you see that rock in the above photograph. The setting sun is striking that rock in a particular way, to the exclusion of the surrounding rocks. You might see this only once a year, on a particular day, at a particular time, looking in a particular direction. Go out there today, and you can witness the effect. Go out there tomorrow, and you might not be able to even find the thing.

Everybody has their own version of how this might go. 

Out West, we have the Native American landscape, based on what they saw; we have the Spanish landscape, based on what the Jesuits saw; then we have the military landscape, based on what the explorers, and later,  the cavalry saw, and finally, we have whatever landscape everybody else saw -- while they were busy fencing it in, cutting it down, blowing it up, digging it out, or any one of the hundred other injustices we as a people have wrought upon the land.

Around where I am sitting right now, there used to be large, white quartz pinnacles, several feet high. The light struck them every day of the year, from every direction. They shined. Everyone could see them. These were similar to white quartz obelisks, standing abruptly from the surround, like tall stone cactus. 

There was a huge one, up on the mountain. There were two smaller ones, down in the desert valley.

Ashpam, a Chemehuevi elder, circa 1908

The Native Americans regarded them as highly sacred, and went to great pains to study them. The Native American civilization in this area was in fact built around them, spiritually speaking. 

The moiety known as the Kuchaviatum, or Yuhaviatum, "People of the Pines," of the Serrano Tribe -- highland people of the Shoshone -- referred to the one on the mountain as the "Eye of Pakrokitat," or "Eye of the Creator."

This was more a huge dome than a pinnacle, found in a place located within Yuhaviat (the "Pine Place") they called Hatauva: near the shores of present day Lake Baldwin, east of Big Bear Lake, California, in the San Bernardino Mountains. These Serrano believed the quartz dome was the actual eye of the heavenly being who left them the earth,  watching over them at all times.

Edward S. Curtis photograph of a Serrano man, circa 1924

We have no record of how the Spanish regarded the matter. The Jesuit Spanish cared very little for what the Serrano had to say about anything.  After around 1770, Jesuits either converted the Serrano to Christianity -- then put them to work as indentured servants, making soap at Mission San Gabriel's iron vats, or tanning -- or they hunted down and killed them. Most of the Spanish expeditions in this area were ill-fated, so it is even possible they did not know of the Eye of the Creator.

All that is left of the Eye of the Creator, as it appears today, in the place
the Yuhaviatum Serrano called Hatauva.

The pinnacles were white quartz, as I have just stated, so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that the miners around here blew them all to smithereens. They stamped the fragments in their mills, but found no gold. While visiting the local museum, I heard accounts, probably not far from apocryphal, of how it was when the Eye of the Creator was shot. Whatever the facts were, it made such an impression that people hereabouts are still talking, more than 100 years after the event.

When the weather turned cold, the Serrano would come down the east side of the mountain from Yuhaviat to the desert valley, wintering in a local encampment area. I have yet to discover the original name.

Interestingly enough, this is where they came for medical treatment, and the place also functioned as a kind of maternity ward. This makes sense when you consider that here is where the eagles have their winter breeding nests. Since shamans were specialized, this seems to be the medical shaman's realm. In any event, we know this is where the shaman lived during the winters and early spring.

This petroglyph, estimated at more than 1,000 years old, is north of here. 
If you take the center of the swastika-like element as the Eye of the Creator,
the two circles below are in the correct position to indicate the two
other quartz pinnacles. The bottom two lines attached to the Eye of the Creator
correspond to the eastern mountain slope contours.

This is where the second and third quartz pinnacles are found. When the miners came and blew up the quartz, they did not find any gold. Below, is a photograph of what I find inside what is left.

So, anyway...

That which is commonplace, such as a rock, is instructive. First, we see it as ordinary. Then, as our mind begins to wander, we imagine we see something extraordinary. Thereafter, we begin to relate all of this to what we have heard about Dharma --- so, as we do this, the Dharma "comes true" for us, the way wishes are said to come true.

If you can do this, you will begin seeing things as they are.

I think the unnecessary delay most of us build into this process is that we get stuck in objects. We see something we regard as fantastic, so we decide this must indeed be fantastic. We harden into a particular idea about what we have seen, i.e. we objectify that which we have seen. This doesn't help. What does help is to recognize the dreamlike quality inherent in all of this.
"The concrete states of matter, solids, liquids, and so forth---should be examined in this way. Remaining for ten days where no otherness can be found, you will realize that not even an atom's worth of anything exists that is separate from pure and total presence. Realizing that, you will certainly be free from all fabricated obsession with the otherness of objects. Moreover, the very being of what is experienced externally, in being an essenseless, open dimension, is shown to be the state of pure and total presence. In being the variety of unceasing experience, it is shown to be the play of pure and total presence."
So, that is what Longchenpa had to say about the matter.

There are many, many traditions associated with how we look upon the land. Writing in De Re Metallica, circa 1556, Georgius Agricola instructs that ancient miners used to relate the veins in the earth to the winds of the many directions. Going back from that, around 500 years, a commentary on the Kalachakratantra described a way of using sun, shadow, and sky to see inside the earth. Here and there, throughout the centuries, the feng shui masters have given endless instruction based on form, compass, and the concordance of events.

All that is left of the second pinnacle, as it appears today.

So, as humans, it is our general idea and belief that by taking diverse information from the natural surroundings, we can train ourselves to see that which is hidden. In the alternative, some of us have a highly developed, inherent ability to see that which is hidden. Tertons, for example, are said to be able to discover earth treasures by seeing "doors" that are not otherwise readily apparent.

Be this as it may....
The regions to which one travels for tantric conduct are mainly the well-known thirty-two major regions of the Land of Jambu and regions concordant with them in Tibet and in every country. [Emphasis added.]
Jamgon Kongtrul wrote that in his Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography. You could argue -- and I suppose many will -- that he refers only to those countries of which he was aware. But, since no place on this earth lies beyond pure and total presence, this argument will not stand.

Above and apart from seeing that which is hidden, is the ability to render one's body and the land as indistinguishable from one another. As Buddhists, we believe that within the body there are twenty-four main channels surrounded by seventy-two thousand subsidiaries, and that in the world, there are twenty-four main sacred places, each surrounded by seventy-two thousand subsidiary places. If you want to read a splendid exposition of this in English, you can read  Hugh Thompson's Sacred Ground where, in the commentary, the author cuts straight to the heart of the matter:
"This means that for those who have faith and devotion toward the Buddha, all forms and sounds appear as the display of the body, speech, and mind of enlightenment. Therefore, the thoughts, 'This is a sacred place,' or 'This is not a sacred place,' amount to the distorted, discursive thoughts of an impure mind."
By extension, within each place in the world, these sacred places and their subsidiaries are naturally present -- beginning with whatever place you find yourself inhabiting right now -- and all you have to do is just relax into appreciation of that.

Today, I want to tell those of you thinking of pilgrimage, or preparing to go on pilgrimage, or actually engaged in pilgrimage -- whether such pilgrimage be great or small, conventional or unconventional, in your native land or abroad, in past time, this time, or some future time -- that when you look upon the land, you look upon yourself.

To the Native Americans around here,  plants, animals, and even rocks are sentient beings. It is believed that they derive from superior beings who were willing to be transformed into myriad appearances, to benefit others.

Hence, every bodhisattva is the center of a mandala.

Even sacred monuments of shattered stone, no longer extant yet wanting nothing, visible by their very absence.

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5 reader comments:

Dorje P. said...

Very rich texture. Very beautifully written. A treasure in itself. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Do any photos or paintings exist of sacred stone monuments you reference from prior to their destruction?

The quote by Longchenpa is amazing. Thank you for this beautiful article.

In the future I believe more of America's sacred places are revealed and made clear. Many are in places you would never suspect, covered by mundane cities and suburbs at the moment.

Marc said...

Truly beautiful observation on so many levels at once. Thank you so very much.

Editor said...

Dear Anonymous:
I believe, subject to correction, that there is a photo of the Eye of the Creator in a local museum. There are numbers of petrogylphs that seem to bear on these pinnacles. Apart from that, all we have left is a fragile oral history. The Jesuits damaged the Serrano quite terribly, as did smallpox, so that by the early 20th century, there was almost nothing left.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dorje. This is treasure.