We are now in the time of the Autumn Equinox, when we are moving into a period of longer nights and shorter days, and our northern hemisphere is bedding down for the winter to come.
Our internal states often mirror the outer, so it’s natural for us to seek more time for quiet reflection during this period. I think you will find it helpful if you increase your meditation through the upcoming months.
At CityZen, we have a candlelight ceremony in which we create two altars, one bright and one dark to celebrate this turning time. The idea is that on Monday night meditation you’re invited to bring something to place on each altar.
· For the dark altar you might consider bringing something that represents a question in your life, a memory or problem that feels impenetrable or feels immutable to change. Representative objects might be: root vegetables, a bare branch, a figure of Jizo or Ksitigarbha[i], a picture of an ancestor, dark candles, or dark flowers.
· For the bright, it might be something you turn towards, a symbol of refuge such as a figure of Buddha or Avalokitshevara[ii], white flowers, a candle, a green bough, or a picture of an ancestor.
By including both the dark and the bright on the altars we celebrate the whole of life; all the things that brought us to this moment now.
[i] Ksitigarbha (Sanskrit: क्षितिगर्भ Kṣitigarbha) is a bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism, usually depicted as a Buddhist monk in the Orient. The name may be translated as "Earth Treasury", "Earth Store", "Earth Matrix", or "Earth Womb". Ksitigarbha is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and the rise of Maitreya Buddha, as well as his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied. He is therefore often regarded as the bodhisattva of hell beings, as well as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. Usually depicted as a monk with a halo around his shaved head, he carries a staff to force open the gates of hell and a wish-fulfilling jewel to light up the darkness.
In Japan, Ksitigarbha, known as Jizō, or Ojizō-sama as he is respectfully known, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, and in particular, children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, he has been worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted foetuses, in the ritual of mizuko kuyō (水子供養, lit. offering to water children).
Jizō statues are sometimes accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles.The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō's features are commonly made more baby-like to resemble the children he protects.
[ii] Avalokiteśvara (Sanskrit: अवलोकितेश्वर lit. "Lord who looks down") is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This bodhisattva is variably depicted as male or female, and may also be referred to simply as Kanzeon (Japanese), or Guānyīn (Chinese).
According to recent research, the original form was Avalokitasvara with the ending a-svara ("sound, noise"), which means "sound perceiver", literally "she who looks down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need her help; a-svara can be glossed as ahr-svara, "sound of lamentation"). This is the exact equivalent of the Chinese translation Guānyīn.