A Treasure Buried in a Field

Last week, my daughter and I stayed in a little ocean-side condo in Florida.  Every morning we walked on the beach, and at least some mornings we let ourselves be buffeted about in the vast jacuzzi of the ocean. Every evening, we cooked, laughed, and talked with my 91-year-old father, sister, nephew, and their loved ones. Every day I was reminded of what is constant by the waves, and every evening I was reminded of impermanence by my father’s growing frailty and my own growing sense of not having unlimited time. 

I had a very limited ability to be online.  When I did, I was very touched and interested in the activity in this blog space on the subject of what is a path or what does it mean to follow a path.  One line and comment in particular captured my attention and imagination.  Elizabeth wrote of doing contemplative reading of passages from the Bible each morning, giving as an example Jesus teaching his followers that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.  She offered the insight that the field or ground might be the ground of our own being.  I walked on the beach in the morning reflecting on what kinds of conditions have to be present to explore that ground and find that treasure.

One of the things that came up as I walked on the beach in the morning or lay in bed at night thinking about the way life melts away was the Third Noble Truth, the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.  When I was younger, I wondered why the Buddha bothered to make a separate truth about the end of suffering.  Why not skip straight from the craving and ignorance that causes suffering to the Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path that leads to liberation?  It seemed pointless and even negative to me to emphasize the cessation of craving; the rejecting, relinquishing, leaving and renouncing of it. It seems clear to me now that my aversion to this particular truth was/is rooted in the fear that it is life denying.  Be as aloof and austere as a monk or nun, that’s the way to avoid suffering: abandon all craving, even, especially, to that seems lovable and gratifying.

Now I’m beginning to understand that liberation from suffering is like a treasure buried in a field.  It is the discovery that there is something richer to be found when we are ready.  There must be a real need–keen enough to an attitude that is calm and alert, able to drop the objects, people, and opinions we think we have to cling to.  Relinquishing our usual certainties, we become able to look into and over the situation, to scan the field.  In a state of even the most temporary cessation, given the briefest pause from our usual automatism, the mind discovers it actually can open to investigate–our suffering itself and the craving that causes it becomes a field of investigation.

How and where can we find relief from the suffering that flows from the inescapable impermanence of life, and from the sense that nothing happens quite as we dream or expect?  There is an open-mindedness and an inner attitude of investigation and search that come from far afield.  The treasure is found by relinquishing belief in our own thoughts, forsaking our own will, becoming poor in spirit so that we may receive what lay waiting for us with open hands.

Jesus and Buddha urged their followers to practice a way of homelessness, especially of psychological homelessness.  Can this be practiced by lay people in the midst of this anxious, materialistic world? Yes, in the moment. We can practice the renunciation of fixed views and prejudices.  We can relinquish our attachment to the pursuit of ever more information (including spiritual information) and control. We can stop running and turn and look at our own suffering and reactions, gently investigation and inquiring how it feels, what it’s true nature is.  That questioning, if its sincere, can be like a diving rod, leading us to living water.

So there at the beach, I investigated my fear to time, my pangs of love and worry for my father, my sense that I should do something hard and substantial, build something that will stand against the onslaught of time, be like the little pig who build his house of brick.  One night, my eyes fell on these words from Sabbath by Abraham Heschel–and the Sabbath is of course about the holy day of cessation:  “Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space.  As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face.  Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives….The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information [or any other kind of material wealth which is a forgery of happiness, according to Heschel] but to face sacred moments.”

I begin to suspect that the deathless, the kingdom of heaven, is to be found in cessation, in stopping and turning to face sacred moments.


11 thoughts on “A Treasure Buried in a Field

  1. Tracy,
    I could see the waves slapping against me as I visualized you and your daughter enjoying the “vast jacuzzi of the ocean”. What a wonderful way to enjoy your vacation!
    Also, I could feel the pain or poignancy of spending time with your father and realizing the temporariness of it….I see the yin/yang of your vacation.
    It always helps me to see the Truth in another religion, or philosophy. So when you wrote about the Third Noble Truth and your explanation of it, I could identify with my scripture for today too. It helped me to see it more clearly!
    Mine is based on Mat16:24-28 where Jesus is quoted as saying”For whosoever wishes to save his life will lose it (the craving and the fear that is life denying.) As your wrote, “drop the objects, people, and opinions we think we have to cling to”
    “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
    I see this as “profit vs. forfeit” When I looked up the definition for forfeit the word surrender popped up. This is the open-mindedness and treasure that I believe we find when we become poor in spirit. The profit is the freedom that we have when we forfeit the craving.
    Most times it takes something important in my life too to be able to see that the world is temporary, but Love is eternal. I suspect this is a part of the human condition.

    As Heschel put it it is not the material wealth that we seek, but the sacred moments. For me these are found in the coincidence of opposites…giving and receiving, surrendering and liberating…..enjoying your father but realizing it is a moment in time….ad infinitum.
    Have a wonderful week, Tracy

    1. Hi Betty,

      This reflection reminds me that there is a truth that is common to all paths–a truth that is summed up in that marvelous koan from Jesus: “For whosoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” To join life we must let go.

  2. I have enjoyed your post which weaves words and brings three religions together, with such ease and inspiration. I ran this evening, around Mauao our beautiful mountain which stands in the beginning of the ocean, in Mt Maunganui, Aotearoa. As my body was running through the winter evening it gently rained and I felt such gratitude my spirit, limbs and chest could feel this liberation and strong moving. As I rounded the corner of our home, approaching our 1 year old upon dinner time, I reminded myself “to welcome the surprises” is that an oxymoron? Through so much of my existence “I hold on”, I “try” and “sculpt” and “map” and “brew”. Sometimes this is helpful, but sometimes in my relationships (especially with my husband) this can mean there’s not a lot of room for him and his “creations” or “opinions” and not a lot of empty space so something unexpected to be. I’m being indulgent and sharing this because reading your post Tracy, reverberates this after-run-notion of not-in-action / cessation. The idea of, being taken for the ride, surrender, not knowing where a moment will take me, a delight in the silence before the…
    This is such a challenge for me and I love it when someone’s writing, or someone’s speaking or my body’s movement takes me to that place of courage and recognition.
    Kia ora Tracy

  3. Yesterday morning I sat in our den at home in Houston, with two friends meditating together, one a Buddhist, the other a Christian-Buddhist who is also a member at Trinity Episcopal Church where my wife Joanne and I attended. Our conversation during and after meditation was centered around the Buddhist concept of emptiness and trying to understand what is meant by “emptiness form, form is emptiness.”

    Elisabeth (Betty) and everyone really, but Betty especially, I like how our mutual friend Paul F. Knitter describes emptiness or interbeing in his book “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian” as a radical openness to life and the ultimate mystery of creation and/or reality. He speaks of it not as the ground of our being, but as the groundlessness of our being, meaning that each moment of life is completely open to many possibilities and experiences, an infinite number perhaps. And it is we who shape those possibilities and moments by our own thoughts (karma it you wish) and attitude towards life and others, in relationship in, with, and through one another. So often, we don’t pause long enough to understand how interconnected we are across the world, across humanity, and how our relationships shape that reality.

    I’m thinking of Jesus now and the words we hear him say in John 10:10; “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” It’s a twin koan to the one Tracy offers above. Learning to let go, and to let be, to simply trust in the moment is so essential to finding that peace within that passes all understanding, which is truly a gift of grace. I am thinking now of another piece of scripture or blessing from Jesus that also points us towards a way of letting go and letting be, a way of offering ourselves to God, the Ultimate Mystery.

    “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Matthew 11:28

    Whenever I sit down to meditate or pray, or during the celebration of the Eucharist in church, this scripture is one that I try to hold close to my heart, and it works well for me. By offering up all my anxieties and fears, my heaviest burdens to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, they simply disappear into the moment and I am indeed refreshed and restored.

    It doesn’t matter what your faith may be in this moment, or who you might offer such burdens up to, it can be another enlightened being if you wish, it is simply a process of letting go and living in the moment and the abundant life that moment has to offer us now. As Paul Knitter points out in the recent interview with him in Parabola, this is certainly what Jesus is offering to us each in his teachings, a radical trust, a radical openness to something greater than ourselves and an understanding that “our true identities are not to be found in our selves.”

    Betty, I hope you have gotten your hands on that issue by now.

    Peace on a Sunday morning from my home in Houston. – Ron

  4. Hi Tracy.

    Now I’m beginning to understand that liberation from suffering is like a treasure buried in a field. It is the discovery that there is something richer to be found when we are ready. There must be a real need–keen enough to an attitude that is calm and alert, able to drop the objects, people, and opinions we think we have to cling to. Relinquishing our usual certainties, we become able to look into and over the situation, to scan the field. In a state of even the most temporary cessation, given the briefest pause from our usual automatism, the mind discovers it actually can open to investigate–our suffering itself and the craving that causes it becomes a field of investigation.

    I’ve read your observation in the Work regarding freedom from laws. Simone Weil refers to this idea in her concept of “Decreation” which I understand as freedom from the dominance of false personality through conscious attention.

    I know I have the tendency to underestimate the power of resistance. John Pentland’s observation on attitude is much food for thought. I know there are things in me that refuse to be seen. which will often nullify I believe even very sincere efforts for a Buddhist to follow the eightfold path.

    “We don’t understand the importance of our attitude. My attitude at any point is like the sunken part of the iceberg. I start out from the conscious affirmative part which is like the tip. I’m quite surprised—and unprepared—to meet resistance from this unconscious part. Yet my attitude is largely governed by this resistance. You have to see the resistance. You have to be more aware of the wish to not work—at the same time as you are holding the wish to work.”

    There is a lot going on down there that refuses the inner light allowing it to be seen.


  5. Hi Nick, the point you raise about resistance is very important. It does come up–and it can topple the positive, affirmative attitude you think you have in wild and unpredictable ways. One way I work with it sometimes is to invite that resistance in to my sitting. When I am in a more collected state I sometimes find it possible to “hold” painful and difficult parts as energy–not going into the story it wants to tell but directly experiencing/observing how the energy feels (starting with the fact that there is vast subterranean iceberg energy I am usually out of touch with). Once in a blue moon, I can create a space for observation in life–in those rare moments when I catch the impulse to be angry, aversive, to kick over tables, before it breaks the surface. Sitting with it is easier.

  6. Hi Tracy

    I was also referring to this tendency in us that makes impartiality so difficult to maintain. On a large scale we can see how Christianity for example becomes its opposite in the Spanish Inquisition. I like how Krishnamurti describes it:

    ” ……….the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.”

    This tendency can lead to anything between wonderfulness and hostility. I’ve found for example that the most intolerant peole are those advocating tolerance. But whatever form these interpretations take, they are still a result of resistance and for anyone seeking the truth the treditions draw them towards, it becomes necessary to sacrifice self justification.

    Perhaps The first Noble Truth refers to more than suffering as we conceive it. I’ve read that it should be read as “Life is dukkha.”


    The First Noble Truth

    According to Buddha, one of realities of life is that all beings who are caught up in the cycle of existence are subject to dukka.

    The Pali word dukkha is loosely translated as ‘suffering’. Although in ordinary usage dukkha means suffering, pain, sorrow, misery, in the First Noble Truth, it has a much deeper and wider meaning, which includes ideas such as unsatisfactoriness, dissatisfaction, frustration, separation, and emptiness. Dukkha permeates our very existence, affecting our body and mind. The body is affected by old age, sickness and death, while the mind is affected by such factors as separation from things and persons one likes, not getting things one desires, being in unpleasant circumstances, etc.

    The unsatisfactory translation of the word dukkha as “suffering” has led some people to regard Buddha’s teachings as pessimistic. First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. It takes a realistic view of life and the world. It does not promise you a life in an everlasting paradise nor does it frighten you into accepting some kind of blind faith.

    One may ask, ‘what about happiness?’ According to teachings of the Buddha, true happiness is found within, not in external objects such as wealth, power, honour, or selfish love. A little reflection will show that these forms of happiness do not last as they are subject to change. For example, we may enjoy a holiday on a paradise island, but when it is over and we are back to face the daily work and routines, we are left with dissatisfaction.

    The point is that a person can even take the First Noble Truth and gradually interpret it into unintended escapism. It may take suffering to realize objectively the futility of clinging. Is it surprising how easily the arrow misses its mark if the goal is superficially to avoid suffering?.

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