Vol. XLIX, No.9
Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived a very intelligent teacher who went to hear a talk by the Buddha Shakyamuni. After hearing the Buddha's talk, the teacher, dismissed it as unintelligible gibberish. Several days later, the teacher was walking atop a very high hill along the edge of a steep cliff when he suddenly tripped over a rock and fell over the side. The bottom of the cliff was a thousand feet below. As he fell, he reached out and was miraculously able to grab the branch of a tree that was growing out from the side of the cliff. He slowly pulled himself up to the branch and was able to grasp the trunk of the tree with both hands.
And there he hung, grasping the trunk of the tree with both hands. He began to yell for help, for someone to save him. Just then, the Buddha happened to be walking along the edge of the cliff when he heard the man's cries for help. He peered over the edge of the cliff and saw the teacher desperately clinging to the trunk of the tree. When the teacher saw the Buddha's face peering over the edge of the cliff; he called out to the Buddha to save him. The Buddha replied in his usual calm voice, "I will save you - listen carefully - let go". Astonished, the teacher replied, "Are you serious? If I let go I'll fall to my death!". The Buddha answered, "You can't hold on forever. Trust me. You will be all right if you let go!".
Feeling his arms getting tired and seeing no other options, the teacher closed his eyes and let go. Suddenly he felt a little "thud" along the whole length of his body. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was lying flat on the ground with his arms wrapped around a tree trunk. When he looked up, he saw the Buddha looking down at him smiling.
We cling to the "real world" and find ourselves dangling precariously with death waiting for us below. Our world is vertical and full of struggle to get to the safety of the top. When we cry out for help, the Buddha as Truth tells us to let go. We hesitate, for everything we know and have experienced tells us that to let go is to die. But when we reach the moment of no choice anyway, we let go - only to discover that the "real world" is not vertical but horizontal, and that we have been lying on, standing on, sitting on, dancing on, and stumbling on the earth all this time. Another name for Buddha is the Great Earth itself. From it's opening to closing visions Buddhism is horizontal; in its architecture, its music, its dance, its songs, its chants - earth-rooted, inward and out, left and right. Above and below are human creations of verticality. In Chinese, "Namoamidabutsu" is usually written from top to bottom. It can also be written from left to right or from right to left.