Friday, July 3, 2009

Empty Vessel

Empty Vessel in Green
Mono-print on hand stamped acrylic background
8" x  8" black matte, image dimension 3.75 " x 4.5"
$25 includes shipping in North America

Yesterday when we went to the Tibetan Retreat Centre on Mt. Tuam there was a "Transmission Ceremony".  There was some confusion over whether those of us who were only there for the opening were allowed to receive the transmission.  As our group was the last of the afternoon stragglers eating and chatting we were herded into the Shrine Room and assured it was fine.  I went along with the crowd in that way that your mother used to say to you when you were a teenager  "Now if everyone jumped off a bridge would you do that too?"

I recently bought a little used book by Chogyam Trungpa called "Journey Without A Goal".  Great title, yes?  I was curious to read about "transmission" in it as I couldn't fully wrap my pea brain around it.  Hmmm, transmission, sounds like something that happens around large metal towers involving copious quantities of electricity.  

Here's what Trungpa had to say about transmission:  "Transmission is like receiving a spiritual inheritance.  In order to inherit our spiritual discipline, in order to have a good inheritance, we should become worthy vessels."   Those words seemed a good match for this little mono-print of a bowl which of course is a vessel for the purpose of receiving things.  It's a great picture he's created,  students as empty vessels.  There is the Zen story about the professor that is asking so many questions to the master but not really listening to the answers.  When the master pours tea for his guest he keeps pouring until the professor shouts "the cup is full."  The Zen Master in his Zennish way simply nods.  So we can be empty or full vessels but most likely something in between. 

Trungpa  goes on to clarify  the qualities of a vessel that is ready to receive transmission: we should be humble, have the ability to question, be spiritually mature and open to the teachings.  Some hefty requirements there, but no one was checking at the door.  "No sorry you don't look quite ripe.  Or do I catch a whiff of pride here?"  There seemed to be a fairly casual approach to things, unlike my experience of ceremony in the Zen tradition I am familiar with.  I guess in my mind "transmission" is one of those esoteric things we can't really understand with our heads.  It has to do with unseen energies that abound whether we know about them or not.  And in many traditions this "transmission" happens between student and master.

Trungpa also makes the following, very clear comments about the process: "Transmission means the extension of spiritual wakefulness from one person to someone else.  Wakefulness is extended rather than transferred.  The teacher,  or the transmitter extends his own inspiration, rather than giving his own experience away to somebody else and becoming an empty balloon.  The teacher is generating wakefulness and inspiration constantly, without ever being depleted.  So for the student, receiving transmission is like being charged with electricity."  So there I was like a little battery, not quite sure if I was an interloper, guilty of pinching a charge or whether I was just a fortunate recipient of a lovely gift.

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