Searching for the Heart of Sacred Space
There are special places in the world to which we travel on pilgrimage. Engaging hardship, alighting with possibility, we receive blessings of landscapes that, with their magical and mysterious qualities, captivate and move us to increased awareness – places energizing feelings and thoughts attending the spiritual dimensions of life.
Making my way through an assemblage of unique natural areas formed in the furthest advance of the last glaciation, I received a pair of unusual invitations. Because of the implied intimacy, it felt more like being propositioned, in proportion to other offers I’d had, sweeping me like storm swells; invites impossible to refuse. Among us would evolve a deep relationship. Not a polygamous love triangle in the classic sense. More symbiotic, it exposed me in ways that assured I’d never be myself the same again, rewriting the others’ scripts, as well.
The first invitation came from the personae of land, waters and skies – landscapes with which I became infatuated: Ithaca, New York, the Canadian Shield, India, Japan and Tibet. It was co-signed by the voice of my landscape architecture mentor in graduate school at Cornell University, Prof. Tom Johnson. Together, they would offer tools to investigate the meaning of the truth of design in the spiritual landscape. Seeking the truth of design directly pointed to the first core question: how deeply would I go to draw inspiration?
The second invitation came from my spiritual practice and the Buddhist teachers guiding me, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche and H. H. the Dalai Lama. They would offer tools to investigate the second and parallel core question, how deeply I was willing to know myself in order to design landscape, to become aware of the refined and subtle treasures of silence ... and the unbearable lightness of space.
My awakening was the third body of this tryst, supported by the endeavours of my conjured friends, the cosmic whisper and Brother Tane. Awakening would harness the infinite devices available to cultivate the virtuous ways of my teachers, to become like them when I grow up. Given the poignancy of the engagement, and my view of circumstances and where I was in my life, I was to decide between two choices. I could either accept or reject the invitations in their entirety. All or nothing. Third and fourth options, to accept or reject partially, or to do neither, were neither negotiable nor possible. Attending to less than 100% wasn’t in my nature.
The landscapes of Tibet and Japan offered me two unique aesthetic approaches to my awakening. Tied by the endless spiritual knot, both emerged from a common background taught by Buddha Shakyamuni in BCE 5th century India. These landscapes were not merely circumstantial background. They were sited and designed as integral slices of spiritual teachings, providing clues to artistic expressions produced by the fully awakened mind – basis for opening the eye, expanding the mind, reminding the heart and directing intent to learn from the spiritual path.
Sacred landscapes of Western Tibet reverberate in hearts of Buddhists and Hindus throughout the world. Places of pilgrimage held sacred owing to unique features appearing in natural formations of earth, waters and skies, and energies emanating from the presence of revered sages who taught and meditated at these spots. Intangible and remote, their physical form embody the spirits themselves, deities as familiar natural forces; and through continuing reverence, granted me access to transactional grounds for spiritual discourse with the raw landscape of the Tibetan Plateau.
Temple gardens of Kyoto, Japan, embraced by sacred mountains, an auspicious setting. These refined gardens as expressions of spiritual practice and philosophical views were my guides to help mine the depth of my relationship with landscape and its design.
Landscape, Buddhism and Awakening – spoken in the same breath. The focus of my inquiry would penetrate into the foundations of gardens for meditation in the Buddhist traditions and the designed sacred landscapes that inspired them. Engaging deeply into the hearts of Landscape and Buddhism and finding what made sense would lead me into the stuff of which I was made and what I could become. My teachers assured this was all possible. In Buddhist belief, the fundamental quality of mind was its luminosity and knowing. Because of this, anything was possible where spirituality and the design of landscape were concerned. I also was assured there would be a mark of achievement by accepting their propositions. It was gauged by the capacity to profoundly affect peoples’ lives.
To be noted was that the propositions hadn’t just come out of the blue, nor did my deepening relationship with landscape and spirituality commence with their offers, although it seemed they had. I’d worked for it, without really knowing. Grounds were prepared beforehand; this was the ripening of positive potentials. As I’d be reminded constantly, “Karma very profound.”