by CJ Daiyo Sensei
Once when I was ten years old, Dad took us out West and we drove across Kansas. It was as flat and uneventful as you might suspect, a vast sea of wheat as far as the eye could see. As the hours passed it seemed as though we were uncertain if we were moving at all as farm after farm faded into the Wheat Sea. Then somewhere this side of Colorado we saw a purple barn.
There seemed to be some shared recognition. Our journey had not been imagined and we were still moving. We didn’t stop and take a picture or really even talk about it. Slowly the Purple Barn too faded into the waves of grain; Dad drove 85 mph on a slow day in those days but you could see for literal miles that little purple speck on the horizon.
Faith is a lot like our drive across Kansas. Miracles are the purple barns. A lot of wheat fields separate those moments when you recognize that you are still moving toward some far off goal. By faith, which can also be called Right View, I don’t mean blind obedience to some invisible power but rather trust in things as they are, that all the suffering that we experience may yet be leading us to some awakening, and there might be after all a cosmic conspiracy to commit upon us some unmitigated good.
A miracle is harder to define but like Justice Potter said about obscenity, I know one when I see it. Those purple barns are not promised but they are hard to overlook when they appear but to be honest they can also be overrated. On one hand, they are useful to shake up one’s worldview a bit no doubt but on the other, like a snow globe, the bits always settle back to the bottom. The last miracle I saw was my when Dad passed this last spring. It began as a quiet, subjective kind of miracle. I explained in an email shortly thereafter:
Something happened last night that seems worth sharing. My Dad has had a long slow waltz with cancer; it really hasn’t been a battle. The lucky among us get a thousand months and at 78, Dad was too old for even his children to die young. We knew death was near, maybe hours or a day or two at most.
The husband, William, and I left Alabama and made the trek to North Georgia. We had just been here the week before and William had gotten Dad up and out into the yard; he enjoyed the sunlight one last time. He was nominally Christian but never objected to my Buddhism. A few minutes before 9pm, about two hours after arriving and settling in, I began sitting with Dad. He had seemingly lost consciousness and his pupils were fixed.
I played Imee Ooi’s Chant of Metta with the English voice over followed by the same artist’s rendition of the Great Compassion Heart Dharani. Then I put an mp3 of the Nembutsu on repeat and explained to Dad that I might have played the Jesus Prayer ‘Lord Have Mercy’ if I had it on file. He never listened to repetitive chanting so I was taking it slow and just wanted to give him something to focus on other than any pain he might be experiencing.
I told him that we all possess a wonderful potential which we can never live up to in this world but something bigger than ourselves has prepared a place for us where we can become the best, most authentic version of ourselves possible. I held his hand as I explained that when he was ready, no matter what we call it, it would take him home. As if on cue, with Namu Amida Butsu, I take Refuge in the Awakening of Infinite Life and Light, playing in the background, he opened his eyes, took maybe three or four more breaths and died. It was a beautiful death and the timing left us in more than a little awe.”
In the follow up to that email, I wrote the next day,
“Dad put on the rainbow body. Yesterday at about five PM the wind swirled in a light misty rain, the sunlight was golden and one end of a rainbow dropped down fifteen foot from where I and my sister-in-law was standing. She is a bit of a hippie anyway and was literally jumping up and down with excitement. In fifty years, she hadn’t seen anything like it and even our self-avowed atheist is questioning his faith in coincidences. It drifted maybe fifty feet away, hovering above the pond in the pasture on the edge of the yard where I managed to snap a pic and post to Facebook.”
Eight months later I still have that pic on my phone but time has crept onward and whatever spiritual depths we glimpsed is surely being passed by, another purple speck on the horizon. My brother is in the midst of a divorce, the atheist in question is still a self-avowed atheist, albeit with less fervor than he once had, and in short little has changed. Miracles are nice now and then but they are no substitute for the hard work of making the journey and I will admit I still prefer faith over miracles.
CJ Daiyo Sensei is a Lay Minister with Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. For information about Bright Dawn and the Lay Ministry program please visit our website.