Lying in bed last night, I remembered that the Buddha believed he was a failure. Alone on a riverbank, split off from his yogi brothers, he broke his vows and took food offered by a young woman. Nourished by this simple act of kindness, he remembered a simple time from childhood. He had sat alone under a rose apple tree, watching his father and other men from his village plow the fields for spring planting. Peaceful and happy, with no adults bothering him, he could be open and attentive to life as it flowed around him.

The boy Buddha (Siddhartha) saw insect families tossed about by the plowing and felt a pang of compassion. He took this impression of equanimity, of being open to the flow of life, to joy and sorrow and all that arises, under the Bodhi tree. This memory of being kind and humble and selfless, became the bedrock of his enlightenment.Lying in bed in the dark, it dawned on me that the meaning of life, the real purpose of our presence here, is being attentive, being willing to go on seeing and keeping our hearts open…..not just for our sake but for the sake of others. We make ourselves available to life, opening our hearts to the passing flow of it, knowing we will blunder and get it wrong, but sometimes, more often than not, we will get it right. We do this even knowing that hearts will inevitably break because life is uncertainty and change and loss…..and sometimes life can be terribly harsh…..people can be brutal, jealous, petty and mostly ignorant (this I know to well). But sometimes when we are open, light floods the darkest chamber.
The following fable from the Vedic tradition serves as a beautiful reminder of something essential that is all too easily forgotten.
Many, many centuries ago, God was looking for a place to hide. You see, in those days She was receiving any and all who wanted to have an audience with Her. God’s doors were open 24/7. All you had to do was knock on Her palace doors, wait your turn, and you would be received. It’s no surprise that there was an endless line of devotees and seekers, as well as a lot of people who wanted stuff and who wanted to deliver their prayers directly to Her.
As was Her policy back then, God felt obliged to listen to each request. You can imagine that neither God, the angels, nor any of their attendants had a moment’s rest. There were far too many people to attend to and too many requests to be heard. Some people were asking for their next child to be a girl; others were asking for a rich harvest, for it to rain or to stop raining, for more money, for healing for a sick relative, for help to see the future or to attain some extraordinary power, or that God would relieve them of grief and fear. It all got to be so much that God didn’t have any time to attend to any godly business.
Having determined that something had to change, She convened all the greatest sages in order to discuss with them how to stem the constant flow of those looking to Her to fulfill all their desires and solve all their problems. The first sage suggested that they build Her a new palace at the highest point in the Himalayas, on Mount Everest. “No one has ever scaled Mount Everest,” the sage said. “You will be undisturbed for eternity, and thus the natural order will be restored.”
God shook Her head. “No,” she said. “In a day or two [the ancient teachings tell us that a day in God’s life is equivalent to a hundred thousand years in ours], human beings’ desire and determination will allow them to get to the top of Everest. We’ll need a different plan.
A second sage offered, “Let’s build your new castle on the moon. Human beings will never get to the moon. There you will have all the quiet and peace you can imagine, and the order of things will be restored.”
God just sighed and said, “No. In two or three days, human beings will find a way to get to the moon.”
At a loss, all the sages fell silent.
I have the answer,” God said. “I’ll put a small part of myself inside every person’s heart. It will be the last place they’ll look.
The clear moral of this fable is that a small piece of God is in every person’s heart. Indeed, this is one of the paramount and most enduring messages of the Vedic tradition and, as I’ve said, the basis for being able to savor your work in the world while never becoming enslaved by it. Knowing the unconditional and boundless joy whose permanent abode is in your heart is the foundation for living your life with moksha, a true sense of freedom and fearlessness. This should remind all of us how enriching…..in fact, invaluable…..it is to learn to be in your heart. However, the tantric tradition provides us with another way of interpreting this fable.
According to tantra, just below your heart center is something called the “ananda kanda“…..the “root of bliss”…..which is the source of the sublime contentment “enshrined” in or near your spiritual heart. If you are experiencing bliss, the teachings say, you are tapping into this root where your heart’s blissful nature blossoms completely and endlessly. Within this root of bliss is the “kalpa vriksha“, the wishing tree. The teachings suggest that when you bring your desires with enough resolve to this tree, the tree then bestows on you the fulfillment of those desires.
How do you place your desires by your wishing tree with enough resolve?
The Buddha’s teachings are dedicated to answering that question. In many ways, answering it is its abiding message: Know that the world and everything in it, including you, is inherently sacred. Honor your place in it by respecting yourself and committing to becoming what you truly aspire to be. Understand that there is a truth that lies within you and can only be known by a still mind. Resolve to discover your Higher Self by looking inward. Once you glimpse this inner dimension…..Essence, Source, Spirit…..ask what desires it would have you fulfill. Set out in service of these desires and the greater good. Then, in full faith, take the loftiest of these desires back to your Source, which dwells in your heart, and let it lead you to them.
Let the wisdom and love in your heart show you what and who you really are, then let it guide you. Present your heart with a vision of what you know it longs for and it will help you fulfill the aspirations that have been in it all along. Make these steps your life’s practice. In time, you will be richly rewarded and discover that for every step you have taken toward fulfilling your dreams, your dreams have taken a step toward you.