Getting to the Other Shore

Spring is coming to New Jersey and to the good sisters of the Cloister of Mother Magdalene. Well, at least the promise of spring seems to be on the horizon. The snow, the snow that perpetually blanketed the ground from December until April, has melted. The crocuses and snow drops are beginning to grace the landscape, and robins are once again dancing in the grass as they search out worms, berries and larvae. Life is re-emerging once again. Good is alive, hope is afoot. And so too is Sister Visentia afoot. She has been feeling a bit cramped in the cloister these long months, and the rolling hills of Hunterdon now beckon her to exploration.

So on a lovely spring day in early May, Sister Visentia set out for a bit of a walk and she found herself along the banks of the south branch of the Raritan River. Now, it’s true the Raritan is not a thundering water course. It is not so wide as to be un-fordable, but after the winter snow melt and the heavy spring rains, it can be formidable. As she strolled along the river, lost in the details of flora and fauna, the smells of spring, the softness of the earth covered in composing leaves, Sister Visentia looked up newly aware that she was unaware of quite where she was. To the right and the left, she saw no way across the river as it roiled past her. As she stared at the Raritan, it became an insurmountable obstacle in front of her. She could not fathom how she was going to get across it. Good Sister Visentia was just about to give up on the idea of fording the river, when she saw someone walking on the other side of the river. Sister Visentia called out to her, “hello there, can you tell me please how to get to the other side of the river?”

The stranger looked up, smiled, and said, “My daughter, you are already on the other shore.”

Sister Visentia heard this and started to smile, then she began to laugh, and soon the two strangers were laughing together so hard that they were weeping and their sides were aching.

As their laughter subsided, the stranger began to chant, “Gate (gah-tay) gate para gate parasamgate bodhi swaha!”

Sister Visentia looked across the water to the stranger, who began to laugh again, and said, “it is a Buddhist chant from the Heart Sutra, which can be translated ‘Gone, gone, gone to the Other Shore, attained the Other Shore having never left.’ Good Sister, you have gone out in search of spring and have stumbled upon enlightenment. Please accept my invitation to pause for a few moments and re-collect yourself. Now is a lovely moment to pause and ponder. Take care to wonder at the world through which you wander!”

At that moment Visentia realized that there was nowhere else to go but inside herself. There she would find comfort, insight, and the wealth of wisdom hard earned and gently nurtured. Visentia gave thanks for this moment of equanimity, for the time she had taken to wander the occasional detour and side road, for the time she had wasted on the roses in her life.

And as she sighed deeply, the stranger waved to her once more and said, “if you meet the Buddha on the road . . .” and the stranger disappeared, and Visentia laughed once more. Indeed, she had always already crossed to the other shore.

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