Article 30 A glimpse of the Sacred
Whilst driving through sub-par Mexican country roads on the way to a rather nice local thermal pool in Veracruz, I was asked ‘how do you make a space sacred?’ I was a little taken aback because I regard that as a rather huge topic about which volumes could be composed, but of course if it truly is such a topic, then it should be explainable in simple terms, indeed the simpler the better. After considering for a minute or so, I made the following reply, which I consider ‘not bad’ as a first stab…
First, we need to have some notion of what is meant by the word ‘sacred’ before discussing how to engender it. The perception of sacredness happens when we tune into a seemingly heightened state which at the same time involves appreciating what is primordially present all the time. There is some sense of luminosity in the awareness field along with a sense of timelessness. I think most of us experience this in wedding ceremonies – certainly the Roman Catholic Mass is a ritual designed to invoke this sense. Lovers often experience each other as sacred beings, almost like living gods. The moment of birth is also one where nearly all present feel some combination of heightened perception with a sense of timelessness and deep appreciation of the wonder of life for in the ‘heightened perception’ aspect there is almost always some sense of deep, profound beauty and goodness. Sort of like a perfect home or palace, a perfect garden, a perfect meal, a perfect day, a perfect moment.
Well, that’s not a very precise, let alone complete, definition, but let’s go with it. But first, why not consult the Oxford dictionary?
“Connected with God or a god or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.”
“Origin: Late Middle English past participle of archaic sacred ‘consecrate’, from Old French sacrer, from Latin sacrare, from sacer, sacr- ‘holy’.”
This is a tad abstract, as if viewing from afar objectively, whereas sacredness is always a subjective experience, which is why my initial description is so different. However, in the Origin section we get the notion of ‘consecrate’ which accords with the third part of the next section of my reply in which are posited three aspects to engendering the experience of sacred perception or making a space feel sacred. These three aspects are:
3 Invocation, seemingly from above.
1. Purification: the first step involves literally cleaning the space physically but of course as one does so one also purifies one’s inner psychological space. Cleaning involves removing surface dirt, or impurities, so that the essential object presents in a pure fashion. Everything is essentially pure just as it is, but sometimes we cover things over with our own confusion, bad habits, speed, ill will and so forth. That needs to be cleaned away. So if preparing a ritual, for example, the first thing is to both clean the space and all implements or furnishings therein, as well as cleaning oneself and wearing one’s best outfit for the occasion, which is not just a specific item – such as a ceremonial scarf or crown – but also clean underwear. Everything must be spotless and pure, both physically and psychologically. This is the Body aspect.
2. Care. This is a sense of reverence, kindness and heart and relates to the feelings of goodness mentioned earlier. Things – or situations and people – have their place and time. When they are cleaned and positioned just so, their presence comes forward. Appreciating things and people for what and who they are heightens our perception of them in that we are paying attention, and paying attention with respect, with kindness, with heart. So first we purify, and then we appreciate, which has some sense of connecting or communicating with the situation. This is the Speech aspect.
3. Invocation: the last step is simply invoking a sense of sacredness, ‘bringing it down’ as it were. In come cultures, rituals have been developed involving using rising smoke to create a link with the gods above such that they come down through the smoke which can then be fanned onto every object and person present who in turn become imbued with sacred presence. This is the Mind aspect.
Of course one doesn’t need the visual and olfactory aid of the smoke, rather just to deepen the sense of sharing space and time, to dive into this feeling and allow time to stop and the sense perceptions to expand, to blossom. Indeed, the original meaning of Buddha in Tibetan is ‘sang-ye’ which means lion in some sense but also blossoming in others. That which is already there flowers, blossoms. Sacred perception is like that: that which is already there is seen to be primordially spotless, primordially good, primordially present. This combination of purity, goodness and living presence is what in shorthand we can call ‘sacred.’
The reason for this article and a few others similar to it is that in order to write other articles of more general, or contemporary, interest, I will need to be able to avail myself of a few terms that are not widely used today – such as sacredness. Another such, for example, is the word ‘mandala,’ which is of great practical use when discussing certain topics but for which there is no English language equivalent. Earlier we had the notion of the various Realms (which will no doubt return in future articles), not to mention their being a type of mandala as well. And another one will be some notion of Middle Path, or Middle Way.
The intention here is not to promulgate or provide some sort of explanation of a spiritual path or Buddhism more particularly, rather to blend some of the perspectives gained from having trained in the latter with everyday issues and experiences. This way the reader can be invited to look at familiar situations with a perhaps slightly different twist. This is not to encourage anyone to change their religion or belief system but sometimes seeing things from a different or hitherto not considered point of view is both helpful and interesting – a form of mental travel perhaps.