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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 30 “No one comes to visit her, except her old friend Yoshiko. But she only comes once a year at Obon.” “What about her son?” I ask. “Nobody’s seen him in ages,” she re- plies. “He’s just disappeared.” Sure enough, at the stone there is only one other wooden strip, left there last Au- gust by Hasui-san’s old colleague and fel- low geisha, Yoshiko. “Look, a butterfly has joined us,” I mur- mur to the priest’s wife as she excuses herself to go back to the house. From my childhood as a butterfly collector, I recognize a fritillary, somewhat tattered now in autumn. I stand in front of the stone, thinking about how vivacious Hasui-san was when I knew her—how well-connected, how many friends she had, how she loved a party. Compared to the other monuments bris- tling with visitors’ wooden strips, her stone seems sad and neglected. Then I notice the butterfly again. It had landed directly on top of the smooth granite stone in front of me, almost at eye level. I look around. I am the only person in the graveyard. There are no other butterflies. Perched on the stone, slowly pumping its wings, it shows no in- clination to fly away. I take out my video camera, and now the butterfly turns to face me. A breeze arises, and I see it brace its tiny hooked feet in an effort not to be blown off the slippery granite. And I swear it looked straight at me with its speckled jewel eyes. We regarded one another, this butterfly and I, and I had the uncanny feeling that it was trying to communicate. Finally, a puff of wind blew it off the stone. “That was exceedingly odd,” I thought to myself. I put down my camera and proceeded to change the flowers, light incense, and ladle water. And then, the butterfly was back. Now it landed on the flowers, again opening and closing its wings. This time I extended my hand, and the butterfly climbed on my finger. Once again we looked at one another for about ten seconds before it flew off. When I told Japanese friends about this strange encounter, they were all quite certain that the butterfly was the soul of my geisha mother, grateful to have been visited. I discovered through these conversations that their interpretation was grounded in a longstanding belief about a connection between souls and butterflies. It turns out the idea of the soul as butterfly is widespread through- out the world. The ancient Greek word psyche referred to both the butterfly and the soul. In China, the sage Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, but upon wak- ing puzzled whether he might now be a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. In our own time and scientific tradition, A breeze arises, and I see the butterfly brace its tiny hooked feet in an effort not to be blown off the slippery granite. The wisdom of the great spir- itual traditions has generally been ignored by scientists who study the mind—yet the mind is exactly the area where science and spirituality have a great deal to of- fer each other. Here a renowned scientist who is also a teacher of Buddhism ex- plores the nature of mind from both scientific and spiritual per- spectives to present a thrilling new model that incorporates the truths of contemplative spirituality. B. ALAN WALLACE and Brian Hodel “A tour de force.” embracing Mind Receive a 20% discount online at ww w.shambhala.com Shambhala Publications JULY 18-39.indd 30 JULY 18-39.indd 30 4/25/08 11:56:59 AM 4/25/08 11:56:59 AM