Over the past few days in Los Angeles we have been experiencing a very rare natural phenomena, something called “rain.” Water droplets that fall from the sky. Imagine that.
Whoever said it never rains in Southern California, didn’t know the half of it. I mean, it used to rain, every now and then. We actually had some winters that were extremely rainy, but that was in the past. We’ve been in a severe drought for the last four years. When it began to drizzle on Sunday, it was only the second time it has rained since April, and I think, only the 3rd cloudy day since then, too. In SoCal the weather is the same every damn day: relentless sunshine.
But, now . . . rain . . . lovely, beautiful, wonderful, nurturing rain. And when it comes to water falling from the sky, no one summed it up any better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who said, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
In Buddhism, the word rain is vassa or vutthi. Rain was essential for crops in India during the Buddha’s time, and they usually got plenty of it. Rain in India can last for several weeks or a month. Not only was rain important agriculturally, but it was also critical for the sustenance of human life. Still is.
In the Samyutta Nikaya, Buddha says,
Rain sustains both slack and bold, as a mother nourishes her only child. The life of all earthbound creatures is sustained by the falling of the rain.”
The rain retreat was an important event in the year for the Buddhists, as they were generally nomadic, and it gave the bhikkhus an opportunity to rest, study, and concentrate on meditation.
Rain was equally important as a metaphor. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha compares himself and his teachings to rain. This famous passages appears in the “Medicinal Herbs” chapter. The Buddha describes how rain falls equally
everywhere at the same time, its moisture reaching every part. The grasses, trees, forests and medicinal herbs – those of small roots, small stalks, small branches and small leaves, those of medium-sized roots, medium-sized stalks, medium-sized branches, medium-sized leaves or those of large roots, large stalks, large branches, and large leaves, and also all the trees, whether great or small, according to their size, small, medium, or large, all receive a portion of it. From the rain of the one cloud each according to its nature grows, blossoms, and bears fruit.”
Then the Buddha describes himself as like a great cloud “having appeared in the world, for the sake of all living beings,” contemplating all things equally, and sending down the Dharma rain, filling all the world, enriching all people, and in pouring out this rain, empowering all who receive it to become Buddhas.
It’s wonderful allegory that reminds us that everyone has Buddha-nature, and while the dharma rain falls equally and has but one taste, each person absorbs the rain and is nourished by it according to their own capacity. That is how it should be. In this way, universality and individually are two but not two.
Thus, like Longfellow, I say, let it rain. Another American poet, and a much better one, Langston Hughes said,
Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”
This is not quite a lullaby, but this tune sung by Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, is just about the best rain song ever.