Just like birds who leave no tracks in the air
there are those whose minds are freed
of greed and hate
unconcerned about food or shelter -
their focus is the signless state of liberation.
Like birds in the sky that leave no tracks,
they move unhindered on their way.”
Dhammapāda, 92-3 (adapted)
All winter long, on the darkest days, when shrill winds whip across the world and the earth is thick with snow and ice, these tiny winged friends appear. Time and again, they happily feed on what is given, taking their turns, and singing their thanks and praises.
As we venture into the unknown terrain of the heart, they teach us what is possible – even in harsh conditions. How blessed we are to undertake this interior pilgrimage, well-cared for by the kindness all around us, provided with alms food, warm clothing, shelter, medicines, and seclusion from worldly activities.
Yet, at times, we feel blinded and shaken by the relentless clout of craving or erratic mental weather, and the search for true refuge seems beyond our reach. In such precarious moments, how can we sustain our footing?
We look to the Buddha himself, a human being who, by his own example, taught us that we can know the signless, the Deathless, that unsurpassed freedom and peace of heart.
“Friends, it is through not understanding, not penetrating the Four Noble Truths that I as well as you have for a long time run on and gone round the cycle of birth-and-death. What are they? By not understanding the Noble Truth of Suffering, we have fared on, by not understanding the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, of the Cessation of Suffering, and of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering, we have fared on round the cycle of birth-and-death.”
“And by the understanding, the penetration of the same Noble Truth of Suffering, of the Origin of Suffering, of the Cessation of Suffering, and of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering, the craving for becoming (sorrow’s root) has been cut off . . . the support of becoming has been destroyed, there is no more rebirth.”
Mahāparinibbbāna Sutta, Digha Nikāya 16 The Great Passing: The Buddha’s Last Days
Hearing his words, we carry on, guided by the Buddha’s map of consciousness. We calm the mind, summoning greater integrity, gratitude, and contentment to heal and protect it. Loving-kindness and compassion add radiance, joy and uplift while mindfulness serves as our trustworthy compass.
Should we stumble or lose heart, wise reflection helps us rekindle our resolve and trust enough for one more step, a new moment, another breath. We keep going – restored, nurtured, and single-minded – gently steering our way forth again to an ancient refrain of thanksgiving: “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato, sammāsambuddhassa.”*
We learn that sanctuary is here – letting be, going inward, sweeping away the cobwebs and detritus of lifetimes in search of that Dhamma jewel.
And every morning the chickadees return, reminding us to persevere; whatever storm, whatever trial or obstacle, just to patiently endure and stay on course, as long as it takes.
*Pāli phrases meaning: homage to the blessed, noble and perfectly Enlightened One