In Buddhism, the Fire element is associated with energy: the energy that fuels our digestion and metabolism; the energy of compassion that's generated and expressed; and the energy of transformation that takes place when we are on the path of practice.
Sitting in meditation we can experience the heat of the body, feel the cooler air we breathe in, contrasting with the warmth of the air as it leaves the body. When we feel the heart pumping, we are reminded of all the chemical combustions taking place at the cellular level. When we move, think, or feel we experience sparks of electricity in the muscles, nerves, and brain. All of this energy comes from the element of Fire.
There was a time when the Hearth was the heart of the home. In some houses that fire was constantly tended and never allowed to go out. Those hearths held fire that lasted over several generations. Before radio and TV, it was at the hearth where the family gathered. The hearth was where lively debate and thoughtful reflection took place, where music was made, where fiber was spun, woven, and repaired. The hearth was where stories were told--giving life and energy to ancestral histories.
The presence of fire for all these activities symbolized and imparted energy, illumination, and transformation.…all qualities of the element of fire. The spiritual journey is a path of energy, the path of illumination, the path of transformation….the path of coming home to one’s own hearth of the heart.
Of all the elements, fire expresses the energy of life: it is the raw physical energy in the universe, from the nuclear fusion in the heart of the sun, the molten core of our planet, to the chemical energy stored through photosynthesis. We are nourished by the fiery sun through eating the sun-fed plants or by the animals that eat the sun-fed plants.
We do have to remember though that fire has a dangerous side. Fire can destroy, utterly. Skin can burn beyond the ability to repair itself. We are witnessing today the voraciousness of fire as it consumes acres and acres of forest, homes, lives, and whatever else is in its path, leaving only cinders and ash.
Additionally, the fire of desire and passion can cause painful suffering. Some of our most painful life experiences are caused by the fire of the heart’s passion when love burns ardently.
However, when fire is tended lovingly, controlled, but still allowed freedom, it supports our lives. We must tend lovingly to the hearth of compassion that is generated by our loving sangha. Just as we must tend lovingly to our own heart--that of our heart.
Ven. Myohye Do'an
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members