AN EQUINOX ADDRESS FOR SATURDAY, 20 MARCH 2004
Salutations friends, fellow citizens of this fair city and good neighbours of various faiths.
This is the 2nd time we have gathered in this beautiful and significant place to celebrate the dawning of an equinox, in keeping with which we this time round also commemorate the facts that Harmony Day is very aptly celebrated tomorrow and the bicentenary of the founding of our city falls in just 10 days time.
Everyone on this planet of ours shares 2 annual equinoxes. These are special days when the hours of daylight and darkness are equally balanced all over the world, showing all to be truly equal under the sun. About these especially equitable days the cycles of Earth’s seasons turn and turn again, offering us cusps of special, spiritual opportunity.
We are together witnessing the dawn arising from the Pacific Ocean, literally ‘the Ocean of Peace’. On this day of equinox the sun rises due east and will in twelve hours time set due west. This most direct arc of the sun’s transit can be seen as an elegantly arching, beautifully balanced bridge of light between east and west. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, of which I am a part, the east traditionally symbolizes the arising of the mundane world’s confusions whereas the west symbolizes conclusive resolution of such confusions upon enlightenment’s eternal moment. The Buddhist festival of the equinox is thus known as ‘Higan’, meaning the ‘other shore’, the shore which once bridged brings to completion life’s great symmetry. Higan highlights how close, at this naturally holy time, the moment of such truth may be. With the equinox peace now both beckons and lights the way.
Very nearly 200 years ago, and very near this spot, the European, colonial settlement of Newcastle was first permanently established. At the outset it was an awful place of secondary punishment. Under the most primitive conditions convicts were forced to hew coal from shafts just over there, beneath what was then known as Beacon Hill, now Fort Scratchley, in order to fuel a navigation beacon atop the hill. This early coal-fired beacon signalled not only the seaward opening of the new riverside settlement but also marked the brutal beginning of coal mining in Australia.
Quite fittingly the locations of the long-lost original mine shafts are now once again coming to light and their archeological investigation may prove most instructive regarding this city’s far-from-peaceful early days. However on the eve of March 30, the actual 200th anniversary of the city’s settlement, plans are afoot to once again light a coal-fired beacon on Beacon Hill, signalling the progressive lighting of other beacons on ridge-lines all the way inland to Mt. Sugarloaf, the highest point in the Newcastle region and a place of great spiritual significance to its Aboriginal inhabitants. Such an event could kindle symbolism quite in keeping with that of the equinox. It could invite reflection on where, as a community, we have come from and where at this significant juncture we may now choose to go. The way together is open.
Rev. Gregg Heathcote
(Shaku Jo’on – Follower of the Sakyamuni Buddha, Pure Music)