Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich


Ajahn Maha Boowa speaks of two dharmas: the Dharma that comes to us from talks, readings or sutra studies, and what he calls “forest dharma,” the dharma of our personal experience, what we glean from those experiences and experiments that make up our individual practice. These gleanings, then, represent my “forest dharma,” however much they are infused by the Dharma I have exposed myself to continuously through these years. They encapsulate fifteen years of sincere practice by one woman as she stumbled along the path, a record of moments when she felt she had clarity and could trust the road beneath her feet.

I wrote them to preserve for myself the clarities I encountered. I have collected them on this website partly to serve as a record of this voyage. Susan Salzburg’s name for what Ajahn Boowa calls “forest dharma” is “self-witness truth.” These gleanings, whatever defilements may intrude, are my witness. They are presented here as an offering of gratitude to the Buddha and the Universe for the incomparable gifts of practice.


A Short Guide to Dharma Gleanings

These are gleanings from fifteen years of serious Buddhist practice spent, not in India or Spirit Rock, but in my home town of San Diego. These are the insights that gave me the joy of savoring and nourishing the spiritual growth of my life, while I brought an end (May 2007) to a half-century of political activism, came to serve a a Spiritual Care Counselor at UCSD Medical Center (May 2008-present), joined my life with a new partner and fellow practitioner (April 2006) and six years later separated from her with mutual love and respect (March 2012), both of having learned in that time the art of practicing more deeply and effectively with darkness and suffering whenever they would arise from the depths of Little Cynthia or Little Bettina (e.g. October 2009, June 2010, December 2012). In these years I found peace with memory loss and a recurring and disturbing condition (similar to depression, however induced by a sinus reaction) of sloth and torpor (e.g. January 2006, April, July and December 2007, December 2008).

In the years of First Gleanings and More Gleanings I was most absorbed with examining and deconstructing the ways of the hindrances and with developing practices that would nurture experiences of interbeing with others. Between the middle of Final Gleanings and the close of Later Gleanings I began moving more steadily into deeper experiences of non-self/emptiness.

I had some preparation for a life of serious practice. My life partner, Barbara MacDonald, and I had lived for six years in a trailer on the Anza Borrego Desert, forty-five miles from the nearest town, and in the silence and stillness and simplicity and natural beauty of that life, we found our way to a mindfulness, though we hadn’t the word for it. I had experienced years of therapy, so I knew not to be afraid to look at myself. Barbara and I had spent twenty-six years as feminists deconstructing patriarchal society, so deconstructing what the world assumes is reality didn’t feel like a foreign exercise. Since we worked primarily on the issue of ageism, I had spent time thinking about aging and death, even if not always in Buddhist ways. The five years of Barbara’s Alzheimer’s had given me the gift of living in her present moment and finding the joy in that. First Gleanings marks the beginning of traditional practice.

I have changed over these years and might express some things differently if I were writing today. What I trust most is the place these entries came from, and I hope that whoever reads them will find that they meet that place in themselves.