Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

May 18, 2006—July 25, 2006

May 18, 2006
Lately I’ve been doing something intensively that I suppose is a continuation of my earlier practices of metta. I look into the faces that I see anywhere, in the laundromat, waiting for take-out food, at Blockbuster Video, sitting homeless on the sidewalk, and I imagine their faces expressing joy. Their mouths open with delight, their eyes shine out with the magic of life. When I see them in that way, it is impossible not to love them. I’ve decided that it is possible to dislike someone who looks happy, but joy is something else. It connects the joyful person to the rest of the universe, it collapses all barriers between him or her and others, so we simply must respond. Put another way, it is the shining forth of Buddha nature and so it finds a direct path to our own Buddha nature. Probably that joy is what people who meet the Dalai Lama marvel at, but it can break through on the face of anyone—that possibility always is there, and as we learn to imagine it on every kind of unlikely face, we affirm that possibility and we extend our capacity for love and joy.

May 19, 2006
Sande was talking yesterday about a list of agreements that couples are to make for a relationship workshop that she and Linda are taking. One of the agreements is: “I will not engage in any mental or verbal criticism of my partner.” We talked about judmentalism, and agreed, I think, that the great power of that agreement for changing lives is that it offers up so clearly the premise that in fact it is possible to do just that. And it is. Today I was thinking that it is actually easier to end all mental or verbal criticism—to dispense with judgmentalism altogether—than to “be less critical,” as one might vow for a New Year’s resolution. As long as we hang on to the need for any criticism at all, the opportunities for critical judgment are endless. Viewed from the vantage of the possibility of criticism—viewed through that doorway, whether wide open or even slightly ajar—which of us does not offer up a crowded covey of imperfections easy to be shot down by mental or verbal criticism?

May 19, 2006
Sande and Linda’s yard sale two weeks ago has given me the chance to think more about process and outcome. The sale was a remarkable event, as everyone recognized, with its flow of seamless energy moving through everyone who participated, bringing together anglo dykes and Mexican and African American families and local druggies, old people and children. All without the usual buyer-seller divisions since it was not really a sale but a fundraiser, where people were urged just to give what they could for the objects they bought and at the end, could pick out the remaining items for free. This is not the place to try to capture the spirit of that day, its laughter and synchronous movement, its evaporation of separations, but everyone was touched by it, I think.

It might seem insensitive to affirm that a few hundred people having a good time was at least as important as the $3000 (worth so much more in Africa) raised for the children orphaned by AIDS. But of course it was more than a good time. A sense of possibility was realized in that simple yard sale. It manifested in real time how people can be together, in what spirit people can work, how—not to put too fine a point on it—the experience of interbeing can be created.

There are not enough, but still many examples of process weighing at least as much as outcome. I’ve thought about this often, though not so deeply, reviewing actions by The Old Women’s Project. I’ve returned over and over again to the meaning for me of the Low-cost Housing demonstration we organized for International Women’s Day five years ago. Bringing together women of such different ethnicities, class backgrounds, ages, sexual preferences, concerns so that we could all experience and then affirm our deep connections to one another and to other women on the issues of housing and women’s unpaid and lowpaid work—bringing us all together on the steps of the Civic Center for a press conference and rally and march and lobbying—was for me an act of creating a microcosm of the world as it can be, as it is already in a Buddhist view. As with Sande and Linda’s yard sale, in some mysterious way I knew that—however great the stakes in the outcome for the struggling women we were representing—the process counted for at least as much.

Over and over again I have looked for this—the magical process that weighs more than its practical outcome.

Perhaps this is also why I am a pacifist. However noble the causa belli, however worthwhile the hoped-for conclusion to any war, the process is so unspeakably terrible that no outcome can weigh in to justify it.

On my bathroom door in my last apartment, I posted a line from an early Italian writer: I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received. All we can know is the process of our giving what gifts we can with as much care as we can; the outcome of our giving can never be known.

In the end, for all of us, the outcome is death. That knowledge—if not the knowledge too that we are headed towards an inevitable outcome for our unmindful despoiling of the earth as we know it—should make us far more respectful of the value of process. In the end, for all of us, process is what we have.

The bodhisattva is someone who lives all of her life as process.

July 12, 2006
I haven’t written here in a long time—a new home, a new relationship—so I will begin small, with maxims.

Maxim 1: If we try to keep all of our ducks in a row, we miss the beauty and excitement of our spontaneous flight.

Maxim 2: Empathy says “I am you.” Compassion says, “You are me.”

Thinking about process and outcome has been helpful to me. If we pay enough caring attention to process, we can avoid the almost inevitable disappointment and discouragement that comes from a focus on outcomes. The other day Sande gave me another example of the disappointment of outcomes: Male prison guards are allowed to do invasive patdowns of women prisoners—why? because of the success of affirmative action legislation.

Any outcome that we work towards (the money from the yard sale will bring happiness to orphaned children/affirmative action will create a level ground where people of all kinds can flourish) is simply a formation, to borrow the Buddha’s language. The process can, however, even if only briefly, have the quality of such-ness (tathata, what Thich Nhat Hanh describes as “the realm of things-in-themselves...which we can touch every time we have the insight of interbeing, non-duality, impermanence, and nonself”). Once again, the flow is more trustworthy than the outcome we seek to fix.

July 25, 2006
Feeling my way this morning into last night, when my neighbor Beverly was sobbing quietly but profoundly on the steps in the dark after a painful conversation with her parents, gave me an insight. Bettina asked me whether sitting with Beverly in her pain had roused old kleshas for me—my own experiences in family of not being recognized, the special vulnerability that can be opened up by the words of people for whom we felt our first love and who therefore have special power to undermine our psyches. I said no to Bettina’s question, and later thought about how being there with Beverly was precisely about that no, about what the absence of kleshas can mean.

When we are with the pain of others without the stirring of our own kleshas—without what I call “empathy”—something remarkable takes place. It is not only that we can then listen to their suffering without imposing our own upon it, and possibly be more useful. (Even though, as I told Bettina, last night I felt I could do little more, with such anguish mixed with several beers, than provide a clean bandaid to a huge wound.) There is also something there for us, which I had the gift of last night. We can experience something remarkable—the world’s joy and wonder at the same time as the depth of its pain and suffering. What Sande calls the terrible/marvelous world is not split into those two opposing realms, but is one. Without the distracting pain of our own kleshas, but still with the deep personal knowledge of what those are like, we can experience at once the vastness of pain and suffering, take in its terribleness, and at the same time know the connection—what Thich Nhat Hanh would call the interbeing—with the other who is suffering, that takes us deep into the world’s marvelousness.