Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

January 10, 2007—February 14, 2007

January 10, 2007
I realize, with a pleasure that comes from a place different from the ego, that when I was devising the practice of entering into the suffering of people I saw on the street or in the gym, and then later invented a different practice of imagining their closed or troubled faces transformed by the joy of experiencing their own Buddha natures, I was in effect inventing tonglen. I was first feeling the suffering of others, taking it into myself—the breathing in of tonglen— and in my later practice I was, as it were, breathing out and saying, “May they be free of suffering.” It seems always joyful to me to find Buddhist insights or practices that emerge outside of the teachings, whether encountered by myself or non-Buddhist friends or writers or others in the East or West—including of course modern physicists. That the dharma does not depend on the teachings does not diminish their value but more firmly establishes their depth and wisdom. They light up when they are seen not as belonging in a box, when they are seen as truth.

In the past week I have visited a place where I have wanted to go, though clearly if we really want to go someplace we will go there—our not going announces our reluctance. So I don’t know if I am as ready as I believe I am, but as I said to Mannie, “We have to visit a place before we can stay there.” Meaning: for most of us on a path, we come to a turning point, exerience our turning, but may need more time and practice before we can turn all the way and leave our old path behind.

My experience was with acceptance—acceptance of myself, and its effects rippled out, in ways that were surprising to myself and yet natural.

I had several days of feeling what I would at one time have called, “simply awful.” I felt no energy, my body was heavy and achey, anything I could imagine doing physically or mentally seemed much too great an effort, I could not think. Oddly, I didn’t at first recognize that this was probably my old allergic reaction reappearing because of a Santa Ana wind, and it was a gift that I didn’t. I recognized clearly that even if this condition were transient, sometime—possibly soon—it would not be, and I moved far beyond the “simply awful.” I realized that I had for some time been thinking about the end portion of my life, which given my family history could mean many years, about my memory which grows foggier even without the overlay of illness, and how my practice can meet these experiences. So I began to welcome the discomfort and fog, not just to accept them in the now but to experience them as permanent states. What emerged in the fog was an acceptance of myself much deeper than any I had experienced before, even though I have thought of myself as self-accepting. I felt my way to what it would be like simply to be, to have no value added tax, no add-ons at all—again not temporarily, but forever. And while I think of myself as giving very little thought to the opinions of others, I could feel a further letting go, so that it was truly unimportant to me what they might think about this person who was no longer a person in their terms. What they thought about this mindless and useless Being was entirely their affair, their problem if they made me a problem. I felt myself in a new place.

The ripple effect came as, slowly and laboriously through my fog, I read the Dalai Lama about compassion. I could feel it instinctively when he spoke of Sadaam Hussein as just another suffering being, just someone given too much power to act out his suffering on others. I began to feel other people differently too. And feel it has been. It was as though I could feel the first noble truth at a level that wasn’t activated by the mind, as with the effort involved in my practices of tonglen, or by any mental activity at all. I began to feel it as pure unmediated knowledge.

January 14, 2007
And it continues so that yesterday in a shopping mall the people passing and the crowd itself came clear to me in this new way. I instinctively knew them, felt how they were experiencing life, felt a new intimacy, a new connection with everyone I passed, a connection that involved no effort at all. I felt how the dukkha, what I call the churning, to a smaller or greater degree lived in their bodies; I could feel—not speculate—how this slightly or tightly restricted their hearts to protect them from more churning. I felt—and then gave thought to the feeling—how each of us was/is unequivocally equal, working to a smaller or greater degree with the same stuff, how some of us have found, or will find, freedom from our dukkha to a smaller or greater degree, but that the challenge of dukka is the great connector as well as the great divider. It streams across cultures, politics, languages, religions as our shared struggle, our shared humanity.

So this was the ripple that followed my bowing to simply Being. It seems not surprising that this newly powerful experience came to me after a time of so profound a letting go of ego—that not having to protect myself made it easier to open freely to the churnings of others.

January 15, 2007
In the past weeks another reason occurred to me why therapy is often such an important adjunct to practice, why we need to know our selves before we can lose ourselves, love ourselves before we can love others. If we have such self-doubt that others can make us feel ashamed or guilty by their words or even looks, we have almost no choice but to protect ourselves. Our protection can take many shapes, but at the least we cannot afford to walk around with a wide-open heart, we cannot afford to do away with what Krishnamurti calls the “images” we project onto others, those judgments we form about who she is, what he is likely to do or say.

If we do not love ourselves first, we may feel that we have tremendous empathy for others but we are only projecting our own very particular pain onto them, dumping our trash as it were, while our need for love and approval makes it difficult for us to love others without attachment, without the demands of our own ego. Compassion and love for others that is free of our own ego require that we have compassion and love for ourselves.

January 29, 2007
Meditation begins with the body, often to the surprise of beginners. Over time we discover, not intellectually but experientially, that we are less and less identified with our bodies—but only after we have become intimately acquainted with them as never before. Just as we must know and love our Selves —in the west probably through some brush with therapy—before we can let go of the notion of Self, so we must know the body well before we can let go our attachment to it.

Bettina and I were speaking of this today, and it occurred to me that probably the experience of being centered in our body, inhabiting it fully, is an essential practice for those of us who fear “abandonment.” If we mostly experience the world as “out there,” only come back to our bodies when forced to by discomfort or great pleasure, we have effectively abandoned ourselves and we will continue to look “out there” for affirmation of ourselves, feel almost existentially frightened and lonely if we do not have that outside reassurance of our existence. This is the meaning of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mantra, “I have arrived. I am home.”—that we do not require more than our own breath, our own bodies to be whole.

February 14, 2007
In Living in The Light of Death, Larry Rosenberg refers to an experience most meditators are familiar with. We may begin in our practice with the single focus of our breath, but over time we find that we are preserving that single focus and yet our meditative awareness has expanded outward, can reach farther and farther out into the world, while not losing the focus we began with.

It seems to me that non-attached loving is the same experience. We may begin wholly focussed on our new partner, learning to hold our attention on her without outside distraction or the distraction of our own egos, but if our love is not need-driven we can, while not loving her less or giving her less of our full attention, expand our non-attached love to a wider circle.