Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

June 1, 2008—July 24, 2008

June 1, 2008
Ajahn Sumedo speaks of the sound of silence, and he has given that name as the title of one of his books.

I haven’t heard the sound as he describes it. Even so, the idea resonates with me. It expresses so beautifully the reality that silence is not an absence, that it is a palpable, compelling presence that can travel with us wherever we go, into the elevator with its musak, into the streets with sirens blaring.

June 2, 2008
It may seem arrogant to see ourselves as a Buddha. To recognize that I am Buddha and to value those Buddha qualities as they shine through the muck is very different from deciding that I am enlightened. To declare that I am enlightened means that I am finished, with no more work to do. (And, as any spiritual person will tell you, it is a sure sign that I am not enlightened.)

To know that I am Buddha means to profoundly honor my own capacities for clarity and connection, for non-attachment and acceptance. It inspires me to live ever more fully from that place. It connects me with others and assures me of their buddha natures rather than raising me above them.

I remember recognizing my buddha nature after I started living mindfully, before I had a name for it. I saw it as an odd way of being that set me apart from many people, at the same time that it brought me closer. For instance, before I knew the word for non-attachment, I knew that I had it. I can remember knowing that the world would not value it, would see it as coldness and detachment, and I knew it was not. I knew it was of value to me, a quality to be honored, even as I thought it was a peculiarity of my own, not necessarily a value in itself. I remember thinking, “it works for me.”

June 13, 2008
In Balboa Park this bright Spring morning, it occurred to me one more reason why nature is so nourishing to our spiritual lives. The life flow that I find in the hospital work is ever-present in a natural setting—we can feel it so easily in the plants and insects and squirrels and so easily see the way they flow together, the inseparability of life. Why is it harder to feel this in a crowd of human beings? I think in nature we can feel the life flow as it breathes freely and unchecked. With human beings we are often more aware of all the checks to the flow, the kleshas, the walls we build, all we must encounter before we can find our way to flow in life together.

June 16, 2008
One of the things that changes when we fully accept our practice is our habit energy in our friendships, in our way of relating to others.

We have a tendency as we grow up in the phenomenal world to bond with others around our convictions and judgments, our shared conditioning. We both must have mustard on our carrots, neither of us could stand living in the midwest (in a big city/ in a cold climate/ next to noisy neighbors), we are Republicans or Democrats, atheists or Mormans, we dislike rituals of any kind, we are morning people or evening people—our intimacy comes from comparing (“I’m terrified of snakes”/”I feel that way about rats”) and sharing our large and small preferences and aversions.

When we begin practice we don’t of course lose all aversions and preferences—simply we lose our cozy relation to them. There is not so much delight in discovering those commonalities of conditioning (“I’m terrified of snakes!” “Oh, I’m terrified of zebras!”) We lose our sense of their value.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong about sharing the baggage we carry with us. That can be helpful and enlightening. It’s our relationship to it that creates the problem. Most often we and our companion are unaware that what we are sharing is suffering, and even when what we share is painful, we don’t see the nature of the pain. Instead our baggage has become us, our identity—”I am the person who”—and the comfortable, cozy, falsely reassuring feeling that comes from having our identity validated.

July 8, 2008
In the old plantation South it was common to say that Mr. X grew so many acres of cotton that year, when the planting and picking was done entirely by slaves and Mr. X never pricked a finger harvesting “his” cotton. Or that Mrs. X served her guests such delicious dinners when she never entered the kitchen or set the table, much less served the dishes.

Too often in the Western world we see ourselves as Mr. and Mrs. X, functioning autonomously in our lives, without being aware of the millions of skillful, caring hands that sustain us from moment to moment.

How can we feel “disconnected” from others when we are surrounded in any room of our house or apartment or workplace by thousands upon thousands of presences who come together to make that room for us?

How can we insist so arrogantly on our being “independent” when every moment of our life depends on that immeasurable web of unseen labor, creativity, support?

July 24, 2008
Sometimes when we have an intense reaction—of grief or anger or jealousy for example—we reassure ourselves that “anybody would feel this way.” Occasionally that can just be a reminder, if a somewhat inaccurate one, not to judge ourselves too harshly, to have compassion, for the feeling that has arisen. At other times it extends to become our story, and “anybody would feel this way” becomes our righteous permission for not letting go. Those of us who are practitioners know very well that “anybody” does not feel rage when a car weaves recklessly in and out of traffic or jealousy all their lives for a more successful brother.

What anybody would do is useless to the practitioner.

Shaking loose from our need to hold on to an ego identity, a “self”, creates peace in so many ways. Among these is the peace it can bring to those of us who torture ourselves with guilt for past actions. When we truly know that we are not the same person we were ten years ago, twenty years ago, yesterday, how can we keep punishing ourselves today for what was done by another person? Obviously this is not a cop-out. It’s important to take responsibility in the phenomenal world for what “we” did in the past—repay the money that “we” stole, for example. Above all, it’s essential for us to be perfectly clear that we would not act in that way, say those things today. When we know that, we are acknowledging what Buddhism knows anyway—that we are not that person of ten years ago, twenty years ago, yesterday.