Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

March 6, 2011—May 14, 2011

March 6, 2011
If we are caught in aversion and craving—the obsession with making our lives at every moment more comfortable—21st century life increases our suffering by its extraordinary explosion of choices. The ever-expanding and constantly changing multitude of choices of: cellphones; cereals; google entries; health plans; possible internet connections that include possible mates; shampoos; yoga studios; candy bars, all provide innumerable invitations to failure, and promote the restless dissatisfaction that keeps the economy going as we reach for better choices. Think of the life where we did not need to choose between cities—or countries—to live in, neighborhoods, apartments, jobs. We don’t need to romanticize that simplicity—only to see that the apparent limitlessness of our choices creates unlimited opportunities for suffering if we do not learn ways to find peace from our aversions and cravings.

April 7, 2011
Tessa spoke recently, as a newcomer to this country and so having fewer close friends than she had in Manila, of concerns about the possibility of dying alone. I remembered that Barbara used to say that we all die alone, and at the time that seemed odd and a bit alienating though I respected her insight. Now I share it. While it may be comforting and helpful to have someone beloved to help with a last illness—as it would with any severe illness—the death itself, the act of dying, is entirely our own confrontation with the meaning of life and death. That may be why it has traditionally been seen as helpful to whisper to a loved one who is dying, “You can go now.” What that signals is that the real gift to the person dying is to help her loosen any last vestiges of attachment to ourselves or to life. Those things that might seem comforting in another context—how she is cherished, the desire to have her live longer—are obstacles that deny the reality of dying alone, where the real gift, even in a non-Buddhist world, lies in leaving her free to experience her singular participation in the full meaning of non-attachment.

April 22, 2011
Someone—is it Rick Hanson?—suggests that we bring “warmth, fondness, devotion” to the breath. I like those words and this weekend, when Little Cynthia reacted with a kind of fussiness to the return of some of my allergic lethargy, I discovered that I can bring this sweetened breath into my heart to comfort the little girl—a kind of soothing and embrace.

April 30, 2011
The “wisdom and experience” of old people is often in this society a cliche that masks generalized contempt. That generality is preferred to acknowledging that there are some true wisdoms that can come with age—these are usually unspoken and unformulated and unvalued in a society that identifies letting go with giving up.

Surely one of the wisdoms that can come with age—though of course not always or at great depth—is our loosening of attachment to what Buddhists name the fallacy of the inherent existence of things, persons, self. It is impossible to live many years without experiencing profound changes in all of those, notably our carefully created selves. As our preferences and perceptions shift over time, along with the changes in our hair and our skin, with the deaths of parents and children, with the loss of lovers and of carefully preserved savings--without analysis or even words for it, we begin to at least glimpse the meaning of emptiness. That glimpse can, of course, make us clutch more fiercely to those identities, almost with a sense that we have been betrayed by so much change in what we saw as fixed; still, perhaps more often, our grasp is slightly loosened and with it our judgmentalism, our tiresome preferences and aversions. We may glimpse some deeper understanding of the nature of reality, experience may bring us some wisdom.

May 14, 2012
I picture the different forms practice takes in this way: I imagine a world in which almost everyone wears glasses and the glasses are covered with dirt. Sometimes it is thick filth so the world these people look at is blackened, and since they cannot see outside, they live mostly in response to their own anxieties, angers, cravings. They knock over chairs, bump into people, they fall and hurt themselves accidentally and hit out at others who they think may be their enemies. It is difficult for them to find lovers or friends. Those whose glasses are filthy may suffer from their darkness but not have enough clarity to be able to see the value of practice.

For others of us the dirt is a dusky film—they can get around fairly effectively in the world as they see it, they may find others to love or admire them, and so even though it is wearing to try to look out at the world and they may retreat most of the time into the darkness of their thoughts and feelings, they may not perceive the need for practice.

Some who are more lightly filmed may choose to practice—or to visit a therapist—only to the point where they bump against fewer chairs, alienate fewer people, somewhat ease the anxiety, confusion and turmoil that comes from misreading the world. We are then willing to settle for our still dusky glasses—they are so much more comfortable than our darker ones.

Others of us are prepared to dedicate our lives to cleaning our glasses until all dust may be removed, the “person” behind the glasses can now shrivel away, and we can find our way into infinite life. Instead of seeking just enough clarity so that we suffer less, we begin to seek clarity for itself.