Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

May 21, 2012—May 30, 2012

May 21, 2012
In the book Remarkable Women, Lenore Friedman quotes Joko Beck talking about “ego strategies” that were formed very early and that are what we must examine and free ourselves from if we want to end our suffering. This is a large part of what Beck’s dharma teaching at the Zen Center was about.

I realize that this is what I do in the hospital: I am helping people to recognize and release their ego strategies, in a setting that is conducive to that practice. At a time when they are open to new ways of looking and being, I invite them to see “I don’t have to do that anymore” (whatever ego strategy “that” is for them). And when I can invite them to separate their buddha natures from their Little People, when they can stand as an adult with compassion to view their Little Person’s suffering more clearly, they are moving towards releasing the once appropriate, now constricting ego strategies that stand between them and ultimate reality. I can see now that what has felt like dharma teaching is dharma teaching.

May 22, 2012
How do I look? How do others see me? What does Emma think of me? These questions, concerns, are often less thoughts than feelings, though we can find the thoughts below the feelings. Beneath the thoughts are the concerns of our Little People—these questions, these concerns are always about parents.

As long as we’re looking outside for something from the other person—or other people more generally—what we’re seeking is approval for ourselves, and approval is our parents. When we are free, when we are thus grown up, we are looking at or into the other person and seeking to meet them. It suddenly occurs to me that possibly, when we are so concerned with how others see us, that is also because we are dimly uncomfortably aware that it is difficult—impossible, as Buddhists understand it—for us ourselves to find and see a Me. If I know how everybody sees me, the hope would be that I would know who “I” really is. Good luck.

May 25, 2012
I caused Bettina pain by wanting to live out an image that we had early on as she was leaving—that it would be possible for the three of us, Sara, Bettina and myself, to be fellow practitioners. I saw how Bettina had grown and changed, she assured me that Sara was a very, very advanced practitioner, and I think I heard what I wanted to hear—that we, as advanced practitioners, could share practice together.

Whenever I would say something that assumed that Sara and I would someday soon be communicating, I ignored the rumblings of distress from Bettina. Ignorance is often not innocent. I was oblivious for quite a selfish reason. For many years I have longed for practice contact with a practitioner who didn’t simply want to end her suffering but wanted to go as deep into reality as she could go in her lifetime, to know herself and others as well as possible. I had wanted that for some time, but especially with Bettina leaving, I felt there would be nobody with whom to share deeper, more subtle insights of practice. I am now startled to see that, without recognizing or acknowledging it, I have been living out an attachment. I yearned for company in my journey, and yearning is always a red flag announcing attachment.

As soon as I saw it as attachment—how did I miss it?—I could laugh and let it go, freeing myself to see that I don’t need to have it in order to grow and deepen in practice, especially now. Living alone I have the opportunity to be my own fellow practitioner in a way that is difficult when one is in relationship. I have more space to pay even deeper attention to my own subtle intentions, wholesome and not. Such as the attachment to finding someone—like myself!

Also, there may have been some ego in there, of wanting to be confirmed in my path, someone of great wisdom to say: yes, what you are seeing, experiencing is valid and valuable.

May 26, 2012
Years ago I practiced by looking at other people and imagining that I was in their skin. I would see an old man eating oatmeal in a cafe, and I would feel what it was like for him to lift his spoon or wipe his mouth (it worked especially well with very old people because they move more slowly). It helped me to lessen separation, to feel an interconnection. At other times, I would look at people in a mall and imagine I could see their dukkha beneath the surface of indifference or smiles, and also imagine people’s faces transformed by their buddha natures, carrying the genuine smiles that come with awakening.

These days, I am practicing by looking at strangers and realizing that there is the same kind of buzz going on in their minds that I know from my own, the drone of thoughts—not so much the stories they cook up, but the continuous random noise, ideas, memories, anticipations floating in and out like a tv that is always playing in the room. When I look at people on the street and see that they are all doing that, it comes as a surprise, as if, as a child, you had realized that everybody masturbates (in a way, the thinking-habit is a kind of masturbation). Or: It’s like the Zen saying that one should practice as if one’s hair were on fire and one was looking for water. Their hair is on fire, and they are not looking for water. Since I know it is so for myself, I know that the thinking-habit is indeed suffering, so when I look at the people on the street in this way, the idea that everybody suffers comes to me not as an abstraction or a matter of emotions and moods that arise and pass, but the recognition of a continuum of suffering that exists for all of us when we are not living the moment. The mind buzz is a more serious distraction from living than cellphone or text messaging. It creates a larger separation, since everyone is living in the separate world of his or her mind—his or her preoccupations, plans, wishes, dreams, disappointments—rather than joining the rest of us here and now. Maybe again because I know it for myself, I can see that this buzz is all that keeps these strangers on the street from their buddha natures. Which is, of course, why we meditate.

May 30, 2012
What makes the hospital such a gift even after I leave there is the understanding, which I can take into the laundromat, that under the right conditions, all the people I meet might open like flowers and provide the miracle of connection. And perhaps more important, the understanding that I can be in all times and places who I am in the hospital.