Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

June 1, 2012—June 13, 2012

June 1, 2012
Today I read, perhaps not for the first time, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Opening the Heart of the Lotus, his words on Avalokiteshvara (Kwan Yin). “At the gates of temples in Vietnam, you often see two figures: on the left is a statue of a very gentle bodhisattva, smiling, welcoming, while on the right is a figure with a very fierce expression, brandishing a weapon.”

A few years ago, I would not have understood this so clearly. Now I see that this is the essence of my essay on forgiveness—that in order for us to free ourselves from the suffering of the Little Person within us we must offer her the gentleness and tender-heartedness of our adult compassion (“I see, really see, how you suffered, and I see, really see, your buddha nature, how fine a spirit you were”), and equally our adult fierceness to defend her (“You”—the parent figures—”should not have done that! You had no right to treat her that way! That was a terrible thing to do to a child!”) To fully heal our Little Person requires that we be a bodhisattva with both faces.

June 2, 2012
We have a distorted idea of what constitutes happiness that stands in the way of moving towards bliss, santosha. It’s what I call the Wow! Factor. Whenever we feel a Wow!—”Wow! That’s incredibly beautiful!”, “Wow! I did a fantastic job there!”, “Wow! This is the greatest apartment!” we need to be aware that we have moved into a false mode of happiness, one already inevitably doomed to take us to its opposite as soon as—inevitably—the beauty fades, we don’t do so well on the job next time, the apartment is next to a yapping dog. All of our conditioning tells us to look for Wows! in the world—they are what makes life worth living. Nobody tells us that they are just a setup.

Instead of the Wow! Factor, we can begin to develop a way of responding to the world around us that is different, trustworthy, free of distortion: an attitude of deep, quiet wonder and delicious appreciation of all that is.

June 3, 2012
“I’m a bodhisattva.” Is that a self-aggrandizing thing to say?

At first it may feel arrogant to say “I’m a writer” or “I’m a painter” or “I’m a photographer” (unless it’s a paid job), but after awhile you know it’s simply a prosaic reality. It’s what you do, for God’s sake, when you get up in the morning. It’s what you are because it is what gives life meaning for you, it is your life, and not just when you are writing or painting or taking photographs. Saying it is not pretentious or self-serving, it’s a description. It doesn’t set you apart as more amazing or special than non-writers or aspiring writers. And wouldn’t it be hard for someone who’s just beginning to write never to know that for an ordinary person operating in this conventional world being a writer can be a self-definition?

When I say to myself these days with interest, I am a bodhisattva, that says: this way of living is what I love more than anything. I don’t want to take vacations or breaks. To use the language of license plates I wouldn’t rather be sailing or playing golf, I’d rather be practicing—the only difference is that I can practice when I’m sailing or playing golf.

I am deeply moved by Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing on transformations in Opening the Heart of the Lotus. He demystifies the shape-shifting of the Buddha, Buddha’s ability to transform himself into different people and beings wherever skillful means are required. Thay points out how this is available to all of us—among his own transformations are his writings, his monasteries, the people he has guided, his letters to politicians—all are transformations of his literal presence and they can and do affect the world. In the chapter “Many Forms” he describes how the bodhisattva takes on forms that mirror the ways and behaviors of the people she is working with, allowing them to hear her better.

Bettina manifests herself as a special ed teacher and also a yoga teacher. For years she manifested herself as a social worker. As a child, she manifested herself as an extension of her mother, a successful tennis player. She mirrors the behaviors of others to meet them and work with them where they are. I have manifested myself as an ESL teacher, a feminist writer, a caregiver, a radical activist, a lecturer, and so on. But all these manifestations are only a mere suggestion of what happens daily—the ways we speak differently to a child and a police officer, the ways we speak harshly and then lovingly to a partner.

Every day, every moment, in this myriad of ways, we are sending our essences out into the world, changing ourselves, changing everyone we encounter. At its deepest level it means that our karma becomes the world’s karma. Whenever what we say, think, do is not coming out of the space that the Dalai Lama lives out of, we are actively shoring up the status quo of delusion. We must become the change we wish to see in the world doesn’t mean that we should be nice to people so there will be more niceness in the world. It means that, whether we intend it or not, by our every thought and action we are continuously changing the world.

June 4, 2012
People don’t realize how much energy it takes to have an ego. It’s like having a drama queen for a roommate—she spends a lot of time talking, often complaining, sometimes being inappropriately enthusiastic, sometimes admiring herself, sometimes wallowing in what a terrible person she is. It is always about herself, and always draining the energy out of the room so you hardly have a chance to just be.

June 12, 2012
Gratitude creates a space in which nothing is not welcome, says Christian McEwen in World Enough and Time (p. 308). On retreat this past weekend, I felt myself bathed in gratitude. I have had this feeling in the days, weeks before the retreat, but this was a delicious opportunity to simply sink into it and let it suffuse everything I saw, touched, heard.

Gratitude makes you realize how rich you are, how rich you have always been without fully knowing it. Gratitude energizes, because it fills the heart with light. It’s like a dark cloudy day when the sun breaks through and we can feel a new life energy.

June 13, 2012
There’s a kind of intimacy that takes place on retreat when one sits and walks and eats in silence with other people. When conversations are taking place, the mind-buzz of everyone (their “individuality”) is what is significant. At best, we are all scrambling for those things that connect us—”Oh, did you used to take the 54 bus? I did too!”

Of course the mind-buzz is happening when we are all silent. But there’s the shared acknowledgement that the mind-buzz is not the important sharing—what connects us is the attempt to put past it, past the distractions, to that place of spirit that truly connects us.

Kate tells me that she was usher at a Mozart concert and was really able to listen to the notes (Mozart, of course, is one of the most klesha-free of composers, and so allows that more easily).

She said that when she was greeting people as they left, she had that same sense, that there was an intimacy between them, since they had all participated in a time that encouraged freedom from the usual mind chatter—she felt a special friendliness and sense of connection with them.