Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

March 4, 2013—April 2, 2013

March 4, 2013
As Buddhists, in whatever century, we’re rather like Galileo trying to break through the unreality of his geocentric era. In claiming that our world that seems so substantial has in fact no solid material reality, we might just as well be foolishly maintaining that the earth goes around the sun, when any bloke can see that the sun goes around the earth. How kooky can we be? Who cares that science says this is so?

March 7, 2013
This week it occurred to me—I don’t know how long it has been so—that if no other person in the world was a Buddhist, I would be. What does that mean? I think it just means my knowledge that the Buddhist way of being in the world is inalterably my way of being in the world. I couldn’t change that if I tried.

March 12, 2013
Today on my birthday my seasonal allergies were affecting my mind considerably, making it feel heavy and difficult to think while I was trying to compose a dharma talk. I found myself, as I so often am during these allergies, “out of sorts”—experiencing what Eckhardt Tolle calls a “background noise” of dissatisfaction.

As I paid attention to what this is really like, I realized that when I’m in this state my mind doesn’t focus. It pops very quickly from one thing to another, too quickly even to make sure what “one thing” or “another” is.

I decided to go to Balboa Park, as I used to years ago in the mornings and, as I used to do then, after walking through the springtime green I settled to meditate in a quiet little garden. For the first time, I chose my restlessness as my object of meditation. I would look at my restlessness instead of being in my restlessness, or trying to figure out what it means, why it’s there, what to do about it, or even just accept it. I would turn the light of my awareness on it, with curiosity. I would just notice, just take the time to look at the experience of restlessness. At the moment we do that, there’s someone there that isn’t the restless person. As I watched my restless mind, moving about like electrical impulses, I realized it was slowly quieting (like a child whose sobbing is being attended to), and with a kind of joy I saw that I could apply the familiar dictum to this distracting state: “The mind that is aware of my restlessness is not restless.” I could experience exactly that.

Whenever we can separate from our dukkha without pushing it away, we come in touch with our awareness, which is so much more peaceful, joyful and discerning than our restlessness, annoyances, desirings, fear, regrets, wounded pride, self-judgments, rage.

March 27, 2013
There are so many forms the ego takes, so many strategies to keep it propped. Yesterday I was thinking of the difference between male and female ego strategies, which can of course appear in either men or women.

Male Ego is fairly obvious. “I can take up space. What I say and do is valuable and important. I can protect my own interests.” The underlying nature of the male ego is: I am a powerful person and I feel uncomfortable if I think I’m not.

Female Ego can take a form that closely resembles the bodhisattva way. “I would never do anything that might harm or offend anyone. I will not put myself ahead of others. I will be kind and helpful and generous and loving and unselfish.” The underlying nature of the female ego is: I am a good person and I feel uncomfortable if I’m not.

Both are equally about ego, about Self. The discomfort is the ego afraid that it is about to lose its image (which is what ego is). Both are looking to solidify an identity. Neither is at all about freedom from Self.

March 30, 2013
Kate is a scientist who also practices Buddhism, so it pleased me to be able to explain to her the joy and deep satisfaction I’ve found just in my own everyday practice. I realized that the pleasure and intense interest I find is like the interest she would find if she found herself in a laboratory where fascinating and varied experiments and valuable discoveries about nature were going on all the time. I am happy and enlivened just to spend time in the laboratory of my own mind, observing and experimenting.

Today I thought of a slightly different comparison. I thought that being a practitioner is like being a musician/composer. Sometimes one is very consciously playing or composing and that of course is a joy, and at other times—even just while washing the dishes—one is simply hearing music, the music of others or bits of one’s own composition that may be integrated later into the larger work. One is continuously finding interest and enjoyment, and it can be fine and enjoyable if one can share this with others, or hear their phrases and compositions—still, the primary relationship is with the music.

April 2, 2013
Buddhist practitioners speak of acceptance of our feelings—notably, for me, Thich Phuoc Tinh’s mantra I accept my feelings/my feelings are not me. They speak of the thoughts that attach to the feelings, the “stories” that keep the feelings spinning, and the importance of learning to “Drop the Object”—to let the stories that feed our feelings fall away and to turn our attention simply to an experience and acceptance of the feelings themselves.

I have noticed just how painful it is to drop the story and it occurs to me that this is because the story exists to justify the feelings, to make them acceptable to us. Anger is a good example, although sadness, fear, envy, judgmentalism, desire work just as well. Cut loose from the support of the story we have to acknowledge that these feelings have an entire life of their own. We have gone to court to defend them and the lawyer has left the courthouse—now the defendant must stand on her own and her true value is exposed. This is an important experiment in self-knowledge, in how our minds and feelings work. My personal experience is that by standing alone the feelings expose us to the reality of their origin and that it lies not in the lawyer’s defense. When they are exposed our feelings hurtle us back to the Little Person who first felt them in childhood, and we can see that they have only attached themselves to the present moment, to the lawyer who can make them look justifiable.