Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

September 25, 2013—September 28, 2013

September 25, 2013
Dharma teachers often say that we do not need therapy, because our awareness practice will take us everywhere we need to go. Of course mainstream therapy, to help us find our Selves, to adjust to reality, to “get the love we want,” may even take us off our path.

The question is not advocating therapy so much as gently encouraging practitioners to cultivate the simple awareness of the reality—usually denied—that childhood pain is the origin of our dukkha, and that the suffering we experience in life or on retreat will surely take us back to that original pain and allow us to transform it, if we release our present-day stories and give ourselves permission to recognize that source.

Why do we need this concept if simple awareness alone will take us where we need to go? We could also say that we have no need for the concepts of impermanence or non-self, since through intensive practice, we will surely become aware of how our thoughts and feelings fluctuate from moment to moment and so can provide us with no solid identity. And yet teachers understand that when we experience these realities for ourselves, as we will, it is immensely valuable for our ultimate freedom, perhaps necessary if we are not the original Buddha, to be able to refer to the concepts that were introduced earlier and so to connect with a deeper understanding, “Oh! this is impermanence! Oh! this is non-self!” In the same way, when we begin to experience outbursts of dukkha that may surprise us in their intensity, it would be immensely valuable for our ultimate freedom, for most of us perhaps necessary, if we are able to connect with the deeper reality, to say to ourselves, “Oh! this is childhood!”

Seeing that my rage at the bus driver comes from childhood rage allows me to release the past with self-compassion and fully re-enter the present.

September 26, 2013
From a review of women’s koans (The Hidden Lamp) in Inquiring Mind:

(In) a poem by Chen, an enlightened wandering laywoman of China’s T’ang period...noted that on the high slopes she saw only woodcutters busy chopping away with their axes. Chen wondered how they would see the glorious red mountain flowers. Macy (Joanna Macy, the interpreter) feels affinity with Chen, given Macy’s own deep concern with what we are now collectively doing to our world, and her outrage at current mountaintop removal, deep-sea drilling and genetically modified seeds. She appreciates Chen’s wisdom: not stuck on merely halting their axes, Chen calls on the woodcutters to see what they are missing: the beauty of the mountain flowers all around.

Reading this, it flashed on me that in place of what we so often think of as “forgiveness”—which can privilege the suffering of others while trivializing our own (my father was an alcoholic so he must have been suffering terribly and so I forgive him for beating and molesting me)—there is a way of entering that space without once again pushing our Little Person into the background.

I could suddenly see that I could feel, towards my parents and my sister, what Chen felt about the woodcutters—a compassion for how they missed out by not seeing and valuing Little Cynthia, the delight they could have felt in this precious child, the simple beauty of her being. How much suffering they were caught in not to give themselves that joy. They were cheating her, yes, and they were also cheating themselves.

I was able to feel a sadness that Bettina’s mother, in her narcissism, was unable to find joy in the being of the beautiful little girl the universe had gifted her with.

Perhaps, when we are ready for it, this could be a more wholesome path to our forgiveness, a path that does not risk disrespecting our little ones.

September 27, 2013
I think I’ve heard that “The Heart Sutra” is somehow a misnomer for that beautiful teaching on emptiness. Maybe so historically but I think it is just right. There is no distance between sunyata and metta. No wonder we speak of an “open heart.” The more we can create a spaciousness that is beyond the limits of our tight little Identities, the more of the universe (or the living room) our awareness can expand to meet, and the less separation we feel towards others. Until at last—or in glimpses—separation falls away and there is nothing to obscure the reality of our interbeing with others, with the universe. It’s very simple and obvious to see that as we drop more and more of our attachment to the forms and extend our consciousness to enter that vital spaciousness called sunyata, we will know more and more the freedom of an open heart and the delicious harmony of unobstructed oneness.

September 28, 2013
Practicing metta in a coffee shop. I’ve practiced it in so many forms, and today I realized for the first time what is meant by the reminder that “everybody wants to be happy”, and how that understanding can connect to the development of my metta. I’ve always taken it abstractly—of course, if you ask anybody if she wants to be happy, she will say “Sure.” It’s much deeper than that.

As I looked at all the different faces coming and going, I realized that everybody wants to be happy every minute of every day. Wanting to be happy isn’t abstract, it is what is going on with everybody all the time. Their lives are without pause trying to negotiate happiness—that is what wanting and not wanting is all about, trying to feel more comfortable in this moment physically, mentally, emotionally, wanting to please the boss, wanting to kill the boss, wanting to shift on the chair, grieving our dead boxer, planning our vacation, deciding how we can lie to our spouse, deciding which vegetables to plant. We are all wanting to be happy with every breath we take, from the first breath to the last. The deepest desire of the people coming in and out of the coffee shop is for happiness, and they don’t know what it is. They keep looking for it, inside and out, they keep working at it all the time, and they don’t know where to find it. Almost, they know that they don’t know what it is or where to find it, and they still keep arranging, trying, redefining.

How could you not love someone who is working so hard and so innocently? It’s rather like when we watch a child searching everywhere, with great intensity, for a hidden prize, like easter eggs, and you know where they are hidden and you can call out hints—“you’re getting warm!” “now you’re really cold!”—but she must find every egg for herself. How can you not feel her innocence, the wholesomeness of her search, how can you not feel tenderness and love?