Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

December 5, 2013—December 30, 2013

December 5, 2013
The month has begun with a raging cold, which pleases me, because I’ve been able to use the time and isolation to practice sati, and also one of the lessons of Dipa Ma:

If you bless those around you, this will inspire you to be attentive in every moment.

This has been my practice these last days. Blessing is a very sacred act, and so when Dipa Ma says “attentive” I think she means something much deeper than “noting, noting.” When I bless a plant, a dishrag, spot on the rug, a person (it helps when they are not moving, for me to fully feel the sacredness), a dog sitting across the street, a scrap of orange peel, a Texaco sign, I feel immensely privileged to do the blessing—rather as if I’d been invited to wash the Buddha’s feet, who am I to bless, but I’ve been told to do that—and also I’m awakened (“attentive”) to the true nature of the object or person. I can feel with tender appreciation and a touch of awe, the effort that everything puts into existing, it is not to be taken for granted. Whether it’s a rock or a pile of feces, as I bless it, I can feel its remarkable nature. Imagine how you would feel, for example, at a Buddhist retreat, if you had been chosen to stand at the front of the room, and one retreatant after another came and bowed before you and you were to put your hand on his or her head and bless them. You wouldn’t know these people, but you would be profoundly attentive to each one, equally so, filled with awe before them, feel their sacredness.

The painter, I think, is engaged in this kind of blessing. I’ve given before (January 9, 2005) the example of Van Gogh’s painting of old, muddy boots as they glow in the light of his blessing, their true nature revealed and cherished.

December 13, 2013
While I enjoyed the time with my cold last week, I was glancing through Dipa Ma and came across the observation of a student of hers. Unlike myself, he had been quite seriously ill, and he recognized that in that period he was able for the first time to “understand what was my body, understand what was my mind, and understand what was the way of meditation.” I suddenly saw that that was what my little illness had allowed me to do—to see those separations are clearly distinct, and to find immense freedom and a new sense of control of one’s life in being able to “know what is what.” It’s freedom, because one no longer has to helplessly allow one’s whole being to be danced around like a puppet by the mind or the body, as it is when we take their will as Ours. It’s control, because now we can select how to relate to each one. Do I want the mind to keep talking now? is that useful? We can see so much more clearly where the on-off switch is when we know she isn’t the whole show. Does the pain in my elbow think she can speak for all of me, or is she just a pain in my elbow?

I think illness is such a good time for this clarity, because we have fewer positive hooks. If my body isn’t feeling so great, I don’t value her at that moment as a source of great pleasure, and have much less need to identify with her. It’s easier then to say, “Oh she’s just a body doing her thing.” If I’m sick, my mind often doesn’t offer me much delight either, it’s not impressing me with its cleverness, so it’s easier to separate her out too.

Of course I think I was headed this way before this little illness, in one sense for years before this illness. Still the truth of it seems simple and obvious to me now in a way that I didn’t quite experience before.

I understand what is my body, I understand what is my mind, I understand what is the way of meditation.

December 20, 2013
Joe, a friend and fellow practitioner, often uses language that resonates with me. He was speaking of Studio Peace, where our sangha meets and where yoga and Buddhist workshops take place. The landlord has raised the rent ridiculously, and Joe thought that just possibly the folks who use the studio would be able to come together as a community and cover the raise. He spoke of how attending the different practices at the studio had meant so much to him in a difficult time, how that gift was immeasurable. Then he remarked that we were looking at two elements, the spiritual practices at Studio Peace, which are immeasurable, and the landlord asking so many dollars of additional rent, which is measurable, calling for a measurable response from us.

I love having these words in my pouch. They feel helpful. They give me language to explain why I find it difficult to tell people about the patients I see at the hospital—even though what we have shared is profound, even though I wish I could give that gift to others. What we have shared is immeasurable and I can only communicate it in measured terms. I would have to begin: “I saw an African American man about 44 who is homeless and who suffered this kind of abuse when he was a little boy, and I said and he said...” and that bears not the slenderest resemblance to the immeasurable experience we have shared.

December 30, 2013
We face challenges as we try to translate the immeasurable into the measurable, into words. (December 20, 2013). Bliss, contentment, joy, nirvana, happiness, sukha—each of those words has a different association for different people. My best definition today for the sweet state of awakening is: immeasurably peaceful and entirely alive.