Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

February 6, 2014—February 12, 2014

February 6, 2014
In a recent sangha meeting, we talked about the difference between preference and attachment. If Bettina asks me what kind of tea I’d like, I don’t need to say, “Oh, I don’t care.” I can express a preference for chamomile. That’s different from attachment. If she makes a mistake and brings me roibos, it’s ok.

There is also a difference between negative preference and aversion. We can smell our aversions as they pop up, because they carry with them some judgmentalism. With aversion, we usually believe (whether we express this or not) that we are right. “The herb rosemary makes chicken smell like it’s bad chicken” or “cilantro smells like a dusty violin case,” are different from, “I find I really don’t care for it.” The first two statements smell of aversion.

February 8, 2014
I find it curious that Vipassana teachers have embraced the approach of Rick Hanson and neuroscientific causes for our kleshas of fear, rage and grasping, causes that are located in our distant historical past as human beings, and still they are so timid about ever using what I call “the C word” (childhood), because of their concern that the dharma is about the present and our childhoods are in the past. (I’ve responded to that elsewhere: as Buddhists our interest in childhood is only as it creates defilements immediately in the now.) Such inconsistency makes me suspect that childhood is inherently so hugely painful that dharma teachers, like the rest of us, want to believe it belongs securely in the past. The problem with that is that it doesn’t.

It’s true we carry within us in our present lives our original capacity for fear that was useful to our struggle as primates trying to survive in the jungle. We also carry within us in our present lives the original specific fears and angers and longings that accompanied our struggle to survive as a specific little child. It’s just a lot more comfortable to picture our ancestors’ fear of a tiger than to recall our terror when we thought our parents could destroy us.

February 12, 2014
Awhile ago, I wrote about using the word “but” and I’ve been practicing ever since with noting when I think it (I mostly don’t think it now, though I need to use it in daily conversation.) I notice it always carries with it judgment and a little accompanying distress. We can observe a shift in feeling when we think, “I’m so good with numbers but I can’t seem to learn geometry” or “I’m good with numbers and I can’t seem to learn geometry,” or “I gave a good talk at work but I rushed it at the end” or “I gave a good talk at work and I rushed it at the end.” Last night I spoke about it at the sangha, relating it to Verses on the Faith Mind—the “and” allows us to stay in the realm of “not two.”

Of course we need to exercise judgment (not judgmentalism) in the world and “but” can be helpful or essential for some clarifications, if not nearly as often as we’ve come to depend on it. (It’s possible to say, “I’d love to come to your party and I’m just not able to,” rather than “but I’m just not able to”). Still I feel how valuable it is for my practice simply to notice the unwholesome quality of most "buts," to hear the tremor of dis-ease that it arouses as it underlines a duality. “He is ill but his spirits are good/He is ill and his spirits are good,” “She was busy but she took the time to talk to me/She was busy and she took the time to talk to me,” “It’s cold but it’s invigorating/It’s cold and it’s invigorating.”

One reason I think it is liberating to question our “buts” is that there is an ultimate “but” that lurks for most of us on a daily basis, discoloring our happiness. That is the “but” of impermanence. Without using the word, most people carry around the discomfort of “but.” "I am so happy now but it won’t last. I love her very much but she won’t always be here. I feel so healthy but I could be sick at any moment. By learning how to live without the sting of the “but” we can find a far deeper happiness. We can begin by thinking:

“I accept the reality: I am so happy now and it won’t last.
I love her very much and she won’t always be here.
I feel so healthy and I could be sick at any moment

The “and” brings us closer to the understanding that the two sides of the “and” do not need to be at war, are not truly in opposition, and can live together in peace.

I’ve tried to explain to Bettina, and myself, the wriggle room I give myself. However and still and even though and although are usually considered synonyms for “but”—however, they do not create the same dualism. However, even though, although and still are each a strong affirmation of how the two situations that are juxtaposed actually live comfortably with each other.