Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

June 4, 2014—June 11, 2014

June 4, 2014
When people say of their restlessness or their anger or their laziness, “That’s just the way I am,” they are in a sense right. We find it confirmed in their dosha, their enneagram, their astrological sign, their DNA—all of those indicators that so often seem to say the same thing about who someone “is.” At first it can seem as if “the way I am” is perhaps not conditioned by childhood suffering. It was all there before birth.

Here’s what I think: our dosha/enneagram/astrological sign/DNA determine the forms our reaction to childhood pain will take. It is the how of our response to that earliest onset of suffering. Pita will react with anger, kapha with withdrawal into torpor, vata will need to be going and doing a great deal. Since the “way I am” is no more than a blueprint for how conditioning will be acted out, it is decidedly not fixed. It is not at all a blueprint for “the way I will be.”

June 5, 2014
I’ve read that in India, having a low sex drive is considered a blessing—such a contrast with the U.S. where a billboard in this neighborhood currently urges men to “Maximize your testosterone!”

I’ve been thinking lately (see April 10, 2014) about what it means that testosterone drives such high levels of sexual desire and aggression in men, how it creates daily suffering in their lives, and how much of society as we know it, as we take it for granted, has been shaped and determined by that pesky hormone.

Here’s a Buddhist perspective on the difference between men and women:
The immensely powerful forces of sexual hunger and aggression, which because of testosterone are more exaggerated drives in men, are of course no less than the hindrances of grasping and aversion. Without that recognition, indeed without knowledge of a path that can convert these raw energies from forms of suffering into worthy spiritual directions, those hindrances have become normalized, promoted, glamorized—in pornography and in all the manifestations of what we call a worldwide rape culture; in violent video games and films; in violent sports from boxing to football and inevitably to war—until exactly what the Buddha named as the causes of suffering are magnified, glorified and played out on the stage of the entire world.

Because of progesterone, women are more prone to the hindrance of delusion. Our hormones make it more difficult for us to exercise discernment—most famously during PMS or pregnancy and even at other times during much of our estrogen-laced lives. Under this influence, our vision often becomes fogged over with sentimentality, self-pity, emotional peaks and valleys, so that our tendency can be to indulge in a self-dramatizing empathy rather than drawing on the equanimous courage of compassion. Our spiritual power is too often dampened or distracted by such delusion, so that, with our gender already forced to operate from a demeaned social status, our hormone/hindrance makes us even less effective in undertaking the work that is required to illuminate and correct a terrifying world of suffering.

It is interesting that in the 60s and 70s, questions were raised about the appropriateness of women in political roles requiring energy and decisiveness because of PMS, while nobody questions the liabilities of testosterone for someone with a finger on the nuclear trigger.

Those hindrances of grasping, aversion and delusion that are so aggravated by hormonal influence have of course, been exponentially magnified by capitalism, until it has become impossible to imagine a modern society that is not dependent on them for its existence.

Lacking a Buddhist analysis of the nature of the three poisons, we have glorified them, and not seen it necessary to find powerful antidotes. Instead we are allowing the doses to be steadily and systematically increased, as if they were nourishment, so that now there is a doubt of the patient’s ability to survive.

It’s also possible that men escape into thought and activity to avoid the difficult feelings that testosterone’s pressures of desire and aggression arouse so much of the time. If that were true, or even worthy of being a believed thought, it’s also possible that the (also ever-increasing) over-valuation of thinking and doing played out in the larger society is also the work of testosterone.

June 7, 2014
When the Buddha speaks of freeing ourselves from the craving for existence or the bonds of becoming, I imagine he is meaning not only the desire to continue living. I think he is also thinking of what middle class folks now call the “bucket list,” our hungering for different “experiences”—the trip to Italy, climbing a mountain, sky-diving, going on safari, whatever calls out our expectations and desires. We needn’t judge that such experiences are unwholesome, they may indeed be wholesome. It is simply that the craving is in itself suffering, even as it keeps us looking toward the future, feeding our sense of incompleteness, unable to see that we have what we need, and that our lives here and now are more than enough.

June 8, 2014
A note I made in March:
How do you know when it’s gossip (not Right Speech)?
The slightest whiff of superiority. “I’m better than the person I’m telling you about,” or “I’m making myself important and knowledgeable with the person I’m talking to.”

June 10, 2014
I’ve tried to define for myself the difference between ordinary “happiness” and the joy that accompanies awakenings. Ordinary happiness has a little, if almost imperceptible, quiver, like a young child on a merry-go-round, happy with just that edge of excitement. The excitement, I think, is the undependability of that kind of happiness, a tiny fear that it won’t last.
Spiritual joy has the happiness without the tiny fear, since we are comfortable with the knowledge that the joy may not last, and so it can go deeper. Since we are not holding on tightly to the brass ring, there can be delicious peace.

June 11, 2014
I was moved by Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta presenting Buddhist teachings as “surrendering to natural law.” It seems to me so helpful, instead of “achieving enlightenment” or “awakening”, to think of ourselves as simply opening to realities that are as dependable as gravity. It’s hard to dispute that buddhist principles—death, aging, illness, impermanence—are expressions of natural law. As for “non-self/emptiness/signlessness”—the instability of what we are so convinced must have a fixed substance—that should be no more difficult to grasp than it is for us to accept the principles of modern physics that support this law, or for us to grasp the fact that the earth goes around the sun even though the phenomenon seems to be just the opposite.