Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

July 4, 2014—July 29, 2014

July 4, 2014
Independence Day. As we become more and more independent of the illusions of a permanent Self, we can come to recognize how insubstantial our bodies are even when they seem most substantial. We may still find a more stubborn resistance to the idea that the same holds for our thoughts and memories and personalities—that they are not Our Selves. It might be helpful to remind ourselves of what is now the increasingly familiar experience of Alzheimer’s, and then ask ourselves: As her memories, thoughts, personality dwindle away, at exactly what point does the patient lose her Self? is there a moment on the calendar and clock when we can say that her Self existed before and now it doesn’t? and if not, was her Self ever that substantial?

Or we might ask ourselves, does a baby have thoughts? and if not, was I my Self when I was still a baby? was there a day on the calendar when I became my Self? how can the day I left the womb, empty of thoughts or memories, be called a birthday?

Those who say we “are” our DNA must wrestle with the reality I suggest (June 4, 2014) that our DNA, like our doshas or astrological signs, point only to possibilities, likelihoods, or powerful tendencies—to anger, alcoholism, cancer, sloth and torpor, schizophrenia, mathematical facility—tendencies which may never manifest or may be transformed, and not to a substantial self.

P.S. Do identical twins share the same self?

July 16, 2014
A slight re-emergence of my sloth and torpor makes my mind and memory dull and unresponsive and makes me think more about what—even beyond our “identities”—we are afraid of losing when we lose our memories.

Memory is a principal means of seduction. We can provide others with needed or desired information, interesting insights, proof of our caring (“you remembered!”)—or we can seduce them into admiration with magic tricks of our cleverness and intelligence. When the need to seduce others dwindles, as it will with practice, our concern about our memories can also dwindle.

Memory can, of course, provide opportunity for something more wholesome than seduction—it creates opportunities for generosity: I can meet your need for information, insight or caring because of something I am able to remember that may reduce your suffering. Still, money can also be a way to practice generosity, and sometimes the most generous of spirits, like the nuns at Aloka Vihara or some homeless people I’ve met at the hospital, have no money at all. There are always alternative routes for generosity. When Barbara had Alzheimer’s, I could feel her generosity towards me in her smile. An intention card on my desk—kept there for days like today—reads: you can’t think but you can love.

July 17, 2014
After all of this time of practicing awareness, I finally made the discovery that for most of my eighty-one years, very very very faintly in the back of my mind I have been humming to myself—pop songs, symphonies, whatever floats to mind, like the elevator music of past years. These past weeks I’ve been practicing, as usual, letting the thinking go, and now also dropping the humming. It’s challenging to realize how often I am hearing those faint tunes. They used to be a help for focussing with my ADD, and I suspect that they began in childhood as a kind of self comfort. Today I might occasionally need the help in focussing, though not as I used to, and I don’t need the comforting any more. So it’s habit energy, and it’s perhaps not surprising that after probably more than seven decades, it’s so automatic. That automatic nature of the humming helps me to realize how much most of our thinking also is just habit energy, and to have compassion for how hard it is for folks to let go of it.

When I drop the thinking and now even the faint humming, it is like taking off my clothes at the end of the day—all that mental buzz is like some elaborate and now unnecessary cover up. The naked truth of what remains is a relief—free of all adornments, it is authentic, vibrant, trustworthy.

July 19, 2014
I’ve come to understand the koan-like response of one of the ajahns to the question, “Why does my leg hurt?”: “Because you have a leg.” Now I get it that I come into the world with all of these body parts not one of which can escape having pains or difficulties. If I have skin, it will be burned. If I have a knee, sometime that knee will hurt. If I have an eye, something will get in the eye or it will itch, and so on. I found it helpful—like a body scan—to go through every possible area of my body and acknowledge that it not only can but will create challenges for me. It is a more specific variation of the Buddha’s recollection, I am of the nature to be ill, I cannot escape illness, instructing us how those bodily challenges that provoke in the non-practitioner the surprised question, “What’s wrong here?” are an unremarkable, obvious, inescapable part of life.

July 20, 2014
I’ve had a bit of sloth and torpor lately, which helps me to look at what that brings up for me, since sloth and torpor have seemed like an infection that lowers my resistance to triggering. I also have the opportunity to investigate the hindrance itself. I begin to think that when we overcome, as I believe I have, our aversion to that stuporous state, sloth and torpor reveals the aspect of itself that is grasping. Not grasping for it to end—that would be the aversion—rather, sloth and torpor is a form of seduction. We long to indulge it, to nod off or go to bed or otherwise surrender to it. For so long my awareness was around the aversion—what can I do to end this? why does this have to be?—that I did not notice the sweet and powerful desire that underlies the stupor. The aversion to our stupor is perhaps like the anger that a man in an orthodox religious country might feel if he sees an unveiled woman whose legs are showing—his aversion in its essence is about having to fight off his desire, his grasping. (A grasping and hence an aversion so strong he may want her to be stoned.) Now that I have let go of my aversion, it becomes clear that the underlying issue of sloth and torpor for me is its seductiveness and my reaction of desire, of grasping.

July 22, 2014
The fear of thinking too well of ourselves, the fear that we are on an ego-trip, is an ego-trip. This is different from examining our minds and action non-judgmentally to see if we can catch the least whiff of ego in what we are thinking or doing.

July 23, 2014
Continuous idle thinking nourishes and sustains our selfing—it keeps our egos inflated, believing that every tiniest thing that comes into our minds must have some importance.

July 27, 2014
Today I thought that there are three stages on the path, though of course they can overlap. The first is detoxing: this is where we work most closely with the “lists,” the eightfold path, the hindrances, and begin to change how we operate in the world, painfully removing the obscurations.

The second is desolidifying: this is where we begin to see the world as far less fixed and graspable than we had pictured it, its borders become increasingly less defined, we see that what we had perceived as separate entities are actually not only interconnected but inseparable. Concepts of impermanence and non-self begin to take on experiential meaning here.

The third is decoupling: just as what we had perceived as separate becomes ever more porous, we now also see that elements we had perceived as one are in reality separable, and we begin to unlink our thoughts from our feelings, our body from its pain, our seeing from our looking, our touching from our response to touching, hearing from listening, and all of the other combinations we have coupled and solidified in our mind/heart. Of course decoupling is also a way of desolidifying, since once we recognize that the skandas are floating about independently of each other—pain is separate from leg, churning in stomach is separate/ from anger at partner is separate/ from the story that goes with it—they lose much of their apparent substance and begin to desolidify right before our eyes.

July 28, 2014
The secret of life is not to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. The secret of life is to live as happily as we can with as much discomfort as life presents us with, since what passes for comfort is very short-lived while life will present us with an almost unending torrent of discomforts. (That we are uncomfortable most of the time when we think we are comfortable can be shown by how often we make small or large changes in our body’s position.)

July 29, 2014
We don’t find “answers” by wrestling them out. “Answers”—that is, discernments—arise spontaneously out of the fertile void of silence, when we have detected and cleared away defilements.