Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

October 23, 2014—November 3, 2014

October 23, 2014
A shift that takes place over time from our practice: we go from experiencing people and things as entities to seeing them as manifestations.

When we experience a person as an entity we are asking ourselves “Who is this entity?” When we experience her as a manifestation, we are asking ourselves, “What is she manifesting now?”

As we experience people more and more as manifestations, we are less likely to think, “He is a kind person,” “She is mean spirited.” We may begin to observe of ourselves that we are both kind and cruel, as Thich Nhat Hanh came to realize that he is both the pirate and the little girl who was raped by the pirate.

We can then cultivate the habit of being able to say to ourselves, without judgmentalism, when we notice a slightly mean thought arise, “Oh, yes, I remember, I am cruel.” It’s a bit like the Buddha saying, “There you are, Mara, I know you.”

An advantage to being on speaking terms with our cruelty is that we can recognize it quickly when it manifests in ourselves. We are less likely to find that we are pretending to do something kind or helpful while our motive is mean. Mara will not so easily sneak in under a blanket of friendliness. We can stop her at the door.

October 27, 2014
Within every authentic individuality there is a person who has no position. — Shinzen Young

Rereading Verses of the Faith Mind a few months ago made me even more conscious of my opinions. I am very fond of Ezra Bayda’s phrase, “believed thoughts”, and for some time I have mostly entertained only believed thoughts, not taking my opinions with passion or seriousness. More recently I have put energy and enjoyment into noting when a believed thought had to be corrected.

Most of us hold on to our opinions very tightly and egoically—they become part of our precious sense of Self. So we note when our opinions seem to be corroborated (“See! Just as I thought!”) and sheepishly avoid dwelling on those times when they seem invalidated. I’ve reversed those reactions, finding amusement and a different kind of corroboration when I’ve needed to drop a believed thought.

A couple of days ago, I watched two believed thoughts evaporate, and noted that they were each thoughts that I had some confidence about. Lately when I’ve observed a landscape gardener, usually Mexican, operating an ear-splitting leaf blower, I would smile and ask him if he wears earplugs. If he said no, I would talk to him about the hazards of deafness later, and laughingly call myself a substitute for his mother. Usually he would seem to appreciate my concern and—perhaps only to placate me—promise that he would wear them in the future. I enjoyed these exchanges and believed I was being helpful. Yesterday the gardener I accosted engaged with me, enjoying setting me straight. Gardening in the sun is sweaty work, and when he used the earplugs he found out that the sweat accumulated and poured down into his ears, which was worse for his ears. He had been in construction for many years, and his well-informed opinions about safety equipment—the belts, the knee pads—reminded me of my opinions about Western medications. Leaving him, I didn’t know if his opinion was correct, still I could see that it was better informed than mine. I enjoyed seeing my believed thought melt away.

Earlier that day I was listening to public radio, hearing someone speaking from the Ukraine, which has been a subject of great political discussion. I’m a former activist, who believed I should have a clear opinion on all events. I don’t at all any more, still—apart from my sense that boundaries themselves are the real problem—I found it to be a pretty obvious believed thought that Russia was behaving rather like Hitler in trying to annex the Crimea. Now this western journalist was clarifying the history and the meaning of Crimea to both Russia and the eastern Ukrainians and another believed thought toppled. Again there was pleasure in the recognition.

These instances were pleasurable to me because, while invalidating two believed thoughts, they supported two other believed thoughts that are far more important to my life. Those events supported my beliefs in Impermanence—you can be fairly convinced of something one day and unsure the next—and Non-Self—if my opinions can melt like water, how trustworthy is my sense of self? As that sense of self has proved more and more illusory, I have had the satisfaction of feeling lighter and lighter, which is why reversing the more common relationship to opinions (I’m happy when I’m right, I’m disappointed or ashamed when I’m wrong) feels so deeply pleasant.

October 30, 2014
We might wonder, what is the value of learning concepts—of studying the sutras—when the Buddha stressed the importance of investigating our own experience, in which we are islands unto ourselves?

The value of concepts—impermanence, non-self, the separation of skandas, the hindrances, and so on—is that as we investigate our own experience (meditation—the life of practice—is the investigation of our experience), we can much more rapidly identify what we find.

November 3, 2014
Today I realized that while I am mindful of the insubstantiality of this body of mine and its ever-changing sensations, and I certainly don’t experience my awareness as substantial, I can still experience my head, my brain as being somehow the commander of the fleet, keeping my mindfulness going, and having its own substance. I suspect that for most of us, at least in the West, our heads are the residences of our Selves, the last bastion, as it were, of the identities we cling to, which we so much wish to be substantial. I am practicing experiencing my physical head, that skull and its contents, to be as just as flowing, just as moment-to-moment impermanent, as I already know the rest of my body to be.