Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich


December 24,2007
It is as important to celebrate our own buddha nature as to celebrate when we see it arise in others. It isn’t arrogant, it isn’t a lack of humility, it isn’t a preening of the I, it has nothing to do with comparisons. It is simple, straightforward and as sweet as though one were bathing in a nectar. Because it is bathing in Buddha Nature, which is not really mine or yours or ajanh chah’s or the dalai lama’s or beverly next door’s.

December 28, 2008
I see more and more what I am doing when I visit patients in the hospital. I didn’t have an agenda when I started, beyond listening, and I don’t have an agenda now. Instead it is as though my reason for being there has decided to reveal itself to me. What I did instinctively has now reached my understanding. I see the gift I am giving them, and I see how they have become my teachers.

There are a couple of questions I almost always ask. The most important is: where do you get your spirit? what gets you through this difficulty? Often I suggest, was it your parents? a teacher in school? a mentor later in life? Sometimes they answer immediately, knowing the gift they received from their mother or grandmother or an AA sponsor. Often they have never thought of this, and find it really interesting to pursue—it’s certainly not their parents, so who was it? Recently one woman decided it was her developmentally disabled uncle who lived with her and taught her a way of being with life. What I really mean by spirit is their buddha nature, which very often I can see more clearly than I might in ordinary life, shining through pain and uncertainty and the confrontation with mortality that the hospital brings to foreground.

I see now that my reason for coming to the hospital is to let people in pain and difficulty know that a stranger can see their spirit. At a time of vulnerability, I can affirm their spirit’s preciousness, how it has helped them to survive, how it has been a gift to others in more ways than they may know as it is a gift to me, the stranger walking into the room.

My being a stranger oddly enlarges my authority, since I am not someone who already loves and values them—I have no dog in this hunt. My authenticity, I think, comes form the fact that I never pretend to see a spark that I don’t see.

And this is how they become such teachers, such gifts to me. After we talk as much as they need to about the physical challenges that have brought them here, with all that pain and discomfort and anxiety, we become together focussed on the light of their spirit, and as we do so, I am able to affirm for myself that this marvelous light lives in every one. Sometimes in the world outside I can still forget this knowledge, especially with someone where I sense a wall. Each session in the hospital allows that experience of the reality of buddha nature to seep more deeply into my cells, expanding me with an unconditional love that astounds me, though it shouldn’t, since the place where our spirits live is entirely separate from the place of the conditions that qualify or constrain our love.

I see now that, as I go knocking on the patients’ doors, I am mining for gold, and the beauty of my search is that I always find it.

February 29, 2008
Yesterday Bettina was talking about the vision she often returns to, a vision of how she would like to live—a simple life, almost like a shepherd, and she spoke about her days having rhythm. At first I didn’t quite understand rhythm, because I think more about flow, and that felt different. Then I saw that nature has a rhythm, is a rhythm, a rhythm that urban life disturbs, and I saw that the days I spent in the trailer on the desert had a rhythm.

It occurred to me that there are two elements that take us out of life’s rhythm. They are urgency and stuckness. They seem to be opposite: urgency says, “I must move right now!’ and stuckness says: “I can’t move, I’m not willing to move.” Truth is, they are the same conditioning, and whenever we experience either one we can know that we have temporarily left the place of wholesomeness, left the flow, left the rhythm of life.

January 24, 2012
In Vedantic Meditation, David Frawley speaks several times of a “mechanical” way of being in the world—as opposed, of course, to a spiritual one. Studying Buber’s writings on “I-Thou,” it never occurred to me that much of the time we treat our own being as an “It.” Whenever we see our daily lives as less than sacred, we convert ourselves to an “It.” Every time I go to the laundry simply because the clothes need to be washed, performing a chore that needs to be done while my mind wanders elsewhere, every time I stand in line at a supermarket checkout thinking about what happened at work, I have turned myself into a robot, a machine like my automobile, a mere object necessary to complete a transaction rather than a Subject in my own life.

Mindfulness then is a way to refuse being reduced to an It with a busy little mind, a way to fully inhabit our rightful place at the center of our lives, to be a Thou.

June 1, 2012
Today I read, perhaps not for the first time, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Opening the Heart of the Lotus, his words on Avalokiteshvara (Kwan Yin). “At the gates of temples in Vietnam, you often see two figures: on the left is a statue of a very gentle bodhisattva, smiling, welcoming, while on the right is a figure with a very fierce expression, brandishing a weapon.” A few years ago, I would not have understood this so clearly. Now I see that this is the essence of my essay on forgiveness—that in order for us to free ourselves from the suffering of the Little Person within us we must offer her the gentleness and tender-heartedness of our adult compassion (“I see, really see, how you suffered, and I see, really see, your buddha nature, how fine a spirit you were”), and equally our adult fierceness to defend her (“You”—the parent figures—”should not have done that! You had no right to treat her that way! That was a terrible thing to do to a child!”) To fully heal our Little Person requires that we be a bodhisattva with both faces.

June 2, 2012
We have a distorted idea of what constitutes happiness that stands in the way of moving towards bliss, santosha. It’s what I call the Wow! Factor. Whenever we feel a Wow!--”Wow! That’s incredibly beautiful!”, “Wow! I did a fantastic job there!”, “Wow! This is the greatest apartment!” we need to be aware that we have moved into a false mode of happiness, one already inevitably doomed to take us to its opposite as soon as—inevitably—the beauty fades, we don’t do so well on the job next time, the apartment is next to a yapping dog. All of our conditioning tells us to look for Wows! in the world—they are what makes life worth living. Nobody tells us that they are just a setup.

Instead of the Wow! Factor, we can begin to develop a way of responding to the world around us that is different, trustworthy, free of distortion: an attitude of deep, quiet wonder and delicious appreciation of all that is.

April 2, 2013
Buddhist practitioners speak of acceptance of our feelings—notably, for me, Thich Phuoc Tinh’s mantra I accept my feelings/my feelings are not me. They speak of the thoughts that attach to the feelings, the “stories” that keep the feelings spinning, and the importance of learning to “Drop the Object”—to let the stories that feed our feelings fall away and to turn our attention simply to an experience and acceptance of the feelings themselves.

I have noticed just how painful it is to drop the story and it occurs to me that this is because the story exists to justify the feelings, to make them acceptable to us. Anger is a good example, although sadness, fear, envy, judgmentalism, desire work just as well. Cut loose from the support of the story we have to acknowledge that these feelings have an entire life of their own. We have gone to court to defend them and the lawyer has left the courthouse—now the defendant must stand on her own and her true value is exposed. This is an important experiment in self-knowledge, in how our minds and feelings work. My personal experience is that by standing alone the feelings expose us to the reality of their origin and that it lies not in the lawyer’s defense. When they are exposed our feelings hurtle us back to the Little Person who first felt them in childhood, and we can see that they have only attached themselves to the present moment, to the lawyer who can make them look justifiable.

June 5, 2013
The more I accept death, the more I love life, because I’m living my life in the sunshine—without the shadow of death.

October 3, 2013
“It just is”—the deep acceptance of all that life offers—is a key piece of Buddhist wisdom, one that a few of the patients I visit in the hospital have attained.

Often people recoil from that wisdom. It’s as if instead of it just is, they hear in just ice. As though the Buddha were asking them to shrug their shoulders at suffering, at Hitler, at slavery, at genital mutilation. It can take the discoveries of practice to recognize that It just is does not mean indifference and inaction, just as non-attachment does not mean detachment. Both can and do coexist with the greatest compassion and the wisest action.

December 20, 2015
With awakenings, we begin at last to love the universe and our world of forms on other terms—for what she is rather than based on our own illusions. It is a more serious love, as in the phrase new lovers use: “I’m feeling serious about her.”

To be serious about the universe is to be serious about her pockmarked face, not in spite of or because of the pustules—rather, because that face, with its pustules, is the face of God.