Yours in the Dharma:  Essays from a Buddhist perspective by Sandy Garson

This blog, Yours in the Dharma by Sandy Garson, is an effort to navigate life between the fast track and the breakdown lane, on the Buddhist path. It tries to use a heritage of precious, ancient teachings to steer clear of today's pain and confusion to clear the path to what's truly happening.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

And now a few words...


Good news from this summer of sorrows: Traleg Rinpoche lives.  His yangsi, or tulku, or reincarnation if you prefer, has been found, approved and delivered to his home monastery in eastern Tibet. He is being enthroned there as I write. That means for the first time since the brutal Chinese invasion of 1949, all four rinpoches of Thrangu Monastery together again. Traleg was actually supreme among them.


The late Traleg Rinpoche was a peerless teacher. He was not only a master of Dharma but of human psychology: he had an advanced university degree. That made him so direct and so clear in his English you could not avoid getting his point. Dharma was not some psychological self-help therapy. He didn't want people messing around with meditation just so they could "feel better about themselves." 

Traleg Rinpoche also had no patience for wishy washy, half-hearted plunges into spiritual makeover.  He wanted us to wade all the way into the depth of Dharma. He actually made it seem, well not easy, but definitely doable and certainly reasonable. He went out of his way to give useful how-to. So in honor of his return and enthronement, here are a few words of his that may be of benefit to all.

From Traleg Rinpoche's commentary of the central Mahamudra text: Ocean of Certainty

 "Each manifest physical act has a mental act that preceded it. Whatever we experience in terms of pain, pleasure, happiness and suffering is the result of the things we have thought and done in the past. Every thought we entertain and every deed we perform in this life leaves a karmic impression in the mind, which will determine our future...existence. ...

"In any case, you have to realize that no karma we create is this life is wasted. ... Whether we create negative or positive karma, it all leaves an impression in the mind. These impressions are like seeds that remain dormant until the appropriate conditions trigger them again and they come to fruition, which results in our experiences of happiness or suffering. ...

"Furthermore, whatever karma you create, it is your own. Karma cannot be transferred from one person to another or shared by others... We are each responsible for our own actions, and whatever we experience is the result of our own doing, not anybody else's."


"Even if you have managed to find a precious human body, you will be subject to the sufferings that are experienced by everyone without exception. These are the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death. There is also the universal suffering of being separated from a loved one, being stuck with someone you dislike, coming in contact with people you hate and being separated from friends. Furthermore, everyone experiences difficulties in protecting what they have, either materially or in relationships. Everyone also experiences not getting what they want. There are various things we want and desire intensely, but circumstances make it impossible for us to acquire them. These sufferings are experienced by everyone without exception."

"Contemplating these aspects of samsaric suffering, which are experienced by each and every one of us regardless of position, wealth, beauty or talent, we realize samsara is an unsatisfactory state and something we should transcend. Generate a sense of despair from recognizing this true nature of samsara. Understand that the samsaric condition is a prison, because once you realize the imprisoning nature of samsara, you will develop an intense desire to break free. Once you have developed that intense desire to be free, your priorities will gradually change, because you will realize there is much more to existence that pursuing this or that temporary pleasure or happiness. 

"Once you have a real understanding of the unsatisfactory nature of samsara, you will want to flee from it just as animals flee in all directions when a forest catches fire. ...The way to flee the samsaric condition is to accumulate the wealth of merit and wisdom. You should become rich in inner qualities and develop the richness of the mind."


~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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Monday, August 10, 2015

Seeing Clearly


 So much Dharma talk is about clear seeing, aka pure vision. It's about how our vision of reality is abysmally clouded by cataracts (wishful thinking) and myopia (fear). Meditation is the trick for defogging our mind, the windshield of our vehicle through this world. Waking up is really opening our eyes to what's actually happening.

Frankly, I am not very accomplished in this skill but sometimes the teachers give big how-to hints. For instance, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa had an aviary at his monastery in Sikkim. He loved birds, loved walking among them, hearing them sing because, and here's the punch line, His Holiness believed birds were dakinis, the female protectors and wisdom givers. As it happens, the Karmapas 1 to 17 trace their omniscience to women, dakinis who magically empowered them through that black hat which cradles their brain. It is exceptionally awe inspiring to see a Karmapa put on that symbol of his clairvoyance. Supposedly spun from dakini hair. 

This idea of female empowerment is not far fetched. In every known language of the world, wisdom is feminine. Biologically and mentally, women seem to know what to do. Prajnaparamita, transcendent wisdom, is female.

I have always liked this idea that birds are dakini protectors. It's not far-fetched either: dakinis are always portrayed as flying goddesses.  So now that I try to see the birds that way, it's thrilling to be lucky enough or maybe meritorious enough to have so many coming to my small property when they could just as easily be down the road. The flitting hummingbird who blesses my flowers, the trusting phoebes who've built their third nest for new life in my eaves and clear the air of mosquitoes for me, the black cormorants who comically stand like crosses atop buoys to dry their wings because they lack lanolin, the Woody Woodpecker who--with sound more amped up than a rock band-- hammers bugs out of the dead pines alerting me which ones are, the magnificently gawky great blue herons who glide in and hover transfixed on their toothpick legs waiting for dinner to float by.

More to the point, I find I am no longer annoyed by the raucous, dirty seagulls. I am instead proud that one of the pack has chosen my place as home. It uses the top of my dock as its lookout and sometimes its sleep perch. It's turned the ledge into its lunchroom. The gull waddles through the low tide mud nosing with its beak for clams, yanks them out and then has to drop them on the rocks to crack them open, but not before carrying the shell to its lookout to make sure no other gull is ready to swoop down. I've stopped being annoyed by the gull shit on the dock, started feeling proud of  that enormous pile of broken clam shells covering the ledge. I have come to think of that gull on top of my prayer flags as sent to be my personal protector.

Of course there are crows, often shrieking mobs of them that could and did drive me crazy. But now I see them as black Mahakala, the protector who removes obstacles, his blackness the flip side of Chenrezig's stainless white purity. In other words, same same. Removing obstacles to end suffering. The more the merrier even if they eat my blueberries.

This year almost every day a flock of snowy white egrets flap through the air, swoop onto the water and pull out glittering fish, and soar off. Yesterday I swam off my dock with a lifeguard: a bald eagle nestled in dead branches of a very tall tree on the other side of this narrow inlet. You can almost tell when it's here: all other bird life disappears. Eagles are unfussy omnivores: a fish here, a rodent there, a bird for dessert. When I told a monastic friend I had an eagle watching me, she said: "That was Guru Rinpoche!"

You just have to believe you are seeing straight.








~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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Friday, July 31, 2015

The Buddha says it's okay to eat potato chips


In the sutras, the Buddha very clearly says to venerable Ananda: "Ananda, if there is no body, there is no dharma. If there is no food, there is no dharma. If there are no clothes, there is no dharma. Take care of your body, for the sake of the dharma."

So here's a little food dharma to help with that. Now in midsummer swelter is the time to gorge on oily, salty food. Yes potato chips. Right now they're good for you.  So are all those "olive oil dishes"--that's actually the translation of their category--from the Mediterranean: French ratatouille, Italian pesto, Greek plakis, Turkish imam bayaldi, Syrian tabouli and all those Armenian vegetables braised in olive oil. Right now when you are sweating in the heat, your body needs a lube job. Enter oil. It lubes the muscles and tissues so nothing tears while you're out having fun. 

And since you're sweating out the moisture the rest of your body needs, you need salt and lots of it to stem the flow. Yes potato chips. But yes, olives and feta cheese, anchovies and capers, even salt cod and miso.

Now is the moment Mother Nature hands out watery food: tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, berries. She knows your body needs the juice. Watermelon agua fresca anyone?

One more thing: chilies.  Now is the time. Hot and hotter inside and out. The reason super spicy dishes are so prevalent in hot climates is that chilies make the body sweat and sweating is nothing more than your body dehumidifying. A fancy air conditioner is nothing more than a dehumidifier so in essence chili peppers are cheap Frigidaires. 

The other sneaky thing about hot chilies: they make you want to put out the fire and boy does the body need water right now.

So there's dharma of the body for you, wisdom at least as old and proven as the Buddha's.


~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

A better samsara


 "A better samsara."  Those words jumped out of Ringu Tulku's book, Confusion Arises as Wisdom, my second time around and haunted me long after I passed that page. A better samsara...a better samsara... The phrase brought back a puzzling phrase of my own beloved guru Thrangu Rinpoche: "the happiness of samsara." Apparently I've missed it: there's still some good stuff here where we're all stuck. We don't have to try so hard to get out so fast. 

That's very comforting. The whole idea that there is a better, happier samsara makes it easier to get up in the morning to face a world that's been bitten by money and rabidly mad. It definitely helps confusion and feels like wisdom.  So I want to share what Ringu Tulku told me on pages 36 and 37. Please share too.

First of all, you need to know as I didn't, there are two distinct sorts of Dharma practice, and--here's what I didn't know-- both are okay according to the great master, Je Gampopa, whose text Ringu Tulku is teaching. The first is "worldly dharma." Many of us think we have to disparage this. We practice this, as Ringu Tulku says, "to get something better in this life or future lives. For instance, we want peace of mind, we want things to work out well, and we want to be happy."

And then he says:  "It's good to apply the teaching to our states of mind and emotional problems in order to have a better life."   Not just Ringu Tulku and Je Gampopa, but even the great Indian scholar Nagarjuna advocates worldly dharma practice. "Ascending the stairs of the gods' and humans' dharma will bring one close to liberation." He actually suggests we all begin with worldly dharma practice to become better human beings, what Ringu Tulku calls "good solid citizens of samsara." The Buddha's teachings and all the sutras and tantras agree on this psychological point:  the first step to liberation is to become a decent, stable human being. 

And here's why I find that so valuable to know. Mostly we just hear about the esoteric, exotic or excruciating practices great masters do to achieve enlightenment, how they all so roundly rejected samsara. "This can lead students to think that having complete renunciation," Ringu Tulku says, "is the only way to practice, and unless they are like Milarepa, they are not dharma practitioners. This isn't true. Worldly dharma practice comes first. We can apply the dharma in daily life to take responsibility, do the right thing, go to work, make money, and look after our family. It's good to create a nice life and a nice community, to do things for others, avoid extremes and include a little meditation to bring peace of mind."

The law of karma is that positive actions bring positive results. "So," Ringu Tulku concludes, "worldly dharma practice means doing dharma activities to in order to have a better world, a better samsara. As long as you're here, why not live in a better samsara than a worse one?"
  

Yes. Why not? Anyone have a problem with that?


~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Buddhism: Monks, Lamas, Rinpoches, Nun of the Above


Although I really wanted to go this year, I didn't get to the July 4th fireworks. I saturated myself with bug spray, grabbed a sweater and was leaving the house when my phone rang. Recognizing the number, I took the call. I didn't think I'd be holding the receiver to my ear for the next 75 minutes.

I missed the fireworks to listen to someone fired up about a missed life opportunity. A Swiss woman who's spent the last 24 years as a very active, devout Tibetan Buddhist wants only to be fully ordained as a nun and for all sorts of nonsensical reasons can't be. Since she closed her pricey couture shop in Zurich, shaved off her hair and took basic ordination vows in the Kagyu lineage (that I share), she's done more than enough long retreats to be a lama, worked as attaché and translator for the tireless English speaking Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo of Cave in the Snow fame, attended countless teachings and expended endless energy trying to get the full ordination the way any monk can. She had just returned the night before from an all-Buddhist nuns conference in Indonesia and was outraged all over again. More runaround, more fences to block this sort of immigration. 

"You know," she said with great exasperation, "while we were there in Indonesia, we heard the local sultan who has four daughters and no sons had just announced he would not let the title pass to his nephew when he died but to his oldest daughter. He said it was time for change. Imagine: a Muslim sultan can acknowledge women but a Rinpoche won't."

All Tibetan Buddhist nuns are categorically and systematically denied the final blessing of full ordination no matter how far beyond a monk their level of practice and achievement extends. The great icons of compassion for all beings give lip service about making these nuns equal to Tibetan Buddhist monks, but the luck stops there. The Dalai Lama is not against the idea; he just isn't the right person to ordain them and doesn't know who to ask. He says it will happen one day...soon.  His Holiness Karmapa has started to focus on women, saying he wants to repay his mother left behind in Tibet beyond his purview, by helping all women. He's set up a training program for would-be nuns, but it doesn't include final full ordination. "Maybe soon,"  he promises. My friend said that "soon" will only be for Tibetan Buddhist nuns who are Tibetan, not Western. Emphasis on Tibetan, not Buddhist. Read that wisdom, compassion, racism.

My friend is particularly incensed at not having a decent name. The Tibetan word for a nun is "Ani" and with a note of respect added becomes Ani-la. That's the term I've always used. But apparently it simply means "auntie."  "Can you imagine," my friend snapped, "I've spent 24 years in retreat, service and study to be called auntie! Just to show them how degrading that is, I've started calling monks uncle. Boy they do not like that!!!" 

So now at least the powers that be are telling laypeople and monks to call Western nuns "tsunma", Tibetan for venerable female.That's about as far as change goes.  Nobody dares to be the first to do something that has never been done before. Tibetan Buddhism is so hide-bound, even my own beloved teacher is guilty of discrimination. With great foresight and compassion, he chartered what's become a thriving nunnery with its own separate three-year retreat center (graduation from that makes a male a lama) and shedra or five-year intensive study program. Five years ago, Rinpoche even let the nuns sit for the entrance exam to the great Buddhist university in the holy city of Varanasi where a specific number of admission slots is allotted to each branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The women earned more than 50% of ours. Nine nuns were sent for medical training and are now amchis, Tibetan doctors. But not one of Rinpoche's nuns has ever been fully ordained as a bonafide monastic in the Buddha's sangha. 

Western nuns have become the untouchable caste of Tibetan Buddhism. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo has had to turn away many who wanted to become nuns because Western women who want to devote themselves to Dharma as nuns can't even think about doing that without a fat bank account to pay for their food, lodging, studies and future of no income. If they do dedicate themselves and their money as my friend has done, they get to spend their lives and funds in limbo and oblivion, shunting about for sanctuary, never acknowledged, accepted or advanced. As though they'd pollute the pureland. 


The situation is not this dire in non-Tibetan Buddhism. Jetsunma and the even more famous Pema Chodron got their full and final ordination outside their Tibetan lineage, seeking out Chinese Mahayana and southeast Asian Theravada masters--on the advice of their Tibetan gurus no less. Tibetan rinpoches remind Western nuns they still have those options. My friend, who is getting on in years and thus has reason to be impatient, will go to Taiwan for the two-month full ordination program the next time it is offered. "What else can I do?" she said. "Rinpoche told me to go to China, but I don't want to be ordained by some mainland Chinese. It's sad enough you can't take your vows with the Rinpoche you've been devoted to the way a monk can. This is not the Buddha's teaching!"


She is right. This is not the Buddha's teaching. Dharma, with deliberate emphasis on the unity and equality of ALL sentient beings, was supposed to be the antidote to the poisonous caste system. With prompting from the loyal Ananda, the Buddha stopped discriminating, embraced the devotion of his step-mother and ordained her as the first Buddhist nun. Other women then entered his sangha the same way. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo-- an iconoclast of infinite determination--has managed to find an image of the first Buddhist nun and enshrined it at her own new and growing nunnery outside Dharamsala, India. My friend wants to make thousands of photo copies to pass out at the huge annual Tibetan prayer services, the monlams, now convened annually around the globe. The next one is Vancouver BC end of August, presided over by our beloved teacher. "I am going to put this in their faces. I am going to show Rinpoche and ask him why he is waiting, why he is not following the Buddha's example."

It's cultural, more Tibetan than Buddhist. The great voices of virtue that sometimes swallow meat can't swallow equality for women...ostensibly because they believe their job is to pass tradition on exactly as they received it--pure and unpolluted by changing worldly concerns. Since there were never any Western women in Tibet begging to be nuns, they can disregard and discount them now. The way none of us can smell our own bad breath if we have it, these men don't smell their own hypocrisy. Equality for female monastics, like meat eating, is the huge blind spot in the vehicles on the Bodhisattva path and it's causing life-threatening collisions. 

The saddest part is that these so-called great cavaliers of compassion and wisdom, the Karmapas, were knowingly empowered and launched by women, the dakinis to whom they owe their power. In fact the entire Tibetan Dharma and its sibling the Mahayana that is the foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama rests on the prowess of the great Prajnaparamita: wisdom --always and ever portrayed as the great goddess. One stream of the Kagyu lineage to which my friend and I belong was launched by the accomplished Sukhasiddhi. Guru Rinpoche needed Yeshe Tsogyal to advance and protect his teachings. The powerful and precious Tibetan Buddhist practices of Chod, Red Chenrezig and Tara were all created and bestowed by women. And it is not for nothing that the entire Kagyu lineage wakes up every morning and starts the day with prayers to Mother Tara. 

Women have innate power that men must struggle to attain. So shots are still being fired in the battle of the sexes, an unending civil war, even in places that proclaim peace and by men who proclaim compassion for all sentient beings. They are as stuck in samsara as the rest of us.















~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hanging On


I have lost a lot of time these past few weeks slavishly working in the kitchen. I've filled so many jars with pickled asparagus, rhubarb date chutney, apricot jam and peach jam, I've run out of space to store them.  I've got rhubarb pie in the freezer. It's about to be joined by a chard/spinach pie. Another jam session in a minute: strawberries. I am such a pig I nabbed two extra luscious pints from the local farm.  I can't let go.

I have been making jam for 45 years and pickling for 35. It's become a habit, a reflexive response to summer. I started when there was no fresh food supply in winters of the frozen north, but my life changed since then. I get all the fresh food a body needs in January from local farms in California. Yet I still rush to preserve.

Nowadays I end up giving most of the jars away as gifts. There are actually folks who wait for them, expect them, can't get enough of them. They got me thinking I was slaving away for others--and the glory of their praises. It's nice to be wanted.

I do a lot less than I used to. I have learned the hard way. Decades ago famed salmon still swam into the Kennebec River of Maine and everyone flooded the fish markets to get it for July 4. It was then or never because the Kennebec salmon only swam up to spawn for two weeks. That was that. Two weeks was no time at all for such delicious fare, so I got attached to the idea of eating it. I decided I would save salmon. I researched, asked and tried for years to freeze it in such a way that it would taste like fresh fish but not even freezing it in a block of salt water as some experts advised made defrosted salmon taste good. Fresh Kennebec two week salmon would not let me hang on. 

Then there were those little cold water shrimp that ran up the Maine coast every January filling boats up to the knees of the crew. You could buy pounds of them for nothing and you knew they'd make great shrimp salad in July if only you could hang on to them. I remember a lot of snowy night discussions about whether it was best to freeze the shrimp cooked or raw, with or without shells, in salt water or dry, because no method gave them the succulence of freshness. An Indian friend finally resolved this dilemma for me. "When they come into season," she said, "I eat as many as I can every day that I can until I am so full and sick or them, I don't want to see them for another year."

Now suddenly with a bizarre Eureka! I look at all these jars crowding my counter and closet and see what I have been doing all these years: still not letting go like that. The Buddha said impermanence (aka change) was the ultimate cause of all suffering and pain. Samsara is our continually repeated (aka habitual) effort to stop it, to attach and hang on to what's merely passing by.  After decades on the meditation cushion, I discover the kitchen is the place where you can actually get it. Seasonal local eating, that's the mantra of impermanence right there. Waxing ecstatic about fresh strawberry rhubarb pie in June-- such a long wait!, eyes lighting up at a pile of Georgia peaches or Jersey tomatoes--yes again! Phew!, gorging on corn fresh from the nearby farm and never again until its fresh from the farm again next year, that's the practice. Impermanence doesn't get any clearer than this. Especially when you so easily see yourself trying to hang on.


~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Nepal Horror Update


 A private truck piled with tents, tarps, blankets and food donated by private citizens was ambushed and commandeered on its way to Dohkala, one of the most devastated and hardest to reach areas, by non other than the local government agents, claiming the villagers ahead didn't need the stuff so they were going to keep it.   This fits in with the traditional pattern of denying the existence of the mountain people and thus denying them all goods and services.

Tents, tarps, blankets and medical supplies being flown in by private groups and citizens around the world are now sitting still in the cargo hold of the Kathmandu airport where local government officials are demanding a 46% import duty on everything. right now, our school has over 100 kids sleeping under leaky tarps, needing those tents.

It is very hard as a Buddhist to have respect for those who have NO respect for others' lives. I really do wish someone would pile the entire government and its venal bureaucracy into the path of the next oncoming landslide so the Nepali people could be freed of such abominably needless suffering.


~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
http://www.sandygarson.com
http://yoursinthedharma.blogspot.com/

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