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, December 27, 2006


The first granddaughter of my oldest childhood friend officially arrived at 5:38 PM to brighten winter solstice, the occasion that gave birth to Christmas. She appeared pure and perfect, unstained as the Dharma. She had flawless feet and hands, two eyes, fat cheeks and jet black hair. That much anyone could see. Although I don’t have that third eye of wisdom--yet, I reckoned she also had her own energy and karma and certainly all her eggs to carry on this giving birth tradition.

Her entry into my life was coincidentally preceded by one of those prefab e-mails that spin around the Internet. Asked to name the world’s seven wonders, a classroom of students, after some dispute, settled on the usual suspects: China’s great wall, Egypt’s pyramids, yada yada. But, it seems, one little girl anxiously held out because she had different vision. Her seven wonders were the five senses that connect us to the world plus our sense of humor and our ability to love other beings in it. The story, spinning round at the height of the Christmas shopping frenzy, was “a gentle reminder the most precious things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by man.”

With my face pressed against the window of the hospital nursery, I stared at five of those wonders unfurling in the newborn and waited for the last two to rise again in me. This was a gentle reminder that it’s wonderful, a life. With the wave of an invisible baton, a choreography is launched. Two people merge and the energy they release magically morphs from a seed to a bud, then the red-faced newborn evolves from fetal to flower. For engineering, you can’t beat it.

I knew from my own eyes and from Dharma teachings that this baby was pure perfection, for we are all of us pure and perfect too, imbued with shining Buddha nature. It is the glory of Dharma to remind us we are every one a unique gem, a wonder of the world. Other traditions remind us too. An Episcopalian priest wrote on the holiday Op-ed page that each of us is as much an incarnation of the divine as Jesus. That’s the point of the holy story, he said. Jesus like the Buddha is a reminder of all we can be. We enter holy and stay that way and exit with the same potential, realized or not. The Buddhist analogy is that you can bury the ore in bottomless filth but you can’t destroy its innate gold.

Although Lenscrafters can whip up corrective lenses in under an hour, we don’t see ourselves as golden deities in a palatial mandala. The baby’s father, for example, will tell you he’s an engineer. Jesus, whose birthday many are celebrating, said the kingdom of God is here on Earth but most people cannot see it. I suppose for the moment they could be forgiven since Muslims from Morocco to Mindanao and power mad Christians across the American south have in his name thrown up such a thick smoke screen. But Jesus was saying: what you see is what you get. And he was only echoing what Shakyamuni Buddha said five hundred years earlier: Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable.

It’s the vision thing. The relatives and nurses couldn’t see that this newborn had evidently created such virtuous karma, so much merit, in past forms that she’d just been born to a beautiful mother and a clever father in a rich society where every advantage would be hers. They could have been celebrating her just reward, toasting the joy her good spirit could bring to lighten suffering. They could have seen her arrival in the world as the sun on solstice brink, ready to turn brighter and warmer in the sky.

They were much too busy figuring out who she looked like, all anxiously hoping for mini me. She uncorked a flow of opinion that bubbled up around her: she was going to be tall, going to have thighs, definitely going to be very smart. The walls of expectations and judgments started piling up to hem her in like the newly escaped walls of her mother’s womb. Even her name carried the burden of somebody else’s focus, having been predetermined and laid upon her by a father anxious for something lean and gender neutral, something to foster success in today’s workplace.

There she was, a clean slate, like gurus say the mind is, and already others were writing on it, staining it. When eventually she looks into a mirror, who then will she see? A pure and perfect deity, carrier of magnificent karma, or a hopeless mess who cannot get it right? Her fetal position seemed to be the question mark. There is Oy to the world and there is peace on earth, good will toward men. All is calm, all is bright or all is qualm, all is fright. We totter on the brink and fall into the arms of our own perception.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, December 25, 2006


Here, just in time for the New Year, to honor what seems an American tradition, I’m making a list. I have picked out of all the idle chatter, the infinite conversation, the whole world of communication and information, hyperbole and hypocrisy, these precious few things that seem to be worth repeating:

From my teacher, the very venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche:
“There is absolutely nothing about harm that is helpful to anyone, even the one who causes it.”

From my friend Tommy:
“I’m down here with my dysfunctional family and boy do they know how to put the fun in dysfunctional.”

From Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche:
“The Sutras say everything depends on circumstances and circumstances depend on your intention.”

From the New Yorker cartoonist Mort Gerberg:
“…if at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.”

From the reservations manager at a New York City club:
“Travel nowadays has gotten to be so exhausting, you might as well wear your pajamas and have all else waiting for you upon arrival.”

From my friend Greg:
“Wow! This puts the treat in retreat!”

From Jon Stewart riffing on identity theft on The Daily Show:
“Enjoy being you today because tomorrow somebody else will be.”

From my teacher, the very venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche:
“If you cannot for certain prove that there are not past lives and that what you are doing right now will not affect your future life, it’s probably safest to live as though it will.”

From my friend Sukanya:
“Hurry up. We’re having an emergency party.”

From my goddaugher Corena:
"Everybody needs to have someone to call them on their shit."

From Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche:
“These days the demand for peace seems to greatly exceed supply. So we should all start thinking about supply side economics.”

From Mingyur Rinpoche:
“Peace begins in your own mind.”

From all the children at my teacher’s boarding school in Kathmandu:
“Here’s to 2007! May peace and ice cream prevail!”

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Nothing is sacred in the corporate state. Certainly not our privacy, the choices we make for our personal life. Our intimate information, our financial histories, our medical records--our shoe size, our toilet paper brand--have all become commodities fed into the money maw. Now even our whereabouts are fare game. It used to be that if someone stalked you, you could get police protection. But Yahoo! lets corporations track your every move around the Internet by slapping cookies on when you ask Yahoo! for mail or weather or a map. The cost of that free service is your freedom. And it's legal.

Sometimes when I am on a wireless call, I get to hear another wireless call and wonder who else might be eavesdropping on mine. Somedays my fax machine is blitzed with spam at my expense. We live by invasive procedures. I try not to let them boggle my calm. But the following fax came, obviously by mistake. Since there is no privacy any more and nothing left sacred, and because everybody is blogging everything they can think of just to get attention, I thought I should share it. Think of it as being in the spirit of Christmas.


Dear Ben Edict:

On behalf of everyone at Malarky, Turnbull, thank you for believing we can revive the fortunes of MotherChurch FSH, and ramp up your market share in the new millenium. Although no one’s been in the virtual reality business so long as you, when Michael Jackson turns white and venerable Betty Crocker gets a facelift, we’re glad you recognize the importance of makeovers. Especially when some of your competition undercuts your concept of forever by pushing the nimbleness of Now.

Like you, we’re proud to be a full service, one‑stop shop with a dedicated host of special humans. Already the newly appointed project coordinator, Kiri Ellie Zahn, has contracted with Giorgio Armani to design stained glasses for optical boutiques doing business as The Holy See. First Vice President 2.0, Rex Treemenday, has designed a website,, which will be for the Bishoprics –a group that should begin to think about a name change.

We are however in favor of keeping the brand name on your top product. After all it’s now very much a household word. Like Kleenex, God is the generic default in its class. That is the good news. So is the fact that here is one product we can claim was not made in China. The other news is that our focus groups reveal consumers are not only in denial about behaving like herded animals. They become outraged at the mere suggestion that they do. So we’d like to replace that old concept of God as the shepherd and them as a flock with something more acceptably up to date. What do you think of this: The Lord is my personal trainer.

Now, to be frank, our marketing people have some problems with your God product. The biggest is that this God thing is designed to work 24/7, one size fits all. It seems that consumers pass God down the family line, creating an imperishable hand‑me‑down with the esteemed patina of an heirloom so venerated no one dares to de‑accession it. Comparisons are odious but dreaded nuclear elements have a half- life shorter than the 2,006 years your stuff lasts.

It is my job to tell you that today tenure in the market means perishable or perish. Look at the billions Microsoft makes re‑issuing new versions of its old product every two years because it can’t get the damned thing right. Your product, God, is so utterly devoid of planned obsolescence it doesn’t even require a battery. An item with no replacement or maintenance potential turns off market segments like mechanics, salesmen, insurers, assessors, accountants, critics, appraisers, consultants, writers of multi-choice tests, designers, retrofitters and all those nice people at Good Will.

Don’t misunderstand. We like tradition. It proves you’re not just another nouveau one‑person@ home business hiding behind a toll free 888 number. You can keep your publishing branch but you do need to update your list as you haven’t issued a book in 1800 years, and that last only a sequel. Our legal people have proposed two potential titles: Encyclicals for Dummies and Hiring a Lawyer To Defend Your Last Rites. Our media people want to capitalize on the cookbook craze with Recipes from the Last Supper: favorite foods of Judas, Jesus and the Jerusalem 12. They also think you should get in on the current craze for wines by leveraging your long history of wine tasting into a consumer website www.wafer‑ and promote it with banner ads like Got zinfandel?

This brings me to a sensitive issue. Why doesn’t a world- renowned crisis management
organization like yours have an 800 toll free hotline? Just leaving testimonial books in hotel drawers doesn’t do it when the rape people have hotlines, the suicide folks, even the IRS has been forced into phone banks. A helpline could rocket you into the lucrative support group business. Our media people have therefore gone ahead and reserved two numbers for display on public transit and late night TV: 1‑888 ‑holy cow and 1‑800 ‑ohmygod.

Think how a phone bank would optimize your Saints division: If you are calling about pest control push 1 for Patrick. If you are calling about sexual harassment push 2 for Joan. If you are calling in a veterinary crisis push 3 for Francis. To talk music push 4 for Cecelia. Husband straying again? push 5: Hey Jude!

Of course for this new campaign we cannot guarantee the longevity you’ve enjoyed with your others, particularly the one in which you advertised everlasting power. Certainly you were way ahead of that stupid bunny. But there are limits to the long view and longterm. With your competition pushing that idea of Now and other organizations promising Instant Pudding and instant gratification, we feel that asking people to wait until they die for their investment to pay off makes you user‑unfriendly. In the hurry-up society we have to work with, we urge you to sell off Hereafter, your life insurance division, and expand into debit‑driven Any Time Salvation machines dispensing Instant Forgiveness.

As for other niches to fill—emptiness, don’t forget, is the pitch of your competition-- we’re devising various Mass market angles: Hosannas—a chain of theme restaurants, naming a stadium Crucifix Park and setting up a search engine called God Knows. We’d like to launch a perfume called Eau Lord and break into the lucrative latte business with a bottled milk and honey beverage called Sweet Jesus. In the ever proliferating pack of self centered magazines, we could reposition Lent as a diet program and position you as THE pioneer of the meatless trend since you forced people to eat fish on Fridays. You were of course also creator of the fatless fad by always offering wine and crackers without the cheese. That should be a boost.

Because a seasonal carol here and there can’t compete with the year round, all‑purpose Candle in the Wind we’re negotiating with Madonna to record “Ain’t that the Gospel Truth” and with Snoop Dogg Pup to rap the catechism. You could introduce a line of black robed resort wear sold exclusively at your own chain of discount warehouse clubs: Messiah’s. And finally since the reigning world holder of blindly faithful hearts and minds, the Federal Reserve Bank of America, has made the Sabbath now the day after Sunday, we recommend you cash in by smothering all that TGIF blither with Gloria Monday.

If you like that idea we can launch it by securing you personally a spot on Oprah. After all, you are the answer to every woman’s prayer: a single CEO with a unisex wardrobe, no asset‑chasing ex‑wife and no kids to fund for college. So until my next fax, I thank you again on behalf of all of us at Malarky, Turnbull for your faith in our power to save you.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,