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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I used to think the most people had to give up to take Dharma seriously was their hair, that all they needed was the courage--which I didn’t have--to transcend bad hair days and move on to no hair days. But the sneaky cosmos just set me up to see that taking refuge in the three jewels, and faithfully bringing everything onto the path, is actually total liquidation, a mirage sale that drapes a huge banner over your life screaming: Everything must go!

…the dharma called Profound Illumination

It really does seem to mean everything, no holds barred. That message came last week by priority male. With Fall, the dying season, in full swing, Dharma deities boomeranged Great Love out of the blue back at me, where, in his changed and pathetic state, he melted like Oz the great and terrible, right before my eyes. My most cherished delusions, so tightly clutched in the name of love, started withering and dropping as if they were those flamboyant leaves now falling from New England’s trees.

Form is emptiness.

The spooky cosmic touch was his phoning me after almost two years of silence to say he was three blocks away and needed not only a place to stay but a “dose of Sandy.” At that moment, I was lying in bed with a hot compress over my red and swollen right eye, struggling to figure out what I had a dose of. Pink eye? A sty? What imbalance had brought on this ailment? In Dharma parlance, what was I not seeing correctly?

Emptiness is form.

The unexpected confluence of my questions and his call, that voila! Ecce uomo!, made me tell him he could have the guest room. Because we originally met at the dharma class of an extremely wrathful teacher, and, frankly, went bonkers for each other bigger time than either of us had for anybody in our rather long runs up to that moment, I always suspected deep down in my heart of hearts that Great Love would prove to some sort of set-up. He was too good to be true. So I never got past feeling he was a teaching tool, a stealth bomb designed to blow up samsara and leave me gasping for enlightenment. That attitude at least kept the unfolding of our sorry mess within the Dzogchen view that the world is pure and perfect as it is,

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. (Gone beyond.)

It was also the only way to explain that from the get-go, I was an avid spectator of my own samsaric show, dismayingly conscious of all the gross and subtle behavior Great Love released in me. Like a young friend who said of her fiancé: “I like spending time with him more than anybody else,” I craved his company-- so desperately, I created events to capture it. I longed to hear him talk to relish his extraordinary power of observation. I marveled at his creative achievements and yearned to run my fingers through his thick hair. With delusions of candor, I waited for phone calls, plotted to meet him, panicked over my appearance when I did, and generally lived on an emotional see saw. I was deeper into the muck, the messy shebang of love than I had ever done when I was young because someone with ties to New England, who looked that good at our age, and could say of the seven-line prayer to Guru Rinpoche, “It’s a love song to enlightened energy” was a wonder of the world. I wanted his magic to light up my life. I had it bad, as the song sings, and that ain’t good. At least in the Dharma.

Form does not differ from emptiness.

My teacher has said there is nothing wrong with love per se, and I’d second that, especially now when I am trying very hard to convince a terrified goddaughter not to run from what can be the most precious and glorious mortal experience, sharing life intimately with another human being. A handsome, professionally successful man who seems quite polite and very compatible has been slowly making subtle advances she’s trying to ignore on the principle that everything in samsara is doomed to end badly. Yes, but you might as well thrill to the sublime stuff before it does. Just because we are all going to die doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't eat dinner. What my teacher would say goes wrong, what makes for trouble, as I keep telling my goddaughter, is the attachment to that sublime stuff, that fierce holding on to the loved one for dear life. When you get that bad habit, samsara really spins.

Emptiness does not differ from form.

I got addicted to the euphoria. Great Love turned out to be absolutely everything I had ever hoped to find in a male, the soul of compatibility manifested at long last, the man who validated the pickiness of my endless quest with all its pit stops and way stations of disappointment. That was awesome. His existence in my world unleashed such an intense and immense joy, I felt light enough to levitate. I turned into a cheerleader who could not stop smiling, singing giddily in the shower, and dancing wildly around my apartment. I loved feeling that high. I loved the man who made me feel that way. Inevitably the two loves conflated into one very magnetic attachment to incredible joy. I was hooked on sustaining all that glamorous, rare froth.

Om mani padme hung.

I wore joy like blinders and clutched it fiercely like a tow rope to slalom over some really big waves that threatened to upend me. One of them was that there really wasn’t much joy in the actual relationship. I just kept seeing its chimera, its potential, the way we are supposed to never lose sight of Buddha nature, which is usually compared to the golden butter that can be churned out of ordinary milk. Women are like this: we’re wired to make something of a fetus, to work stubbornly at turning potential into reality.

Likewise feelings, recognitions, volitions and consciousnesses are empty.

I was foolishly trying to get there from here when the cosmic trickster kicked in with the sick joke. The dazzling appearance of the man of my dreams had been dangled before me. It blinded and stunned me. It also lured forth all my hopes, longings and illusions. Once they were exposed, spurting like a fountain, they went right down the drain because there was nobody there out there in reality to catch them. My feelings and thoughts were all going nowhere except back at me in a big, stinging splash because I was in love with a profoundly dysfunctional narcissist, a man unable to relate to any other human being, even when he tried. He could awkwardly blurt “I love you” or “I don’t want to lose you” but he wouldn’t do anything about it. He was too petrified.

All phenomena are Emptiness, without characteristics; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled and not immaculate, not deficient and not complete.

I think if I hadn’t had the dharma for refuge, I’d still be swinging from trees, howling in the wind. I hurt that much. And I had a lot of anger at the universe for toying with me this way. Really, what could have been more moronic oxymoronic than a narcissistic Buddhist? But down at rock bottom, I had mind training time to drive all blames into my own craving for attachment, my own selfish desire to sustain joy, my own delusion. Dharma told me to take responsibility for myself. The appearance I was attracted to was a hallucination created by my imagination, colored by my hopes. With unspeakable sorrow and six months of serious depression that was probably a synonym for mourning, I let it go. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

because there is no attainment, Bodhisattvas abide relying on the Perfection of Wisdom,

My great aunt rightly observed many years ago that I was very much like her. “When you finally choose to love someone, you love them stubbornly forever.” Sadly, my clingy karma doesn't much allow for plan B.


So there I was with an eye patch on and there he was coming through my front door. My heart did not levitate or pound. For one thing, he looked like the wreck of the Hesperus, which was not at all attractive. For another, I had already calculated that I was nothing more than a momentary convenience, the closest possible crash pad to the big headline gig the narcissist had the next day. But most importantly, in the weeks leading up to this, I had been trying to practice what I’d recently heard two teachers call superior meditation: walking in the world with equanimity, which essentially is trying to be a warrior fearless in the face of whatever strikes. I had a sneaking suspicion this visit was going to be some sort of test.

Whatever on my Scorpio side wanted to hurt this man for killing me was neatly ambushed by the memory of how many times my goddaughter and my “heart son” insisted I needed to have compassion for his tortured soul. I offered tea. While we drank it, he made chit chat, telling me how much Dharma he’d studied of late including healing practices. He was really proud of learning how to heal. Then he stood up and announced he had to go to a party to catch some old friends who’d come to town, and true to habit, went off on his own without bothering to invite me.

The next morning, over tea at the kitchen table, he carried on about his studies of the 37 ways to be a Bodhisattva, carefully enumerating all the nuances he was discovering, until I wearily interrupted. “Why can’t you go home, where you live?” That’s when I found out this man who I’d loved more than life itself, this expert on the 37 ways to be a saint, this healer had found who knows how many ways to harm a passel of people, most of them women and children. He was actually in trouble. “My life has turned into the songs I sing,” he said cavalierly.

The conversation went from bad to horrifying, as it came out that in a drinking moment he had hit one woman who called the police to put him in jail, impregnated a younger one and never told anyone about that baby, to whom he didn't feel much connection anyway. All he cared about was how this trouble he was in was affecting his ability to keep on keeping on, and how he was going to maneuver the women he’d hurt into helping him get out of it, so he could. I fought to keep emotion off my face as I watched his narcissism blaze like a rampant wildfire stoked by Santa Ana winds. I tried not to show how loudly I was crying inside. The love of my life was a monster, a man who reeled from place to place hurting people and leaving them to deal with it. Unable to connect his own dots to feel shame, he was—even worse-- an atrocious demon perverting Dharma. Whether the sobs I was swallowing to conceal were joy or sorrow or sorrowful joy or joyful sorrow, I still don’t know. I just know that by getting out of the way when I did even though I really didn’t want to, I had been saved from enormous suffering.

Since there is no deceptionBodhisattvas abide relying on the Perfection of Wisdom, without obscurations of thought, and so have no fear.

The universe really does have exquisite, comic timing. I very much needed to bury this dead, maggot-covered relationship, so I reached for Verdi’s Requiem. It’s uniquely the RIP filled with the angry pounding of timpani because Verdi was mad as hell when death took his best friend away. His thundering rage can be cathartic. The timpani were in fact booming forth their most triumphal explosion of anger with trumpets blaring to agree when Great Love walked in. He sat down and said: “I’m so tired, but I need to talk about us.” The young Luciano Pavarotti was singing in his heart-wrenching tremolo: “…spare the supplicant…” when I said simply: “It was the joy. I never knew anybody who felt so exactly like my soul mate and that…”

“… unleashed astounding joy that made you feel…” and with those amazing powers of observation, he described in detail the euphoria he felt from me, as exactly what I felt from him.

…in Emptiness there is no form, no feeling, no recognition, no volitions, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no visible form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no tangibles, no thought…and so forth,

He was up early the next morning, pacing the kitchen, preparing for his day in court. I made my coffee and handed him a cup of tea. “You’re so kind,” he said. “All 37 ways to be a Bodhisattva rolled into one,” I said, and disappeared into my room, closing the door. I kept it closed until I heard him leave. I had been spared who knows how much pain. That was the guru’s blessing, and a big one to boot. It didn’t feel beautiful but I know it was meant to be. Evidently, blessings can be painful, just as not getting what you want can sometimes turn out to be the truly happy ending to once upon a time. Going from a bad affair to no despair any day is moving toward that first Bodhisattva bhumi, which just happens to be called joy.

~Sandy Garson
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"

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