FAITH, HOPE AND CLARITY
Not long ago, teaching in England on what we can do to help save the Earth, my teacher Thrangu Rinpoche said: "In general, when we talk about making aspirations and prayers in Buddhism, it looks superficially like mere blind faith. You might think there is no way it could help at all. Yet if we look at it closely, it really does help. This is my own experience."
Not long after that His Eminence Dzongsar Khyentse sent a private letter thanking his students for praying for his good health because he was certain it had helped him. So I thought prayer was worth a try in a nightmarish situation that really had no other potential winning option. In the short span of one week, my computer, my publishing chance and my cousin died, this last bringing out the worst in my infamously nasty family. Those I was closest to were mourning by seething that it had not instead been me. This was déjà vu all over again, because when my mother died, my grandmother turned to the surviving sibling to shout: “It should have been you.”
Frankly, even with a working computer and a publishing contract, I would not have had any skillful means to deal with this. I did not know whether to fly 2,500 miles to face these people, exacerbating their grief and my sorrow, or stay out of the way and get dissed for being a no-show. That would have played into the hand of my deceased cousin's brother because he had a fatwa out on me for mentioning his son in a blog post, even though he was never identified. I used to joke that for every family there were two working shrinks but this bunch, clawing and gnawing at their own flesh and blood, had ventured far beyond a whole universe of them.
I walked around my apartment like a zombie until it dawned on me, since there really was nothing else to do, I could/should sit in front of my shrine, take genuine refuge in the three jewels and pray hard for help. At least I would be doing something. And it might even help my cousin through the bardo.
What to do though? There are so many deities, so many pujas and different practices, so much wisdom needed to sort them out when I am an ignoramus baffled by the difference in invoking Guru Rinpoche for accomplishment, Mahakala to remove obstacles to accomplishment, or Vajrasattva for purification of negative stuff so I can see the light. I thus just did the basic baby step thing and went for the very comforting favorite available to all comers, Chenrezig. I figured Chenrezig could never be wrong. His four arms and two all-seeing eyes soothe the suffering of the world, to make it pure and perfect like his blissful realm called Dewachen, and I was obviously suffering, my family was definitely suffering, and my cousin’s mind was probably suffering at being hurled into the strange and terrifying bardo. Besides, I really like that puja’s tune.
I spent many hours of two days sitting on my zafu singing the Dewachen pureland prayer for my cousin in the bardo, trying to forgive how outrageously rude she’d become after she got insanely rich by marriage and found me no longer good enough to associate with. I didn't even know where she lived until the day after her funeral. I banged and clapped, exhorting Mahakala to remove all obstacles to clarity so, without collision or collapse, I could navigate these circumstances to do the right thing for me and the survivors. Frankly, I didn’t want any bad karma. Mostly though, I just kept beseeching Chenrezig to be there for me because I didn’t really have anybody else. I begged for his protection from this stupidly pointless suffering. Way more times than prescribed, I sang from the depth of despair the Prayer to the All-Seeing One, especially the lines: “I pray to you, Lord of love, Chenrezig, Buddha of Great Compassion, hold me fast in your compassion.”
To my off-the-charts surprise, he did just that. Evidently, eminent and venerable Rinpoches don’t hold a monopoly on the power of prayer. It manipulated my situation amazingly too. The morning after my last supplications, I woke with the startlingly clear realization I had to go to see my cousin’s daughter, her only child, who had called wailing because I was not there. I just needed a workable travel plan.
One materialized in no time. Not the ridiculously expensive last minute ticket I feared. No. When I dared Orbitz --on a borrowed computer, first up was a cheap, conveniently nonstop round trip flight at the most perfect times. Okay, so only middle seats were available. “Cross country in the middle seat, is this not love or what?” I texted my cousin’s daughter. But the next afternoon when I checked in for the redeye, I was alerted alternate seats were available. I could have the spaciousness of the bulkhead aisle!
Of course I was in the very last boarding group, a worrisome position for someone with carry-on bags and a bulkhead seat. Yet when I reached it, the overhead bin was astonishingly empty. The latter-day Bandstand couple sitting in the row’s other two seats with their big hair and big crosses flopping across their partially bared chests had stashed their stuff on the floor by the window. They so didn’t want to part with it, I was snapping on my seat belt when they announced they were moving to an empty row further back. I could have all three seats to myself.
It kept going like that, as though Chenrezig had sent Mahakala to ride shotgun, downing any obstacle. The inbound flight was smooth and speedy, landing early. Of course that meant losing sleep, and really, what's so great about arriving at 6:13 instead of 6:48am on a Sunday morning? How about: we didn't come in late. But even at that ridiculous hour on a Sunday morning, my oldest friend gladly came to get me. And because she is now unemployed, not by choice, she had time to spend helping me get through the family visit. The weather was shining.
That day was difficult. The next was looking worse, but somehow a dear friend from Maine unexpectedly came to town. When she hung up, the family phoned to concede it "had organized" to see me for one hour. So I organized to treat my oldest friend to a birthday lunch, because now I was at hand for her milestone. I also organized a rescue plan. After our lunch, my oldest friend would take me to the family visit, then my other friend, ignoring the jaw pain that had brought her to town, would pick me up. This gave her the opportunity to discuss something she had been waiting to run by me when nobody was around.
I got through rush hour to the airport with enough time to hunt down my favorite local sandwich, corned beef on rye with Russian dressing and cole slaw. Then came the miracle of on time boarding in Philadelphia in the evening. With all this going strong, I gave up being bothered that my on-line check-in swore this time there would be no alternative to the middle seat. And then to my astonishment, by the time I was finally allowed through boarding pass Go, there was still room overhead for my coat and satchel. I tossed my sandwich onto that middle seat and as I prepared to plow in, the young woman on the aisle turned to the older woman at the window, then back to me with a slightly pained look. “We’re together,” she said nervously. “So would you mind terribly if I moved over and gave you the aisle?”
So my trust in the power of prayer to guide good karma has become much stronger, and I’m not just saying this as nice words. A few minutes ago, I got an email from the seething mourners thanking me for putting myself out to visit them. I want to thank Chenrezig who not only picks up when called, but goes to bat with immensely skillful means. He arranged for all of us in the family to do the right thing in the end, and for the mutual support of friends. He scheduled my computer's crash for the week I would need time to pray and travel. He sent me to Philadelphia after the fatwa folks had gone home, so I didn't have to deal with them. He even twice managed a last minute liberation from the suffering of a middle seat on a cross country airline flight. Is that not love or what?
I dedicate the merit.
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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