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.

Monday, August 03, 2009


I live near land’s end of a narrow ocean inlet whose swift moving, salt water tide caused 17th Century settlers to name it a river. I call it a magical place to meditate. Ten feet of tide rolls in, then pulls back, sloshing up and down between evergreen granite as Earth rocks and rolls through space. Fish jump, seals swim, the great blue heron stalks the shallows and the bald eagle surveys from dead trees. Forty Canada geese paddled by in a perfect, graceful line last week and a surprised fisherman pulled up three striped bass. Something is always going on, yet nothing is really happening. The river just keeps on rolling.

Sometimes in the fresh of morning, the surface is so absolutely still and glassy, it becomes a perfect mirror of every last detail in the surround. The colors are so vivid both ways, it is hard to tell which image is real, which only the reflection on a calm, spacious surface. It embraces everything without cropping or air brush, welcoming with dignity whatever happens to be there. It does the same on a clear night, so glossily reflecting moonlight, it's hard to believe the white orb is up in the sky and not right here where I can touch it. That's the perfect Mahamudra metaphor: a water moon, isn't it?

Sometimes I jump in and splash around, hanging off a noodle to straighten out my back. Others seriously swim their laps for concerted exercise. Kayaks slide by, fishermen ever so slowly troll, sailboats glide on the wind and guys with beer cans in their hand and hunting dogs on the bow blast down the river vroming like a motorcycle gang. Just as it reflects everything in the surround, the flowing peacefully water accommodates everyone who chooses to approach it, one for all and all for this one, never a complaint. This is how Rinpoche describes the Dharmakaya.

A slight breeze can stir up ripples that distort its mirror images, hiding or making still things seems to move. I think of these as discursive thoughts robbing mind of clarity. The crew teams from the local college row by in the early morning, silent in synchronicity disturbing nothing. They float by without a trace like thoughts you don’t attach to. I think of the fish that jump to the surface in search of a fly as ideas hoping to be caught, and remember that fish die once they are.

There is a NO WAKE buoy bobbing just above my dock, but motorboats speed by noisily churning up huge splishsplash wake that makes it rock and roll in frenzy. The powerboats heedlessly roil up the river so that it slaps against everything in rage, unseating the ducks, annoying the gulls, slopping salt across the shore. Nothing is reflected in the churlishness, nothing can be seen except the offending vessel slamming by. That is emotion, I tell myself. Can it be any clearer than this?

The ancient cormorant balances on the ball of a sailboat mooring and flaps its black wings to dry out before diving back into the sea. That's post-meditation time.

The stripers swim hundreds of ocean miles to get in here and lobsters crawl a few from the cold. The great blue herons and ospreys will fly thousands of miles to warmer winters but return on spring's cue just the way the water returns every six hours and twenty five minutes. Maybe it comes from the Pacific or the Mediterranean the way the tuna do. It's all interconnected, interdependent, a giant absolute unbarred whole. But the early settlers saw only the relative reality of what looked to their eyes like a little river. We close space and get stuck in ourselves that way.

The water is always there, so solid you can count on it. You can say still the river, yes still, but it keeps on moving. Every six hours and twenty-five minutes ten to twelve feet of water pour in or pull out, adding and subtracting to it. The flow looks like the same river but it is different every instant, high from rainwater, dirty from pollen, full of fish or empty, glassy smooth or raging with swells, tide moving one way or the other. Millions of molecules of water shift and shine in the light and move on, never stopping for a second. There is absolutely nothing to grab on to or hold. It flows too swiftly to be stopped. Yet for all the impermanence, the river is still there, a continuum. Ah, I tell myself, maybe this is what Rinpoche means, what the Dharma is trying to tell me. Maybe I can get it. Svaha!

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

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