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, July 31, 2011

Over Easy

I had small surgery last week and that's actually a big thing to say because I subscribe to that old saw that minor surgery is what's performed on everybody else, major surgery is what happens to you. Because I'm something of a medical virgin whose only encounters with the hospital system were long ago brutal battles over inhuman machinery and procedures being used on dying friends and relatives, I was apprehensive to say the least. But now that it's safely past me, there's no way I can claim it was a big deal.

Partly, I'm sure this is because it happened in a small town hospital where everybody is kind and humane and seemingly happy to help. Twenty minutes after I came to, a gentleman volunteer was asking me what I wanted in my coffee and if I wanted a blueberry or cranberry homemade muffin. Twenty minutes before I went under, a male nurse sauntered by and told me he'd had his knee repaired twice. It was a piece of cake, I shouldn't worry.

Actually, I was working very hard on not worrying when I walked into that hospital at 6 AM. I was working hard to be very cheerful, maintaining my best "going to a party" attitude. I was doing that by imagining that I was walking in escorted by caring parents: my guru Thrangu Rinpoche and my protector White Tara. I was muttering mantras. Everything felt very bright and joyful.

The young nurse was cheerful herself at that hour in the morning as I surrendered my clothes and my body. I don't know how we got there within three minutes of personal conversation about her kids and my house but I told her I was doing prayers to the Medicine Buddha and she told me she needed to know more about that because her husband was always telling her she was some kind of self-propelled, self-controlled being who didn't need any outside help, like from God or something. She wanted to know if that made her Buddhist.

I described for her the Medicine Buddha who I was then trying to imagine sitting on my knee pouring his blue light into it. I didn't tell her I was also trying to imagine thousands of mini Medicine Buddhas dancing all around him up and down my right leg. But I was. The glaring white lights of that pre-op room were like disco globes and those little Buddhas were joyously bouncing all over my knee and leg in big swells of blue. I did not feel in any way alone.

Then came that IV drip and I switched to Vajrasattva, drip by drip his white ambrosia purifying my body with each of the syllables in his 100 syllable mantra. Pure and perfect as it is, my body. "The gang's all here," I thought as I was wheeled away into brighter light. "Nothing is going to happen to me. Nothing happens ...nothing happens...nothing happens...."

I woke up as easily and even more fresh than from a sleep or nap. I had no pain, no feeling abnormal in any way. It took a moment to remember because everything had happened so fast. I was out before I knew it and up before I knew it. I was under the surgical knife at 7:30 and drinking coffee with a blueberry muffin at 9:15. I walked to the toilet without help. Everyone had been so kind and smiley. The experience was a joy.

Two weeks before, when I asked him what to do under anesthesia, Rinpoche told me to watch my mind. I really had wanted to do that in the most Mahamudra way, but I went under so fast I don't think I had the chance. Or maybe I was doing it all along?

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

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Friday, July 15, 2011

A Site for Sore Eyes

A line in the prayer I am supposed to chant at the outset of meditation practice says: Let me realize that samsara and nirvana are inseparable, and I got to realize that last week. I mean the whole week, because I spent it at my teacher's monastery, living in the company of monks and laypeople devoted to them and the Dharma they represent.

It was a terrible week of nightmare news, samsara on steroids. Syrians being shot dead by their own soldiers just for walking in the streets, Libyans tearing themselves apart, Africans starving or being scorched to death by tyrants, Russian children drowning in a decrepit boat, and of course more of all the evil that men do in Washington DC., this time hurling the nation through the debt ceiling to doom because they can't stand the idea of sharing.

And yet I watched people share the love and give peace a chance. The monastery monks were essentially Tibetan and the laypeople fussing all over them in perpetual motion with food and tea were, for the most part, Chinese. So I had to keep in mind their very palpable pride of purpose vividly contrasted with the bloodlust of Beijing for the total eradication of Tibet. I had to keep in mind that Mao's cultural revolution and the mass gold rush of the last decade were built over the Middle Kingdom's buried history as a Buddhist nation. Such a faithful nation, I was told that newly affluent Mainland Chinese are now making a pilgrimage to this Tibetan monastery to pay homage because there aren't that many being built fast enough over there for them. They want to be part of something beyond collecting money. How's that for the double samsara/nirvana standard.

It was the week of Canada Day and July 4th, both celebrations of New World nationhood. But that isn't much to celebrate anymore because nations are communities, a sharing of place and time and wealth, and childish, noisy bullies in our place and time don't want to share anything, thank you. Mine, mine, mine. All private, no public. And here you have it: America has no money for schools, firemen, national parks or seniors without a golden parachute but in a matter of moments $86 million manifested for one team in the color war we call Presidential Elections.

My iPhone was the bearer of despair but my eyes were the bringer of joy as everyday about 100 of us of all colors and cultures sat together to pray that everyone soon finds themselves in Dewachen, the vast paradise of no pain. People helped each other find seats, get prayer books, get a ride to a cup of coffee. They shared computers. Someone organized a discussion group to help the bewildered. Twenty Canadians showed up one morning with croissants, omelets and real coffee. Several people made themselves readily available to help the 94-year-old get around; I saw two people give up their chair to someone whose disability seemed greater. One woman, with a pronounced French accent, worked indefatigably, despite her 62 years, from 8 am to 10pm mopping floors, watering trees, tilling soil for vegetables, serving lunch and brewing tea. And like the equally challenged monks, never lost her bright smile or sense of humor.

One night after evening practice, a well dressed young woman tapped my shoulder and asked if I came to this place often. I don't know why she selected me, I truly don't, to tell her about the Buddha represented by the sky-high brass statue that is the glittering focal point of the place. She wanted to know about meditation and how it came to me. By the time I finished my story, the room had emptied out except for the energetic Chinese shutting down the webcam and audio systems, watering the flowers and packing up the prayer books. She beckoned a man with a small child.

"We are desperate," she explained, "because our daughter suffered very serious burns to her arm and she cannot recover. She is always in pain and her body is shutting down. I know the woman who comes here every night to cook dinner for the monks and she suggested I bring my daughter to see if somebody here could help. We just met the most beautiful man who gave her a blessing (that was Rinpoche, who also gave her--I could see--an amulet) and since she saw him, she's stopped crying. Maybe my friend is right: this is a place for healing."

I sat with this woman and her daughter for a few minutes more, encouraging her to return and also to stay in touch with me. She gave me her card: she has an MBA and is an entrepreneur. The next morning amid all the nightmarish news on my internet app, I saw an email from her. "After returning home from the temple, my daughter slept very well (she hasn't slept through the night in months!) and she was extremely happy today. This turnaround has really prompted me to want to find out more."

I went downstairs and found that volunteer breakfast of croissants and coffee. Life can't get much better than this, I told myself, even if it's confined to a monastery. But that of course is the point of the monastery, the challenge if you will. To carry the beauty of meditation into the mess of post-meditation and transform it from samsara into nirvana.

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

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Click here to request Sandy Garson for reprint permission.
Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy GarsonAll rights Reserved