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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Truth of NOT Suffering

I have been writing for the past few months about the way deity practice fills my world with friendly company so I never feel alone. The hard won Dharma revelation that the universe does care has become the utmost comfort in an increasingly bleak and chilling world. Of course that's why millenniums ahead of me humans invented God and then inflated Mary. It's why Topper had a friendly ghost and Walter Mitty his daydreams. Most of us feel orphaned, even abandoned, in a seemingly unfair universe that doesn't frankly give a damn.

The Dharma is one way to understand that the universe actually does give a toot. The positive giving energy I put out has been coming back to be as blessings: no hurricane damage, no obstacles in my work, good health. It is constantly reminding me I am part of something larger, much larger, than myself--that I am connected to a vast whole, a player in a cosmic game. That's religio for you, the tying or linking back of my thread into the whole cloth.

But the more common classic response of our society, adapted with a vengeance by settlers of its new world, has been to not give a damn back at a universe we don't think cares a hoot, and in a huge fit of sour grapes smash it all to smithereens. Disregarding the real, the natural, world, often attacking it as the enemy to conquer it and bend it to our will, not letting sleeping dogs lie is the story of our culture, at least all the tampering and manipulation that passes for it. You know the motto: "Living well is the best revenge."

Taking over the whole creation and putting yourself in charge is even better. Here's the ultimate vindication of sour grapes. Thus the rush to clone life, air condition space, fly to the moon to put footprints on it. Now these same "scientific" people who believe only in their own power of engineering feel so in control of the world, they easily shed a childish belief in something or body watching over like a nanny, umpire or guard dog. there is nothing bigger or more important--no other player-- but them.

Jonathan Franzen recently wrote with astonishing eloquence about the whole 20-40 generation addicted to computers, smart phones and IPads for the powerful feeling they give of being totally in charge. You can order up anything you want, when you want, how you want. You can be out there pulling strings and rank while you hide behind the screen like Oz. There's no risk, no chance you have to accommodate anybody else. It's just your ego blazing and reinforcing its armor. Computers are a control freak's wet dream. The whole world is Burger King, dished up their way. Even if it is virtual and not exactly real, which begs the new question of what is real?

What and where is the real world?

I belong to the first generation that technological gimmickry like airplanes and television pushed across a dividing line from the past, leaving a gap in view of a real world between me and my elders. Since the 60s, kings of commerce have made hay exploiting all the newer batches of young people who come into being with newer assumptions and expectations of reality, forged by newer and newer gadgets and conveniences. Originally "The Gap" meant not your parents' clothes. Then we moved on to "Not your father's Oldsmobile!" "Not your mother's jeans!" And now that I from the 60s am in my 60s, I find myself flung to the dark side not of a gap, but an abyss, looking back at a not brave new world. The solar system has been replaced by solipsism.

Every day I find myself facing human beings infantile enough to actually believe with every ounce of their well fortified ego that the world is supposed infallibly to meet all their expectations and needs. What they are entitled as a birthright is not to be inconvenienced, apologetic, helpless, at risk or wrong for even a nanosecond. In their not brave new world, there is no fret, only Frette. These beings don't have to suffer for a second, least of all us fools who still think we must accommodate ourselves to circumstances, and develop patience, flexibility, grace under pressure. Their fitness training is just for abs and quads, never mind or spirit. That's why one woman in a condominium building I manage spent the entire ten minutes the power was off and the fobs weren't opening the building door screaming at me on the phone while running to a locksmith to get a real key. By the time she got back everything was working fine. But she didn't feel it incumbent on her to just wait a minute.

Along with the idea that we have to adapt ourselves to reality and not adapt reality to our selves, they've thrown out history, literature and all artistic pursuits of ideals and ideas. It's so much easier to start with your own clean slate than have to fit into a going concern. Not all that long ago hot news was that clergymen were being coolly booted from their pulpits for giving sermons admonishing uncharitable, and immoral greedy behavior instead of praising the wealth driven lives of their listeners. These kings of the universe whose community gating is a firewall want to hear only what they want to hear . Their entitlement to have the world go only their way or no way, to get what they want, is the cancer what's corroded our politics and society.

Having thrown out the past and everybody else who may be present, they can't learn from anything so here we go again.... So many educated pundits and policymakers seem to have botoxed brains that prevent them from thinking on their feet, for being responsible for the consequences of what they say and do. They're rather like all the speed boaters who fly by my dock blithely ignoring the NO WAKE sign and the repercussions of the roiling they create as they go smoothly along.

A year ago I was disturbed to learn that my friend's daughter's newborn son had been a total designer baby, conceived and delivered to meet her personal desires: a light haired boy made in a petrie dish and born by appointment. Last week I read in the New York Times about people of this same generation deciding to abort one twin so they didn't have to deal with two children at once. I suppose they got the idea from all the genetic mutilation going on to make fish and poultry the way we want to see it on our dinner plate: fat breasted turkeys that can't stand up, salmon with foreign features, cows that produce more milk than anybody needs.

The buzz word of the last years has been "risk management." Everybody seems to be into hedging for that. There are even internet sites for handpicking your college roommate instead of having to live with the luck of the draw. Every consumer product including medicine--which has become a corporate consumer profit center for things like smoother skin, shinier teeth, less fat deposits, everything HD television perfect-- is geared to putting the whole world under your thumb, conveniently. Like. No spontaneity, no randomness. Like. No frets, no bad bets. Like. No wrinkles, no aging, no girl baby if you want a boy. Like. No surprises, no risks, no detours or wrong turns. Like. Like. Like. Next up is no death.

This a no growth world in which all the don't likes and others disappear. Or maybe are just computered, not papered any more, over. We say in the Dharma hope is about getting what you want and fear is for getting what you don't want. So this new breed of beings live in a virtual paradise without the risk of fear and not much need any more for hope. But as the Buddha warned us, even his princely palace of earthly delights wasn't fool proof. Suffering will inevitably intrude: sickness, old age, death or change. Spontaneity strikes. An earthquake, a tsunami, a bloody riot, a nasty terrorist bomb, a steak with salmonella.

Those of us who acknowledge being part of a larger whole set a place for the stranger at our Seder table, leave cookies out for Santa when he comes down the chimney, drive in the right lane when we're not passing and put bird food out in winter. We hold the door for the person behind us too instead of letting it slam in their face.

Shantideva says the only joy in the world comes from helping others, which is to say, recognizing more needs than your own. I say, after six and a half decades trying to get it right, there is much to be praised for facing fear and surmounting it, more survival skill to be gained from learning to accommodate others and the wider world itself. That's why these myopically manipulative subhumans keep bringing back to my mind what my grandmother used to holler at me across our generation gap: Educated you are but smart you're not.

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

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

A year of magical linking

My friend Nancy's five-year-old granddaughter came to a picnic party last weekend in a pink ballerina dress with wings. With long blond hair and extreme height for her age, she looked like a cross between a cotton candy butterfly and a tooth fairy. "It's so wonderful," my friend whispered to me, "she still believes in fairies and magic. She's so happy." Indeed she was, running back and forth between our picnic table and the shoreline to feed the screeching, clamoring gulls--as though this was something amazingly precious and special.

Actually, I thought it was. One of the most precious gifts the Dharma has given me is a radical change in perception. Sometime back I seem to have had some sort of sight surgery that implanted a wide-angle lens in rose colored glasses. Everything these days feels enchanted, not the usual normal ho hum. Dharma teachers call seeing through the ordinary with the third eye "pure perception." Having it means seeing everything as pure and perfect, everything as a manifestation of powerful, positive deities come to coach you. Pure perception is being that five-year-old in the pink fairy dress with wings and believing there's magic all around you.

And so for me those squawking, grubbing gulls were a bevy of protecting goddesses come to surround that lanky child. Birds are supposed to be dakini energy. The 16th Karmapa, Rigpa Dorje, collected birds and built an extensive aviary at his monastery in exile, to keep close at hand in that foreign land the protection and affection of the wisdom deities. (BTW: Wisdom is feminine in every culture and grammar group.)

Having heard this about a year ago, and having it confirmed to me privately by my own teacher, I began to view the single seagull who constantly uses the top of my dock portal as a sentry post and the adjacent ledge as its personal picnic table, (its totally covered now in broken clam and mussel shells) as a goddess assigned to watch over me. Not only has this made the permanent presence of that noisy, dirty bird less annoying, but the gull has come to seem majestic. Spotting the special creature on its lookout day after day makes me keenly aware that this bird only caws its loud, cacophonous message when I am somewhere in range. What do you make of that?

If you find my vision/version ridiculous, what can you say about this? Last week, I did some physical therapy for my knee in the water off my dock. At that moment most of the world was mired up to its eyeballs in man-made misery, I was feeling so happy, so utterly blessed to be swimming in the salt sea under a sunny sky that I started chanting a mantra supposed to symbolize dakinis swooping and fluttering joyfully around as they pour down blessings. The third time I repeated it, treading water with a noodle, out of nowhere a flock of wild turkeys suddenly came right over my head going from one side of the channel to the other. I had never seen them here. Where did they come from all of a sudden? I had never seen turkeys flying in formation over the water. What made them do it at that late afternoon moment when nothing threatened them? I never had any birds come flying that close to me. I could almost touch them.

Three days ago, I took a little walk to the end of the dirt road that goes past my house and on my way back, a large black lab came bounding out of nowhere, heading toward me. I couldn't tell if it was friendly, fearful or figuring to attack. I stopped short and sucked my breath. And then it came to me that here at the appointed mid afternoon hour, 4 PM to be precise, when monasteries make offerings to their protectors, a huge black being had manifested out of nowhere. "Om Mahakala," I said, and continued with the mini mantra: "Mahakala yaksha betali hung tza..." The lab stopped dead in its tracks. Its ears perked up. It stared benignly at me, dropped its tail and stood listening--as if it knew exactly what I was singing. It cocked its head. "Om Mahakala..." the big black protector. The dog turned and galloped away.

The late Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, laughing at his students: "The universe is raining blessings all over you and you have your umbrella up!" Pure perception is taking it down-- and throwing open the shudders. (sic)

~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