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, October 29, 2012

Hurricane P.S.

Now that power is back on for a moment, I wanted to add that I notice how we are all relating to this hurricane in very personal terms.  I, for one, am not so much waiting for a hurricane as for the loss of electricity because that's what's going to affect ME, what's going to wipe away my equanimity. So much for 25 years of practice.

I also wanted to add that this spontaneous arising called Sandy is a perfect example of impermanence.
Yesterday we were walking on a sandy beach in bright sunshine and tee shirts; today we are cowering under 60mph winds and driving rain.  Tomorrow Nature could end her tantrum and smile warmly on us again. So it goes and goes changing every minute. Just like the buddha said.

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

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A Lady in Waiting

I never in all my years imagined the climate would be messed up enough for us to get all the way to R S T in naming hurricanes. But here we are and this one, a real doozy, is named for me. So much for wanting to be remembered as special.  I am getting emails from everywhere with friends joking that they see in headlines: "Hurricane Sandy approaching!" and think I'm near their door. I am writing back: "This blowup called Sandy is what happens when I try to stay calm. That bad stuff's gotta go somewhere."

Like everybody else on the east coast, I am waiting for the hurricane to strike, waiting for the blow. It could be a double whammy for me because I am not at home to defend the fort. I'm on the island of Martha's Vineyard. It's one of those good old New England places quite used to weather, and like Maine very used to getting no sympathy from the rest of the world when it gets some. So there may be blood but there won't be headlines about it.

The hurricane is coming just when I came for tranquility  a group meditation and teaching retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche. So far, which is two days, he has given every indication he wishes he weren't here. He was downright gleeful last night at the announcement that today's teaching was cancelled and tomorrow's may also be. But last night he did say at the end of his talk, the hurricane was a good chance for us to discover rigpa: undistracted, glorious awareness.

Unfortunately, what I am discovering is how the hurricane is raising havoc among our nangwa, which Tsoknyi Rinpoche described as "our experience of things, the way we each individually experience something, anything." That certainly is in full play here, manifesting so clearly in people's perceptions of this impending hurricane. Those who live on the island keep saying it's no big deal: just some wind and rain but nothing to get bothered over because the island's only been hit by one hurricane in maybe 12-15 years. My retreat mate who has lived all over the world and currently lives in Washington DC, which is potentially in the eye of the storm, is a laissez-faire sort who doesn't feel moved to make any preparations. People who came to the retreat from the Midwest and landlocked mountain states are freaking out with alarm and panic at the news of huge storm surges at high tide. I'm filling the bathtub, tea kettle and big pots with water for that inevitable poof! moment electricity vanishes. I just know from experience that two days of hurricane force winds sooner or later will knock it out, so I have no shame  being prudent. I also got a few more vegetables yesterday in case the store shelves go bare. The big unknown in these weather events is not that the electricity will snap off like a tree limb once all the huff and puff starts, but when it will come back on. My experience in the last two hurricanes and many blizzards has been a week. Ergo my particular nangwa, or take on Sandy. 

As it approaches, all of us in the retreat were told to stay inside and practice. This is actually fun with the right attitude. Mine comes from the memory of the late Trungpa Pinpoche perched high in a glass tower in midtown Manhattan watching the frenzied movement on the streets and sidewalks below, sitting down and saying: "The greatest luxury is to remain perfectly still in the midst of chaos." So as the winds swirl with greater and great force, huffing and puffing to blow my house down, I am sitting stone still, listening not to the rain but to myself breathe. In and out, down down down to that pivotal place four fingers below the navel where we are all grounded. Breathing in and out, in and out, a stillpoint of the churning world.

Really what else should I do? Stop the hurricane from coming? Sandbag 85 mph winds? I've done the water and food and flashlights so now I'm doing myself, making the most of the occasion. This hurricane was undoubtedly fueled by all the ferociously nasty battering energy humans have released of late and gained strength from the rapid stream of lies warming tempers. A hurricane is Nature's temper tantrum, the effect of what we cause. Do you think it's by accident that the center of the storm, its eye, is going to crack down on the center of the cold-hearted, hot-headed hell realm: Wall Street?  Well as my own beloved teacher, Thrangu Rinpoche says: put positive energy into the world, as much as you can, to counter the massive negative forces.

So I sit still breathing in and out, listening to the trees rustle as they sway, seeing frantic birds sensing the highly charged air, praying that all beings move to the good side so there is no more massive negative energy to boomerang back and create so much food and shelter suffering.  I'm shrugging my shoulders to keep them loose and shake out thoughts, breathing in and out to demolish with the power of awareness what I happen to know is the real hurricane Sandy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Voter Polls in the Six Realms

Hearing three national election debates and skimming countless headlines about countless poll results made me wonder how "nangwa", the Tibetan Buddhist word for the warped way we individually perceive the straight forward facts our senses feed us, was playing out in this particularly frantic election season. We are down to the decision wire. The choice for how we see the future is between the past (Romney and Tea Party Republicans angry about the present) and whatever (Obama and clueless Democrats paralyzed by the present and relying on government funded contraception to allow no birth of real change). So I went polling through the six realms.

Those in the cold hells are voting 10% for the candidate who says the climate is warming up and 90% for the candidate who denies it is warming up so that it actually keeps doing just that.

Those in the hot hells are 70% for the candidate who refuses to admit things could get hotter and 30% for the candidate who realizes climate change and really wants to cool things off. Among the 70% are hotheads burning up billions that could have produced food, roads and schools in fiery Republican super-Pacs dedicated to producing an even hotter hell: billions as in bills since they definitely do not want change.

The Hungry Ghosts polled 99% for the Drill, Baby, Drill and no slacking on fracking candidate, and 99% against the candidate who wants to let the EPA raise MPG standards and pollution controls (1% margin of error). They polled 100% for the candidate backing bank bailouts and repeal of both the Dodd-Frank act and the Consumer Protection Agency that would diminish their take. The Neo con men are 100% for increased defense spending even if the Defense Department doesn't want to because this group can never get its hands on enough countries and is already hungrily grasping at other planets. They agree 100% that the word share is a noun, as in my share, and are voting Republican 100% (no margin for error).

The animals by a margin of 65%-35% get climate change: the birds just migrated to the sunbelt, the seals and lobsters swam out to deeper water, the squirrel outside my window just fattened himself silly on the new crop of mushrooms sprouted in all the rain. He's also running around collecting acorns, knowing beyond doubt weather change is inevitable. This segment lives in the very real world. In contrast, I am in the 35% who live in the man-made virtual one and am a human animal in denial. I thought it would be warm enough for me to stay in a summerhouse without a deep water supply through November but the plumber just woke me up to realization of imminent freezing temperatures whether I wanted them or not.  

Still the animal realm operates on instinct and lives in fear. Some of this segment likes to butt heads to be alpha. No surprise this subset is 75% for the Tea Party and 100% for the Republicans' performance in Congress.The  hiber nation bloc is 53% for Obama; 47% were too lazy to participate and be counted but did want the results.

The human realm is faintly divided between hope (Democrats) and fear (Republicans), those who can't wait for impermanence to kick in (Progressives, moving on) and those totally terrified it will (Conservatives holding on). The motivating word for these voters is instead: yes or no. 

Since corporations have now become people, they are in that clinging group. The only impermanence they now countenance is fast change from their once championed planned obsolescence to we are the be all and end all: no way anybody gets to invent something new that replaces what we make or do--or everybody gets hurt. Got that?

Humans are the voting bloc where realization of incorruptible truth is possible. 70% believes abortion, as well as love between two people whoever they are. is a private nonpolitical matter, private life being the root of liberty in the Declaration of Independence.  90% insist America is indeed exceptional: its citizens die in droves for lack of medical help which is now controlled by lawyers, the guys too scared of really drawing blood to be doctors. 99% are aware millions of people are out of work and food even though something could've be done to prevent that. A slight majority sees the word share as a verb. There is  a small subset in this bloc avowing support for a Bodhisattva agenda, best described as the common good. 50% are Democratic, 30% Green and 20% for a write-in candidate, Dalai Lama whose address is Nirmanakaya, wherever that is.

The Asuras, or jealous gods, battle for blood. 80% are recycled Republicans who now believe in the word "instead": they are so jealous that Democrats are in the White House they will fight to the finish of the whole country just to get themselves in there. This bloc does not see the word share as a verb. It is so jealous of oil supplies in other countries, it is 100% for more invasions--as long as these individuals themselves don't have to actually do the dirty and dangerous work of invading. 1% does not believe in the word "instead" and is in favor of fighting the 99% at all costs to prevent them from invading their penthouse realm.

Among the gods where pride goeth before a fall it's 50-50. The insular White House leads the way for Democrats and the insulated 1% for Republicans. 100% vote for never apologizing because love means never having to say you're sorry and this bloc really does love itself. 100% look down on the other blocs because they can do so from their private planes. This group is 100% for the government because the government is 100% for, about and by them. 100% say, as they see it, they don't have to vote because all the odds are in their favor no matter who wins.

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

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nailing the Dharma

There's nothing like a little home improvement to send you screaming to the meditation cushion to get a grip, because there's nothing better than a little home improvement to teach you first hand just how much suffering can be added to samsara. All I wanted to do was fix the closet pole that sank under the weight of my winter clothes. No biggie, right?

One of the two plastic cups that hold the wooden pole ripped off its screw and propelled my clothes toward my shoes on the floor. I heard the crash, investigated and immediately closed the door because I didn't want to deal with that mess right then. I had other messes. Besides, I didn't have to. Total collapse and chaos had been prevented when the pole on its way toward the ground got caught on a little ledge of wood support.  Was that merit kicking in blessings or what? 

But I am not a slacker. I did go to the hardware store and politely explain to the man with suspenders who asked if he could help me that all I wanted to do was get new holders for the old closet pole. Maybe something stronger than white plastic. 

"Yes," he said, nodding sympathetically.  "That plastic will give in a few years time."

"Or," I added, "with a few extra, heavyweight clothes." Ah! The accumulations are supposed to be twofold: wisdom and merit, not corduroy pants.

Suspenders took me to the appropriate aisle (those aisle directory signs never say "closet pole regalia"), and luckily found a cohort there in a matching red Ace Hardware shirt who squatted and handed up from obscurity on the very bottom rack a plastic package of two wooden closet pole cups. China's finest.  "This is what you want," he assured me.'

"Standard size, right?" I broke into sudden sweat. "I... I forgot to measure the width of the pole."

"It's all standard. You'll be fine. These are strong."

No sweat! It didn't matter that I'd made the mistake of not measuring first.  I was powerful like Mitt Romney: a problem solver!

I tried to avoid my closet. That little hardware store see-through package sitting on the counter made me feel guilty. My To-Do list for today started with "fix closet pole" before "do dharma practice." Really, I told myself, this will be quick. then you can get on with Sunday morning. All i had to do was take every last hanger off that wooden pole, find a place for all those clothes, then remove the screw the white plastic holder had yanked itself free from and put in my new strong wooden holder with its own screw. Problem solving in action. 

Okay, so I did get bogged down evaluating all those clothes: was I really going to wear that white shirt again? Should I sell the sweater? Did those pants fit or not? What was with all this attachment anyway? Let go, let go. How can I have 10 pairs of pants when I can only wear one at a time? Didn't the pole collapse from the weight of my wears?  I needed to lighten the load. Sorting through my things took about an hour. 

Finally I got back to the closet. The pole was caught on that little ledge of wood and didn't want to come free from either end. Okay, I reasoned. I'll deal with this later. I'll start by removing the abandoned screw so I can put my new one in. I checked that it required a flathead screwdriver and went to fetch one. I am ready to solve small problems like this: I have a small toolkit of guy stuff. 

I went at it with my flathead screwdriver and as Karmapa likes to say: nothing happened. That screw was so attached to that wall, it didn't want to be removed. It was in crooked, its top side tilted back into the wooden wall so that you couldn't even get a pliers behind it.. Worse, it had a slit too small for my screwdriver to get into.  Okay, I can be reasonable. These are just small things in the big picture. I can stay calm. I have more screwdrivers somewhere. Somewhere. After ten minutes of cleaning out the kitchen catch-all drawer, I found a screwdriver that seemed smaller. At least the handle was smaller. I tried twisting and pushing, twisting, twisting, and as Karmapa likes to say: Nothing happened. 

Of course a guy would've had some sort of electric power tool that would've ripped that sucker right out of the wall because a guy knows you can't put a new screw right where there is still a screw in the wall. And if you don't put the new screw right there, the closet pole is going to be crooked one way or another.  

I'm not a guy. And I was screwed. I could feel frustration setting in. Dharma practice will do that for you, put you right in touch with yourself. It just won't touch the source of the frustration and get the damned screw out of the wall. So I had another idea. I went back to the toolbox and got the hammer. I could just smash that screw flat into the wall and put the new one in right next to it. So what if the pole was going to be just a little bit crooked. It was my closet. And slamming that screw with a hammer felt really good. Out out frustration. Anger not allowed in mind's storage spaces.

The wood wall took a few dents where the hammer hit but as Karmapa likes to say: nothing happened. The screw was still at its original angle. "Okay," the inner guru said to me, "leave it be and get the pole free. Sooner or later you're going to have to do that anyway."  How hard could it be?

Don't ask. I moved the loose end of the pole up, around, up, down, wherever it would go but the other end remained very attached to its cup in the wall. I let loose a lot of foul words. But then I remembered the gift of dharma and let loose a mantra for accomplishment...of "ordinary powers." Don't ask me what the right angle was but that damned pole came loose at last.  I had no idea how I was going to get it back up when the time came but that was later and Dharma is now.

I screwed my new wooden pole holder into the wall next to the bent screw, screwed it in as tight as I could get it to go with a piece of it tilted forward because that old unyielding screw was behind. I was proud of myself for solving a problem: the new closet pole cup was installed. It was tight. I had accomplished "ordinary powers."

Now I had to put the pole back. Just put the pole back, hang up the clothes that had survived scrutiny and get on with Sunday and dharma practice. There was of course the problem of finding the mysterious angle that would get the pole past that protruding ledge where it had been caught in the fall. Hmm... here...crikes, there, was like slow motion baton twirling.

Somehow I got the pole past the ledge. I don't know how. I got it toward the new wooden holder. It touched the holder, said hello and then as Karmapa likes to say: Nothing happened.  Maybe there are standards for things like closet poles, but the wooden cup holder was 1/4" thicker than that cheap skimpy plastic one that wormed its way off the screw.  The pole was too long to fit in.  I was really screwed.

Of course I don't have a saw. I am a cook. I cut celery not dowels. And it being Sunday I didn't reckon anybody I knew who had a saw would want to come tearing down to get 1/4" off my clothes pole.  The last time I had the handyman/carpenter here he told me he'd been here three times in two weeks. "You need a husband."

What I really I needed was to solve another problem: getting all those clothes off my bed so I could sleep tonight. I unscrewed my new strong wooden closet pole holder, China's finest, and put it back with its mate in the little see-through plastic bag it came in. I went to the trash and fished out that tacky white plastic holder, China's best. I could see how elongated the screw hole was where the cup pulled away. I put the new screw from the wooden holder up to it: I had less than 1/16' coverage. 

I screwed that torn white plastic cup back into the wall 1/4" from where it had been. Tight. Then I played baton games to get the wooden closet pole back into it. I hung a few things up, closed the door and went to make myself a coffee. Since it was now almost lunch time, I was getting hungry. Besides, I thought leaving for a few minutes was a prudent way of testing the strength of my solution. 

Good news. As Karmapa likes to say: nothing happened.  I hung up all my shirts--lightweight stuff, and waited for the fall. Okay. I added sweaters and summer pants.  While waiting for the fall, I sorted through what was still on the bed and decided I should not take things too far. I should just put the heaviest hangers on the chair for...well later. I put other stuff back on the pole--not the heavy stuff mind you, but more. It didn't budge. 

I ran to my shrine and dedicated the merit. I knew of course that impermanence was going to kick in any minute, any hour. It was just a hanger away. Very soon, at some inconvenient moment, that white plastic cup was going to tear off the new screw. But I had solved a problem now. Now is Dharma. Later is handyman.

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

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Yours In The Dharma 2001-2010, Sandy Garson Copyright 2001-2010 Sandy Garson All rights Reserved