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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Loony Tune

Oh dear. February continued to be far too frenetic, at least for a one-eyed hack like me. If, as they say, life is but a dream, we're in a doozy of a nightmare, scarier than anything Hollywood can produce-- even with its infinite budget for special effects. The Tea Party terrorists have launched their suicide bombing campaign to blow up the United States. Zero Dark Dirty. Beware not the Ides of March but the 1st. Their fuses, or perhaps I should say refuses, are lit. None of us hostages is going to be left standing when their diehard tantrum ends.  Where oh where is that leap year day when you really need it?

On the birth anniversary of the politician mythologized for saying: "I cannot tell a lie", an investigative book on how the food processing industry has so insidiously and laboriously addicted people to lethal junk food was released. So simultaneously was a major study touting once again the long life benefits of a Mediterranean diet. You know: grains, lentils, beans, fruits and fish, vegetables and yogurt. Nothing packaged. Sounds yummy to me, but because it also advocates eggs and a little cheese, it gave indigestion to media magnets like Dean Ornish who are heavily vested, i.e. financially invested, in pushing a vegan diet and rushed to assault the study. Oh my, more heartburn.

As I wrote in my book, Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking, except in postwar America, food has always been treated as medicine, fuel for the body. As I said, the word hospital comes from the word hospitalityYou are what you eat. That's actually a Dharma tenet. Now thanks to the latest food fighters, I know the word diet comes from the Latin “diaeta,” which means a daily way of living. Well, since Buddhism is not a religion but... um... a daily way of living, Dharma is actually a diet. So, hasta la pasta Atkins, Ornish, Oz, Jenny Craig and South Beach. I am pigging out on February's just dessert: His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa (Vast Ocean of Virtuous Activity) teaching at my teacher's monastery in Sarnath, India. I was not able to get there, but by the miracle of the Internet I can stay home, avoiding all the annoyances of India, and be there now, even with one eye. Some things are still right with the world. 

His Holiness' purported subject is a text from his 8th incarnation,  a lama known for many complex treatises, and also known to some of us as the Irish Karmapa since his name was Mikyo Dorje. So far, I can't find where he says anything abstruse. The text may be several hundred years old, but the 17th Karmapa seems to be using it to hammer a single, simple and seemingly relevant point: what phonies many Dharma practitioners are, what pretenders of the faith we be. Oh the  deplorable ways we cheat.

And as he nails them in Tibetan, I hear every so often the distinct words "spiritual materialism", then blah blah Tibetan again. It's startling. Evidently Karmapa resorts to these English words because Tibetans never acknowledged or perhaps experienced such hypocrisy and thus have no expression to describe the way those of us in the consumer kaya buy into Dharma practice. We buy statues, incense burners, bells, drums, malas and thangkhas to set up showy altars. We sign up for fancy retreats with big name lamas and subscribe to "Buddhist" magazines. We acquire Dharma like jewelry or sports equipment, impressing everyone with our paraphernalia, while we blithely detour around its true meaning, having no time for authentic practice. Wow, this chastisement really shows how omniscient Karmapa is: he knows I bought a Chod drum I've never used.

Karmapa said our two physical eyes are so blinded by the bling of modern life, we don't see with that third eye of intelligence, the one that peers inside us, sees our mind and how it thinks. That's why we can't see the difference between need and want. We just think we need everything we want. So we end up drowning in an ocean of junk and never see what we truly need is genuine Dharma.

Stuff makes us look good, and we do like to look good, especially to others. Dharma, Karmapa keeps saying, is about tending the virtue of body, speech and mind, all three, yet most of us are so busy tending to our bodies to keep them looking good or being overly mindful of where our foot is now, or we make such a big deal effort to sound so sweet all the time that we never pay attention to our mind.

"Body and speech are easy," he said. "You like them because that's what everybody sees in you. Everybody will see what a good Buddhist you are. But nobody sees your mind but you. Working on your mind is lonely. Working on your mind, work that nobody will see, is very hard. And if there is one thing for sure I've learned in my limited experience and life it is this: human beings like to do what's easy and avoid what's hard."

Well, truth told, I've already done hard things this morning: trying to hang on to my saliva and toothbrush while getting the cellophane and fitted top off a new mouthwash bottle, swallowing an egregiously gratuitous terrorism fee added to the new annual home insurance premium because insurance companies can do what they want, and seeing even without eyeglasses that the hair on my legs is almost as long as the hair on my head because, due to my eye surgery, I can't yet lie in the correct position to have it waxed. I could make a salon appointment to have it styled.

So I'm too pooped for the hard work of commenting on this past week's balderdash and bashing the 50th anniversary of "the women's movement." It's easier to say that despite all the sabotage and sanctimoniousness and sniping going on around us here at the shortened end of February, the moon has been courageously plump and bright, beaming its faithful fullness, unmarred in any way by our Samsaric ado.

I am a lunatic, I admit. I am drawn to and enchanted by the moon. I love knowing it is up there and where it is. I love seeing it travel across the sky because I know it's traveling around the world. The whole world. Nobody doesn't get the moon. Probably the most romantic thing I ever did was to email my love two continents away, I was sending him a message on the moon, like a message floating in a bottle, so look for it when it was over his house. I felt so poetic.

We get our word loony from the Latin moon, luna. Apparently, someone observed the moon is the great Oz that controls not only the oceans' tidal flow, but the fluids sloshing inside our body. That's why people in the loony bin and those of us outside get crazier on the full moon, why feral animals howl, and why frequently bodies ravaged by disease will likely die or roll over toward recovery.

Farming lore says it's best to plant on the new moon, for its increasing strength toward fullness will pull seeds upward into plants. And when the moon is at its hugest brightest peak, a great pumpkin glowing in the October black, you harvest.  Things diminish after that.

The beaming opal that lights the dark, that beacon comes to me as the white light of Tara and Chenrezig who see all the suffering in this ocean of Samsara and reach out to assuage it. There is a special full moon Dharma chant, Calling Lama from Afar, 20-30 minutes of confessing your sins and beseeching the gurus and deities to rescue you from yourself. It leaves you calm and blissful in the cool white light of a smiling moon.

Dharma teachers love the metaphor of water moon, the perfect reflection of a full moon down here on Earth, for it brings up the crucial question: is it really there or not? You see the moon on the water for sure and know it's there, but can you prove it's real, really there? Because all of life appears to us that way. Everything out there shows up in here reflected on the vast space that is mind. Is it really there, really happening, just because we see something?  Is it possible the Tea Party terrorists, food fighters, Dharma phonies are all just really loony?

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

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Even Nowgirls Get the Blues

An unexpected envelope in the mailbox this past weekend hit me like the cratering meteor that rattled and riddled part of Siberia. Its impact blew the lid off nuclear-strength memories buried deep so they couldn't cause paralyzing damage again. Families can be that toxic, leaving crater size holes, and as a friend just wrote: "You've got the absolutely most monstrous hands down."

Because I didn't know where or how to escape the literal fallout, I went to my altar. It looked comfortingly clean and shiny from its Losar renewal. I sat in front of it and began to notice what kept passing through my mind like the headlines that scroll across Times Square: the title of an old bestselling book: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and Paul Simon's eloquent lyric: "Some people's lives roll easy, Some people's lives never roll at all." What also passed was the primary preoccupation of the early Puritan writers with how the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.  Their crime, your punishment.

People with silky family ties are not as driven to the Dharma as those of us with ties that strangled, those of us left for dead to wander about seeking a fire-lit inn where there may be room. But as the lamentably late Traleg Rinpoche thinks it necessary to repeat over and again with increasing testiness in Mind At Ease, the Dharma was never intended to be a substitute for psychological therapy or pharmaceutical psychiatry. That is the terrible misuse we in the West want to make of it. And Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in his inimitable way has written a laser sharp book to say: if you're looking to feel warm and fuzzy and good all over, forget meditation and go get a massage. That way you won't be disappointed.

I second. The Dharma is cold comfort. With an admittedly limited view, I could not see where it provides sympathy for the suffering of those punished by the misdeeds of others. When bad things happen to good people, it offers only the invisible logic of karma. Your bad; tough luck. It offers only the theory that somewhere back in time, along the power line of your energy source, there must have been major emissions of anger, jealousy, willful stupidity, greed or the let 'em eat cake hauteur of pride. Somewhere along your incarnation line, you zapped someone or many. That's why this life dances to the tune of that old lyric: "Who's sorry now, You had your way and now you must pay."

As my teacher likes to say: What if you ignored this law of karma and it was really true? So, maybe you can't prove or disprove karma, but obviously you're going to be better off in the long run if you hedge your bets by believing it and making this life a virtuous remedy. Well, when you take up the challenge of that what if, expiation turns into nonstop minding your manners: never doing greed, animosity, jealousy, so what or so there ever again. 

Dharma offers ways to help with this. Unfortunately, the paramitas and lojong and the tortuous logic of madhyamika are not for sissies or suckers with crib notes. The Dharma gives your tough luck the tough love of a DIY deal. Maybe that's why the word "warrior" emerges so many times, and there is so much insistence on courage, lots and even more courage than you swear you'd ever have. Frankly, giving your all to making sure the bad luck stops here, bravely standing by so no one you come upon will have to live with the crippling pain buried deep within you, watching your every step, then still getting smacked to the ground nevertheless can cancel any courage you've actually dug up. You just want to cry "Uncle!" and quit. But suicide would give you even worse karma the next time around.

There is of course an emergency contact, and I did dial Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the pure white deity whose many heads see all suffering and whose many hands reach out to assuage it. I mumbled his mantra, Om Mani Peme Hung, "May All beings be free of suffering", and I prayed beseechingly to him as the great lord of love,  Solwa debso Jamgon Chenrezig. In the past, as I noted two years ago this month, he has miraculously responded, that time with a wind at my back that blew away the obstacles and debris in front of me.  But this great protector seemed strangely absent now as though he had more pressing things to do.

Since there was no balm inside, I took myself out for a walk, the way you would take out a dog who needs to relieve a streaming pressure or eliminate a pile of, um... shit. I walked into the park because sometimes there is great solace in the bigger picture that is Nature. Sometimes her vast beauty and startling triumphs can give you the solace of perspective, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca consoling Ingrid Bergman that given all the machinations of the world at large, the affairs of two small human beings don't amount to a hill of beans.

When you sit on a park bench, Nature will tell you a kind story. The grass may be cut down over and over, again and again, but the whacking only makes it defiantly grow back thicker and more green. The trees may be robbed of their leaves and fruits and left bereft of their great warmth and beauty, but they rev their energy to thrust forth new buds and shoots to start again. Anybody who has ever tried to cut one down to be rid of it knows a tree will just keep on sprouting limbs to defy death. 

And whether the trees are fully dressed in their fulsome green fashion or standing there stark naked in the cold, the birds visit and chirp like friends who love you despite what they can't figure out, and can only say they're so sorry.

In the arboretum, everything is labeled: this tree, that bush, their Latin and nick names and birthplace. Nothing escapes notice. Traleg Rinpoche says that if you always know the state of your mind, never NOT know what's going on with/in it, you are at the fine point of liberation and enlightenment. Since pain helps you notice, label and locate the point of origin, maybe it's a blue plate special served as a shortcut to enlightenment and liberation.

In the clearing around the pond or the fountain in a park, you can really see the sky. Sunday's was a gloriously cloud free rich blue, a pure and primordial vastness not stained by anything. It is a Mahamudra practice to look up and mix your breath, then your mind with the pristine infinity of such a richly blue sky. This helps you understand you and your mind are essentially that very same unstained and unimpeded infinity where lives roll easy because there are no blots or clouds to create distinctions. There are no fathers, no children, no good or bad or anything really happening. No hill and no beans. Just endless clear and vivid space that can never be obstructed.

It is a Tibetan yoga practice to spread your legs slightly wider than your hips and throw your arms out slightly past your shoulders with your fingers spread the way gospel singers do when they shout phrases like "glory be." With the fierce force of spit, you exhale whatever seems to be stuck inside you. Like your breath, it will exit and explode into the infinity of space, dissolving into nothing. You exhale once, twice and once again to shoot out all the poison. You stand there with your spread legs pointing to the Earth from which your body come, your arms a V pointing to the sky which reflects your mind, and realize you are Xing everything out, with those outspread and wiggling fingers signaling: "glory be."

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

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Frantic February

What a banner week the calender is having: almost everyday a holiday. This is so intense, it's no wonder February gets cut short. Who could stand more hoopla than we've got now? Just look at Chinese New Year. It was February 10 and maybe also February 6--astrologers cite both, but the celebration definitely goes on 14 days. In San Francisco the big bang parade isn't until February 23.

So there's a lot of Gung Hay Fat Choy going around. This evidently has become the preferred Chinese greeting, May you get rich, instead of thet old-fashioned one: May your rice never burn. I suppose if you get rich, you can eat out, so burning rice is not your problem any more.

February 10 was also Tet, the Vietnamese New Year with fireworks and foods galore.

February 11 was Tibetan New Year, Losar, so for several days Tibetans have been running around eating momos (dumplings) and long noodles (for long years/life) and wishing everybody Losar Tashi Delek. Tashi Delek, meaning "may all go well for you"  is the greeting those in diaspora adopted as the culture's namaste or shalom or salaam or aloha. Monastery altars are piled to the max with food, flowers, tormas and juice boxes as well as pots of wheatgrass, for the bounty of the coming year can supposedly be measured through the omen of how high the wheatgrass pushes itself up in the pot. And so nobody has to sit and watch it grow, there's lama dancing in brocades and wooden head masks.

For Vietnamese, Tibetans and Chinese, this week ushered in the year of the water snake. This is supposed to make us think: yin, quiet intelligence, quick strike. It should also make us think: Eek! Snakes are bad news, venomous creatures, so it shouldn't be surprising how treacherous snake years can be. They've brought us Sept 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people, the crushing of the 1989 Tianamen pro-democracy protests and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The 1929 stock market plunge that heralded the Great Depression also occurred in a Snake year.  I'm warning you. Now is the time for keen awareness on all fronts.

The fact that this is a water snake year is supposed to temper its intensity. But frankly, the words water snake just make me think of plumbing. That's why I called my plumber to say: Gung Hay Fat Choy, even though he is an American, of Greek descent. Why shouldn't he get rich? And why shouldn't I do whatever I can to maintain a tight relationship with someone critical to my well-being. Wouldn't you want a plumber to respond the minute your toilet starts to act up or your sink overflow?  I want all clogs snaked. I hold the plumber right up there with the great Mahakala, the fierce black skull wearing deity who removes obstacles. You can't be too careful, especially in a year that portends disaster.

Already the next day in headlines and televised images from the State of the Union booming out of DC, we could all see what disaster to be on the lookout for, what the French call the idee fixe, the habituation the Buddha called the essence of Samsara.. Not ironically, it was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, another excuse to blot out reality with excessive merriment as winter eases up, or as I like to put it, another day of binge before the six Lenten weeks that must have been the model for all those diet to get into your summer clothes binges we have now.

February 12 was also Lincoln's Birthday. It's gotten pretty thin and bearded like the man himself. It used to be a holiday but it isn't any more because that day of the week kept moving around the calendar. Evidently having a holiday that could fall on Tuesday or Saturday annoyed people who prefer their ideas totally fixed--seems to be a convenience to them not to have to rethink anything. We hold the ice cream and cake because Lincoln no longer gets a birthday party on his day. He gets crammed into President's Day, which falls on some Monday or other in the middle of this month, Monday being the preferred day the stuck minded find convenient for a made-up holiday. 

Stuck-minded, or fixed face, is of course a perfect description of the party of Lincoln, the Republicans as they revealed themselves on his birthday. They don't much seem to like new years or new holidays or new ideas or new anything any more. Impermanence undoes them. They've been saying the same damned thing over and over now for years, droning on and on hoping somebody will finally believe them just to shut them up. You don't have to be the Buddha to diagnose how badly they like, ahem, to stick to their guns. 

I am still half blind from detached retina surgery, but wondering if I am the only person who sees with the third eye that there is essentially no difference between these crackpots of the Tea Party--how's that for sly phrasing --and the Al Qaeda/Taliban we are so busy stamping out with drones. Drones: you know, those quiet, quick strike, venomous air snakes. Don't both the Tea Party and Taliban want to enslave women, destroy governments, glorify violence and guns and the worst sorts of machismo? Don't both want to damn and turn back the flow of time and its changes? Aren't both so blinded by an inchoate rage--rage being all too easily mistaken for a sign of life because it makes you feel so slive--they're happy to use scorched earth tactics, destroying everything to get what they want? Aren't both what the Buddha would have called fixated, attached and thus kicking up a blinding blizzard of hellish karma? Since we learned this week that killing American terrorists is not on the taboo list, why is no one suggesting Obama drone these drones too?Is it because although they are dangerous diehards they are our dangerous diehards? ( see story about the broken cup a few weeks back.)

An ugly explosive mess, the states of the Union, but take heart because today is all about hearts. It's Valentine's Day, good old February 14. Right here when everybody's had more than enough of winter's dark chill, we get a holiday about the bright warmth of love. Suddenly everything all snow white is covered with blood hearts. Eros' arrows, maybe the original unmanned drones, are flying all over the place starting fireworks to make our life blood race. Get us revved for renewal and spring and keeping the human race running.

And of course because every holiday in our consumer culture requires shopping, today's the sweet heart day for chocolates and flowers. What joy to the world, what pacemaker for even the heaviest heart: chocolates and flowers. Who wouldn't want chocolates or flowers? Well, I am sorry to say, apparently all of us who care about the environment, other people and the future. As too many investigative reports have told us, all those roses by the dozen are coming up from Ecuador and Colombia where the vital rain forest is being cleared to grow them. And they're being poisonously died those absurdly unnatural non-rose blue and green and bright yellow colors for no good reason at all.

Now, today of all days, horror of horror, comes a report that all the drugstore and department store chocolate in those heart shaped red boxes is tainted with the blood and sweat of over two million African children trapped in horrific slavery to pick the beans that produce it for enormous, who cares, international corporations like Nestle and Hershey. We can't even enjoy a guilt-free Kiss anymore. And those dancing M & Ms? They are as evil as Simon Legree. 

All this thrust upon us, just when we had to stop giving out those tiny, brightly dyed sugar hearts that conveyed messages like Be Mine, or I'm Yours because giving those lovable little treats to tots was essentially giving them diabetes. And who wanted to do that?

There isn't even any solace left in sending your Valentine a card. The Post Office is about to call it quits, starting with Saturday delivery.  And some locales like San Francisco have already called it quits on paper. Just yesterday the cashier at a well known boutique asked me if I'd mind putting the bulky sweater I'd just bought in my purse because the city had now banned using paper shopping bags. (Don't start me on that short sighted stupidity.) This follows the trend of charging you for a printed paper bill. So goodbye Hallmark hearts. At least Charlie Brown won't have to die of disappointment reaching into the mailbox on February 14. One disaster averted.

This dissing of chocolate, flowers and cards is of course probably great news to everyone not expecting to be anybody's Valentine. It's going to help ease a lot of imagined hurt and self-doubt. But then of course, this whole idea of Valentine's Day is rooted in absolutely nothing and totally made up. Whether it was by Chaucer or Brits five centuries later is not known for sure. Only that there was no single St. Valentine martyred in the name of romantic love. There was perhaps a Roman zealot Valens (valor, power) martyred on February 14 for refusal to renounce his love of Jesus but that seems to be about it. Here it is again, your friend, emptiness.

It's my guess, and only a half blind guess right now, that the Brits didn't have a New Year like the Asians do to break up the dark, cold monotony of winter and craved a bit of bright, warmth right now, the sort you can get from a flame of love. The sap rises, the blood revs, the clogs get cleared. Spring is coming with its promise of renewal, rebirth and full bloom. Amid the fireworks of sprouting buds and leaves, we can get full of heart and rich in hope. And happily forsake chocolate because it's swimsuit time and we have to avoid disaster this year.

P.S. Next week is Washington's birthday. Remember him? The politician who supposedly said: "I cannot tell a lie." 

~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

Friday, February 08, 2013

Out of Sight

I was just about to say the only tools a person needs to manage life gracefully are a hammer, hairdryer and hanger (the ha ha ha of survival), when I was rudely interrupted by a dire medical emergency. My own. After I explained over the phone there was something wrong with my left eye, an extremely kind older doctor had agreed to see me, and five minutes after I got to him, he was shoving me into a taxi to hasten me to the farthest side of town for immediate surgery. "By tomorrow your sight will be permanently damaged," he said. "Good luck."

Alone in a taxi heading somewhere strange where strangers are supposed to save you from going blind provides more terror than anything Al Qaeda or other blood thirsty Islamists can concoct. A detached retina is about the worst nightmare you can have midday. Three blocks on, I was such a wreck, I needed to call for help. With only one shot and my own eye doctor 3,000 miles away, I summoned my new best friend, Sangye Menla, the Medicine Buddha. "Be here now," I said.

After another block or two, his lapis blue feintly appeared. "Samaya dza!" I mumbled so the cab driver wouldn't think the clinic his passenger was heading to was the loony bin. "Samaya dza: Remember your vow to help." 

I don't know how many times I mumbled the mantra "help me" and struggled to see blue light. It was a long cab ride. I just know I had reason to worry. Our relationship, like so many, did not start well. I'd known Sangye Menla for years but didn't give him time. My Dharma teacher, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, has taught extensively about this great healer, and because he has so effectively revived the practice of calling on him, Rinpoche is often thought to be his current worldly emanation. But since Rinpoche freely gives Menla access to anyone, no matter what their level of understanding, I didn't think of him as critical. Okay, as important.  

Never think.

Last fall while severely suffering from an inflamed thyroid but in a symptom lull, I flew to see Rinpoche. "I've been reading about vase breathing," I said, feeling so so smart. "I read it can unwind the knots in your subtle body. Maybe knots have been the cause of my thyroid rage. It makes sense. Can you teach me to do that special breathing so I can get better?"

Rinpoche gave me the withering look that goes to a smartass. He sank his maroon clad body further into his brocade chair, took a deep breath of exasperation and said dismissively: "Just do Medicine Buddha practice. That will be good enough."  

"It really does work," field surgeon Dr. John insisted. "After my back surgery, I summoned him every day for a year and I swear this made me feel like I was glowing. You should listen to Rinpoche." 

Since he hammered that point, I hung up my stupid smarts, dried my wet pride and dug out the Medicine Buddha practice text. But you know how easy it is to be distracted and not do things you should. So I did it once and moved on.
About a week later, the tide of my thyroid shifted. As predicted, the hormone tsunami of the hyperthyroid became the ebb and no flow of the moribund hypothyroid. As predicted, I was in danger of gaining back the 15 pounds the hyperthyroid took from me: a dream come true in the middle of that nightmare. 

Return of the 15 and more! I grabbed that practice manual. I dug up my implements. Fervently I prayed: "Samaya dza!" Like crazy I visualized the lapis blue Buddha sending lapis blue light into my thyroid. Like mad I visualized him on my throat like a traffic bobby directing the healing blue light everywhere into and around that thyroid. Nonstop I chanted the Medicine Buddha mantra: Tayata, om bekendze, bekendze, mahabekdenze, raja, samugate, soha. ("This is the situation: healer, healer, great healer, king of medicine who has transcended all suffering. So be it.")

I was, to put it mildly, motivated. I had never lost 15 pounds in my life: I had bought new clothes. People said despite being so sick, I looked so good. Everyday for more than a week I faithfully put in a call to Sangye Menla, twice a day sometimes. "... bekendze, bekendze, mahabekendze ..." I  burned up Buddhist network minutes by the megabyte. 

And, Sangye Menla fired up my thyroid. The endocrinologist still cannot figure out how it came back to normal in only three weeks instead of the usual three months. Back to normal with only 2 returned pounds. Didn't have to buy different clothes. As my friend was about to say: "You have all the luck."

Now there I was in terror in a taxi obsessively beseeching Sangye Menla, desperately searching with a dying eye for signs of his lapis lazuli blue. And chanting, silently chanting without cease to my new best hopefully friend because having something I could do was making  me feel calm. My eye was out of control, but, thank Buddha, I was not. "... bekendze ...bekendze ..." 

The waiting room wait was forever. Chant chant. Pray away.

He sat in my eye the way they say an angel dances on the head of a pin. I could see his seated cerulean form, the bowl in his left hand, the medicine in his right. His eyes were flaming red and penetrating.

 "I know I'm hurting you," the surgeon said, "but you're being very stoic and I appreciate that."

Stoic?!?! Who he was talking to? I would've looked around if I could have moved my head in that vice. "No," I mumbled shakily. "I am not stoic. I am just doing all the meditation practice I know because I am scared out of my mind." The distraction was working. My body was in the chair. My eye was in danger and desperation, detaching and dilated to the max. My mind was calmly cruising along carrying me away in the vast blissful blue (ocean and sky) of the Medicine Buddha. I could see Rinpoche's trademark toothy smile. Fear morphed into hope.

You cannot just close your eyes to make the whole thing go away when people in white lab coats are sticking needles in your face and clasps on your eyelids and freezing your eyeball. But you can make it go away by giving all you've got to getting the lapis lazuli Medicine Buddha front and center, right in the middle of the operation. And you can keep moving your lips and your mind in chant ... samugate, soha...  ("gone beyond (transcended), so be it!) You can pray like all getout.

And your prayers can make as much difference as the frozen nitrogen and helium bubble strangers put in your eye. The friend I phoned to come get me, the one I really wanted, an Asian medicine man with a full schedule, was miraculously free at what was now dinner hour and drove all the way across the city to take me home. That's when shock set in, but not pain. There was never pain, never any need for the Vikodin prescription a nurse handed me as I walked out. (A surreptious blessing: I could probably have financed my next year selling that on the street, but I tore it up.) I prayed to Sangye Menla, gave tea to Mahakala, remover of obstacles, and got into bed. 

"That's going to challenge your meditation skill," were the Doctor's last words after he told me I had to lay on my right side for six days. But in truth, I had a blissfully relaxing interlude visiting with my new best friend, Sangye Menla. I just knew he was going to help me and make things right because the morning after, I had to return to that surgical clinic where the unfamiliar doctor who ripped the patch off my eye couldn't stop admiring what he saw. "Wow," he volunteered at last, "that healed really fast. I think you'll get most of your sight back." 

When I do, I will be able to tell you about the ha ha ha of survival. But I will have to add a fourth element, the he ho: the help/ hope of the Medicine Buddha. Although nobody can tell you this on Yelp or Angie's List, and even though you won't find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter, he truly does one helluva job. After all, what you are really calling out to are the magical healing energies of your own mind and body.

P.S. Although no doctor would confirm this, I know--believing as any good Buddhist does in cause and effect--that way too many hours staring at this computer screen destroyed my eye. Staring at the monitor dries your eyes out because you don't blink so much and the drier they get the more trouble you can have. So please take care.



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

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