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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Wait of Water

I have been struggling, sometimes in a fighting mad way, with a limited, totally Nature dependent water supply: a 22-foot deep dug well lined with rocks. It was hand made about 90 years ago in what seemed to be the low point of a small saltwater peninsula that's granite ledge. Oldtimers swear the basin never went dry, but thanks to a merciless run of summers without rain, I've had to order water five years in a row. 

That scared me the first few years to the point of obsessive stinginess. I took Navy showers (i.e. turning the water off until you need it to rinse), brushed my teeth with bottled water and collected kitchen sink runoff from rinsing utensils to use with detergent for pot washing. Despite disgust, I stopped flushing toilets until necessary and harped on any guest who ran water longer than two seconds. Fear can militarize you.

Of course as the Dharma says, with fear comes hope, so of course I was hoping all my scrimping saved water for...well certainly not a rainy day. Three years in a row, I got totally upended by discovering my sacrifice made not one gallon of difference to my water supply.  What I didn't use when I could have simply leached back through the rocks it flowed in through, vacating my well for the ever more parched ground around it. 

Unless we humans or beavers get into its act, water doesn't want to stand still. Water is the ultimate bodhisattva always rushing out or onward to where it's needed. The truth really is: use it or lose it. It's pure Carpe Diem in action. NOW really is the time. Tomorrow may never come, remember? It's not just a guy line. The water could leach out of the well tomorrow the way it leached in yesterday.  Like the plumber said, shaking his head at the hand dug well meant to attract rainwater in although its very porousness lets rainwater out, "easy come, easy go."

Using water has been a major behavior adjustment. I've had to give up hanging on when I have a supply thinking it will see me through the weeks to come. I've had to mount the courage to use what's available when it's available without worrying about tomorrow. Today I washed two loads of sheets. As I was scrubbing the kitchen sink with the faucet running, I realized something as simple as water had taught me how to live in the most crucial Dharma way: right now. Well, well.

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

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dealing with disappointment

Out of the blue this morning, I got a surprising and very unexpected overseas call from a lama I bonded with fourteen years ago.  At the time he was one among hundreds of shy and slight monks, the one who hopped into the monastery pickup and patiently drove me all over Kathmandu the first time I raised money to buy food for the then 300 undernourished children in my teacher's school. As I lectured him about buying only iodized salt and bargaining for best price instead of playing patsy to delight Indian merchants, he listened intently and nodded, unperturbed. He even chivalrously unloaded the 50 kilo sacks of dhal and grains, at which point we parted. 

When I recounted the event at dinner, I was startled to learn the modest mountain monk was one of Rinpoche's major players. He got to the top of a very large crop by being astonishingly smart, amazingly competent and so alert nothing escaped him. He was between tasks:  being the builder and first headmaster of Rinpoche's school and becoming the master who was to get the enormous monastery in India built. Spotting his prowess, Rinpoche early on appointed him his personal attendant, then basically made him that for his entire organization. He seemed to be as irreplaceable as Rinpoche.

The monk was so unassuming, shy and so busy taking care of Rinpoche's growing collection of monasteries and ceremonies, few Westerners knew who he was. So when the India monastery was completed and Rinpoche rewarded him with entry into the three-year retreat to become a veritable lama, I sponsored him. I wanted him to have no worries for once. When to great fanfare he emerged and was put in training to take over running Rinpoche's now vast international organization as its COO, I sent shoes along with money to support him.

Like all monks and lamas, Tenzin Dorje got his name from Rinpoche. It means "indestructible holder of the Dharma or Buddha's teaching." He certainly seemed to be that to the core, born for the job in a secret sacred high Himalayan valley. So two years ago when another of Rinpoche's major lamas came to visit me, I asked about Tenzin Dorje and was shocked to hear: "He's gone. Broke his vows. Somewhere in Germany."  

That was followed by silence. And more silence. No matter who I asked that year, I got the same terse reply.  "He's gone. There's nothing more to say." Nobody would fill the blanks except to re-iterate icily that he broke his vows and Rinpoche said he had to disrobe and depart.

I resented the chilly, abreviated responses even though I suspected the monks were purveying a crucial lesson: life just keeps on chugging even when passengers get or are thrown off the train. Like it or not, everything keeps moving on down the line. That is one thing still out of our control. Dragging lots of attachments to what's past is dangerous; it impedes the flexibility to not get stuck and hit by the next thing coming.

Tenzin Dorje happened to be only one of the monks I worked with or supported in some way. I've also contributed mightily to the entire ordained sangha by improving all their lives with better food and the on-site orchards and gardens to supply it. Last spring I gave my health working 16 hours a day at one of the monasteries to serve its head lama and Rinpoche. Since then I've been unable to contribute much, hobbled by financial failing and major health problems.  Given that everybody knew I was in distress, I've been surprised by their silence: not one call, note or email as though I don't exist.

Before Tenzin Dorje phoned, I was struggling with the disappointment of not being appreciated as a contributor to the group. Tenzin Dorje, I told myself, always found a way to send me a thank you note, no matter how long it took. I didn't like discovering when you give your all, the lamas are all over you but when you're sidelined, they just move on like you don't exist. It's only NOW. The Dharma seemed as hurtful as politics or business in sending the unsettling message that you are so not special. You won't be missed. As Charles deGaulle so haughtily sniped: "The cemetery is full of irreplaceable people." 

Of course with the lamas and monks it's all about the survival of the institution, not the individual. I wrestled with the realization that it's Dharma first and foremost the monks work for and protect, so that's got to be a fierce focus. Especially all eyes on our frail 80-year-old Rinpoche who is supposed to be the physical embodiment of it.  But still, I wondered where remembering went. How can out of sight out of mind behavior possibly be construed as compassion? What about showing basic decency when someone is down?

This led of course to the biggest Dharma question, so common I think we've all asked it in some circumstance or other. How do you hold steady when Dharma people knock you for a loop?  It's easy to shrug at atrocious behavior coming from Washington DC, Islam or China because Samsara is not the precinct of perfection. But when uninspiring, unfriendly behavior flows from the maroon-covered heart of your sangha, it slams your faith and dents your exertion-- the Buddhist version of enthusiasm. 

I know the answer to the question and know it is the hardest of all practices: separate the Dharma from the people. As Rinpoche says: People are human so even Rinpoches are going to have faults. He especially liked to tell us how bothered he could be by Kalu Rinpoche's incredibly long and very dirty fingernails.  But, he'd say, "if I just focused on that, I'd have missed the Dharma he was teaching. What's pure, what stays pure, is Dharma. You should ignore human failing and focus only on the truth in the teachings."

That's what I was struggling to do when out of the blue Tenzin Dorje phoned me. He spoke English far better than I remembered him doing in Kathmandu. "Emaho!" I shouted, when I realized who he was and that he gone to great trouble to find me. "I have a daughter," he said. "She is two years old now. She is Nepali. I am in Germany working and sending money to my wife...the way you sent to me. I am so happy to have your number. I will call again soon."

"Yes, yes," I said, realizing nothing did escape Tenzin Dorje, indestructible protector of the teachings, not even human love. His was a Dharma wake up call that opened my eyes. Whatever past giving I volunteered mattered only in making merit for me, and that merit was now being appreciated through the blessing of this monk's reaching out. Despite his exile and ordeal, Tenzin Dorje had not forgotten, maybe because the human capacity to love that got him thrown out of the institution kept the Dharma glowing in him. "You are a lama," I said before he could hang up, "so yes, please call again. We need to talk."

~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

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Ode to Mother's Day

Felicity...Grace...Hannah... Mona

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

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , Creative Commons License This 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 Garson All rights Reserved