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, July 31, 2013

Hey, Who Took the E off Human?

They're still coming, those swarms of shiny bright Japanese beetles that fly in, land on a bush and munch it to death, simultaneously screwing two by two on top of each other. They're seriously disgusting, screwing while they ravage, but I have to admit, they're pretty. Their copper coloring glows in sunlight, like nouveau money. They remind me of all that shiny bane capital savaging the civic and industrial plantings of the once united states, screwing us as they go. I am trying to stand my ground, at least against the Japanese beetles , with a squirt bottle and prayers for the dead to be reborn as something actually of benefit to the common good, like a schoolteacher or fireman.  But I'm American, so I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

If I sound obsessed and exasperated, I am. These infestations are breathtakingly hellacious. They are destroying the bees' workplace and the birds' food. They make investments evaporate right before my eyes. They've left the burgundy sand cherry droop without leaves, the dune roses shrivel and the hibiscus can't bud. There is no way to stop the destruction. Despite weak sprays like pyrethin, there isn't a killer remedy or repellent out there. Where's Monsanto with Roundup that really works?

Worse, there's no consolation for coming out of the garden and into the news. I just can't get away from murderous infestations of voracious greed. Grab and go, fast food's m.o., has become the American way of life. Vulture capitalists suck the life out of perfectly healthy companies. The vampires leave Detroit demolished, Headstart stuck, Medicare infirm, roads and bridges falling down. My local school district, swarmed in summer by the McMansion crowd in Landrovers and Lexuses, has to summer feed more than 125 kids lunch or they'll go hungry.

As I just lamented, there's no roundup you can squirt. The world is so totally schmucked up, the same money shine, soul sick men keep coming back to keep making the same death and destruction headlines that eat your heart out. It isn't just Larry Summers. The banksters who monopolize the money have swarmed to feed and fatten on vital necessities like electricity and aluminum. Read the news this week about Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. The lawyers, think tank billionaires and multimillion dollar insurance company CEOs are systematically eating away Medicare, reducing payments so doctors don't want to deal with it any more. Those of us in the land of the fee who don't have gazillions stashed in the Caymans are doomed to die without medical help, kinda like my bushes. Read all about it in the Wall Street Journal. 

When there was a Life of Riley, he used to say: "What a revoltin' development this is." Yesterday the insular nitwit in the White House was standing his ground in a gigantic Amazon distribution center that munches to death local communities by deliberately staffing the places with minimum wage temps. Perhaps this guy's nervous system, like that of the beetles in my garden, was paralyzed by the spray of too much repellent. Over and over like a broken record, he's going to make a grand bargain with the homegrown ideologically zealous Taliban who've infested the common good. Instead of charging forward to save the pay by spraying Republicans with reality-- the one repellent that just kills them, this time he's saying "Help yourself", cordially inviting them to cut corporate taxes and strip the treasury of its life support. Tiz like the beetles sucking the life out of my dune roses.

Changing faces on the same old selfish behavior seems to be our favorite way to recycle trash. The wheel of Samsara spins, and insanity becomes a word in everybody's language because we do the same old thing over and over, each time expecting to get a brand new, different result. Or actually hoping we don't. Maybe insanity rhymes with humanity because the same dirty tricks still trick people again and again to self-destruct. 

The preferred weapon of crass destruction is, as always, coldly calculated, cynical hypocrisy. It attacks like a swarm of brightly colored Japanese beetles, ready to eat away everything we've planted to dazzling effect. Just look at the surge in the war against abortion. Republicans about to lose the health care battle, because people are discovering the new programs actually makes life easier for them, need a new issue to galvanize their dis-eased legions back into voting frenzy. Slipsliding away on the tracks of the history train, they can't use immigration or gay rights or economic justice as a whip. So they're doing what men who suddenly feel impotent always do: beat up women. They're spraying their hatred state by state. The same don't tread on me loudmouths who so glibly proclaim liberty at all costs-- hands off my money, my gun, my business, my right to not wear a helmet, be fat and smoke, are now gobbling up any liberty a woman has left. Hell, they treat their gun dogs with more respect.

What makes these garden variety busybodies so voraciously feed on others? Is it because they don't have to face the consequences of their demands, like the Neo conmen who demanded war because they themselves didn't have to fight in it? Is it because they don't have to clean up their own mess: they can so carelessly walk away and let others to do that?

 Is it because looking in the mirror and minding your own business is about the toughest thing you can do? So many responsibilities and decisions, so much uncertainty and flexibility and insecurity from too much change. How frustrating to avoid causing hurt or real harm. It's so much easier to distract yourself from your own doubt and worry by attacking others, isn't it? Yiddish has a word for that disgusting mind set: farbissen. It means wanting others to be as unhappy as you. 

The Buddha had a word for it too: meditation. Get familiar with your own fears, hopes and ignorance. Live with it. That way you transform your shit into wisdom that helps others transform too. Having a human life is a full-time job: you've got to be aware of every last consequence of every action and thought while constantly aiming for the common good. The multitasking that gets you a head is nonstop awareness that nothing you do or think spins out to hurt or harm. The late Trungpa Rinpoche graphically described such discipline as mental toilet training: not flinging your infection-laden shit onto others. 

I've found when you try to live and let live, you discover how hellishly hard that is. It's not just plagues of Japanese beetles. My mother always said, and she said it a lot, that it was much easier to scream at others and carry placards in protest on a sidewalk than to right the wrongs of your own life. Protesting was a distraction from what should be the real focus: cleaning up your own act. Actually, "if you can't stop fighting with your sister, how do you expect to bring peace to the world?" is how she so annoyingly put it. 

I think the Buddha had the same idea when he asked us to embody our earned wisdom, not turn it into agitprop and demagoguery. We don't proselytize because we don't have the time. Watching your step is all consuming, and once you get how hard it is, you know better than to throw stones at others. I vow not to kill, yet I'm out in the garden every three hours spraying the life out of Japanese beetles. My intention is to save plants. Hopefully that saves bees, helps the birds and chipmunks and keeps on brightening people's spirit as they go by. It's a choice. 

Frankly, every single second of life, we're confronted with choice and consciously or not, we act on an option. Nothing is simple or given. Real growing up is getting over that childish idea and learning to swallow doubt, like a salty, bitter anchovy. The trick of growing up is to stay aware of all the consequences of all your thoughts and actions,  ones that spin out now, ones that will reverberate tomorrow. It's realizing you are a player on  the team of life, something larger than yourself. You're not alone here. That's the firewall between the human and the humane, and nobody seems to be getting through it any more.


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

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

World Piece

 Plot and plan, the infamous words behind conspiracy, seem to be the most fitting way to describe how I'm spending my summer. I've become so obsessed with my plot in life, or actually with gardening plans for it, I run to the windows as soon as I wake up. I stare into the planted spaces when I should be writing. I spend hours moving plants and earth, telling myself "this is your exercise instead of a boring gym."

I know this is ridiculous when I have really important matters to tend to, like getting rich slowly. That would definitely help me pay my bills. Frankly, they have become considerable thanks to my addiction to plants. I am unable to drive by a nursery without turning in. Even though I promise myself I won't-- I just won't succumb to temptation again, I helplessly watch my car do it. Not me, mind you, the car. And if I don't come out with plants, I end up with stacks of compost or mulch or topsoil bags that I can barely lift. People say: at least it's not drugs.

Actually, one of the reasons I truly have to go to nurseries so much is that I am a serial killer. I stick innocent, bushy plants into ground that turns out to be so acidic, with shocking speed it fries flowers like daisies and herbs like lavender that need alkaline soil. My ground is also so full of clay, I have consigned all the plants' roots to a cement prison. No wonder so many perennials and bushes stood stunted or withered. Not one strawberry off of a dozen everbearing plants. To add to the misery, I have a perpetual water shortage and no spot of full sun.

My policy is: whatever survives, buy more of it, lots more. That's how I learned hydrangeas are Nature's greatest gift to challenged gardeners: they generously thrive in shade and clay and acid to burst with long lasting bloom. I now have 14: reds, whites and blues.

But of course there has to be more to life than happy hydrangeas. It's taken time to figure out what distress dooms the other plants: the shade or the soil or the sere. I feel it's my duty to dig in to rescue what's still alive and struggling, to put it somewhere else. I feel like a true Bodhisattva. Maybe I can't save the world, but a plant is part of it.

Then I decide: no, that plants belongs over here or down there. I do so much re-arranging of re-arrangement, some of my plants move around more than a Bedouin nomad. Unfortunately, plants prefer to stay put and try to make a go of it. Immigration is not their thing. Perpetual re-lo debilitates the roots and slowly kills them, which of course "forces" me to drive back to a nursery for replacements. I'm on my fourth red lobelia but it's finally in the one shady wetspot I found, or rather the straggly one-stem remains of the fourth are.

The other problem is appearance. What looked right one day looks dreadful another, like an Arab country these days. It's the colors or the shapes or the height or the girth that suddenly seem wrong. My dictates didn't work. Sometimes the purple I expected turns out to be pinkish and clashes with the red next to it. Sometimes a plant that supposedly can tolerate a little shade distorts itself trying to reach full sun. One liatris has a swan's neck and the other has no flower stalk at all. They are demanding change.

Three Montauk daisies had the gall to grow into bushes and shade out the campanulas, which I have had to find new space for. Dung covered beetles munch away the leaves of my Asiatic lilies, so I moved bushy plants in front of them. Who knew these would up and grow taller than those lilies? They just defied expectations. Out they went. To another spot, which of course, required rearranging the astilbes.

It's amazing that there's always something else to fix. A yard is unending motion. I just had a huge tree cut down and suddenly there is full sun in spots. Of course I rushed to take advantage of that, madly moving plants into those spots. Buoyed by that home improvement, I found gypsum pellets, expensive pellets, to break up the clay soil, and now I am stubbornly digging up every plant I ever put in the ground to get them underneath. It's backbreaking work, but at least it should make a difference--supposedly. There will be more motion, the kind we call progress.

Making a difference is, I guess, the point. Getting it right has become, to quote the title of a bad old movie, a magnificent obsession. I am  fiercely determined to get my yard to look like it's so well arranged, there's no room for improvement. You know, the sort of thing the American government spent gazillions of our dollars trying to do in Afghanistan with results no different than mine.

After two months of struggle, I was starting to think I might at last be getting somewhere--remission accomplished, and could stop being so obsessed. Then, as life would have it, a friend took me to the botanical garden, and there was the unreachable ideal realized, heaven here on Earth--right here so damningly close to my piece of it, I had no excuse for the wrongdoing mess. At that garden, every last leaf and stem was in such harmony with every other leaf and stem in size, shape and sun or shade, the whole place screamed "inevitable." That's what perfection is: nothing more to change. I came home and immediately wanted to rip everything at my place out of the ground. 

I have so much else to worry about and accomplish but instead I'm madly reorganizing my garden. I'm once again spending too much time staring out the windows, circling on tour with coffee in my hand, ripping out of the ground, transplanting and transporting. When one of Rinpoche's most precious lamas told me to meditate more, I know this is not what he had in mind, but maybe meditation is what I am doing. 

The world is an absolute mess of wrongdoing. Minds as fixed as cement, thoughts as pernicious as fungus and pestilence, the drought of compassion that waters the roots of life, the elected President who shriveled in the acid soil of politics, the unelected moneymen who unexpectedly grew bushy enough to shade out the sun, these terrible times have kept us all from growing strong enough to bloom. But how can I re-arrange any of that to make it right?

I obsessively plan my own plot. I'm out in the garden, day after day, too many hours after hour, a conspirator at work. I am as desperate as everybody else to fix the morass we're in, but all I can do right now is keep re-arranging my little millimeter of the world, trying to achieve the inevitable harmony that means at least something is as it should be and there's no change to believe in.

 P.S. Three days after I wrote this, two days after back breaking soil turning and plant moving, just when I thought I was done, the Japanese beetles moved in. In case you don't know, Japanese beetles are the Tea Party/Taliban on the garden circuit. They arrive on the scene and immediately set about destroying everything they can get their teeth on. Theirs is a scorched earth policy and I'm now madly engaged in...standing my ground. I've become a killing machine. But then Japanese beetles have even less redeeming social value than the likes of George Zimmerman.

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

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Mind full on America's Birthday

Okay, here's my present to our national birthday party: mind fullness. I'm going to empty my mind so it can focus on all the hot time hoopla and hot dogs of the fireworks day. Here goes...

I've finally figured out why people who slather their car in bumper stickers are always the slowest drivers on the road: they want you to read their messages. Ahem, is this texting while driving?

Now that we know the NSA has metadata on every phone call and every email everybody's made in the last decade, we need to know why the Justice Department isn't using it to indict the terrifying banksters who blew up more American lives than Al Qaeda can count. Is Justice really that blind?

Despite best intentions and even training, you lose your mindfulness a lot at Medicare age and can return your black portable telephone handset to the TV, thinking it's the remote.  Operator! Get me CNN.

Commentators and scholars are talking about the great ripping apart in Turkey and Egypt of the secular, educated, economically vibrant class that wants to move forward and the rural religious rest that wants to hold on and go back.  Okay, so that class is Islamist, but the set up sure sounds just like America to me. Stuck in neutral while Drive and Reverse fight it out and rip us apart.

High tech has infiltrated everything and artificial intelligence is so the rage, Americans are getting stupider by the minute. Well, if the automatic word correction on my iPhone and iPad is any indication of artificial intelligence, Buddha save me. I start typing in s..p..a..g...for you know what, spaghetti, and it jumps ahead to out think me with "slag." I see why the world's a total mess. I want real intelligence back right now.

A reporter yet again exposed the old corporate con of increasing profits by not increasing prices but decreasing the net weight of the product. You know, less Cornflakes in the same old box. Well, I've discovered another nasty trick, a new Proctor gamble: my kitchen sink detergent has been watered down.Two bottles ago it was thick and gloppy and took me months to use. This bottle was gone in two weeks.  Americans are growing fat while their products get thinner and thinner. Ah, the balance of yin and yang.

This brings me to the really really big, burning question: is it deliberate or not that Trader Joe's fabulous Dark Chocolate Bar with Sea Salt and Caramel will not break apart on the designated lines, causing caramel to ooze out so you have to keep eating it and of course you eat more than you intend. Which means you have to buy a new one faster than you wanted to because who can be without chocolate this good in times this bad?

I think it's exquisite how all the ruckus and rampaging about the Second Amendment and the right to carry concealed loaded guns wherever you damn well please has become the fight to shoot yourself in the foot. There is a very tight correlation between the gun toting states and the suddenly abortion banning states and that's a huge HA HA because there's just as tight a correlation between these states and the growing population of young "nonwhites" who are going to breed these bastard rednecks out of existence. You'd think they'd be all for abortion!  But no. How sweet to get what you deserve.

The outsourcing of work to what Computerstan denizens call "end users" and I call "us" seems to have no end. In the latest grab for ridiculously nasty profit taking, the Golden Gate Bridge Authority removed all toll takers from its fabled bridge and made everyone who crosses responsible for figuring out how to get the $6 to them. Got that? You are now responsible and liable for collecting your own toll and getting it to their bank. They don't have to do anything. If you have one of those beeper gizmos on your dash, good going. If, like me, you forgot to take it with you the day you rented a car and had to go through the toll booth wondering what to do and then tried to pay the car rental company the cash, you're screwed. The car rental companies don't want to be toll collectors for the Golden Gate Bridge Authority. They tell you you're on your own and have to contact the authority to arrange payment. If you forget, eventually you find your credit card charged the toll plus a hefty penalty.  That's American enterprise for you!

And finally, a young foreign friend of mine has a wonderful boyfriend whose name turns out to be Perfecto. "Not a joke," she said. "It's his real name."  Well, I just love it!  Imagine how magical my life would be if everyone had to call me Perfect.

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

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Monday, July 01, 2013

A Good News Story, for a change you can relieve in

I was drowning in the tsunami of horrific headlines about the mammoth mess our world has become when the adorable Karma Dolma pulled up in her boyfriend's blue Honda and knocked on my door. More than five years had passed since we'd last been together. She was a post graduate at Rinpoche's boarding school in Boudha, the Tibetan quartier of Kathmandu, Nepal, running the cooking classes I sponsored. At translating for me, at accounting for every rupee, at marshaling the children every Saturday morning, whatever it took to keep those classes going, she did competently and cheerfully.

By then Karma Dolma, who was maybe 17, spoke four languages: Nepali, Tibetan, English and her native Manangi, the dialect of the Himalayan people on the far side of Annapurna. When at the age of 5 she was brought down from her mud and stone hut up there, she was an illiterate yak herder, dirty and plagued by parasites--the norm in the remote regions of Himalayan Nepal because the arrogant Hindu Brahmins in Kathmandu treat all Buddhist realms as nonexistent. 

She'd passed the Nepalese school graduation exam, given after Grade 10, with a near perfect score and was waiting around to get a scholarship to finish the last two years of high school somewhere abroad. After two years, Zurich offered opportunity and off she went, carefully passing control of cooking class to another high mountain, recent graduate of Grade 10, Tashi Dolma. 

Essentially Karma Dolma was penniless so money was raised for her first ever airplane flight, from Kathmandu to Zurich, and a local family with two young boys took her in. She took to learning German-- the Swiss version of it to be exact, learning Western ways, learning to ski, learning to live in a real house--the school has only dormitories, and learning bigger English words so she could complete two years of international school in that language.  

It wasn't easy but she did it all. And made a pile of Swiss friends along the way. She learned to bake cookies and sing in chorus and act in the Christmas pageant. She even blogged about it all--in English. And over the summer, she raised the money to fly back to Manang to teach in the new village school. Indignant anger at the fierce Nepali corruption and harassment of her ethnically Tibetan people made her want to work to rise high enough in the world to put them down.

Because Karma Dolma was totally penniless, she was rejected by the five American colleges she applied to. (The family in Zurich had been charitable enough to help her all they could, but couldn't keep it up.)  Somehow a saint in Halifax got her a scholarship to a university there, for half the tuition, and agreed to house her if Karma Dolma could find the needed other half tuition: $9,000. So I mounted a campaign between the US and Canada and somehow by the blessing of the Buddha, we did it, on time. One way airfare included.

So here was this beautiful, small Manangi woman now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, going to a Catholic college where everything is in English. She got a job working in the cafeteria--her cooking class background sealed the deal, and over the summer she worked two jobs while taking classes. We raised $9,000 again for her sophomore year, although just barely this time because so many people are just trying to help themselves survive right now. I was dreading this year, worrying how we were going to find those funds, worrying that the last thing her uncle, one of Rinpoche's precious Khenpos or teachers, asked of me before he left Vancouver for a new post in Asia was to "take care of Karma Dolma so she makes it safely."

Karma Dolma finished her sophomore year with a not inflated B+ average. Her major is International Development with a minor in Business.  She did real marketing surveys and business plans including one on electric cars that involved Tesla (that's how up to the minute smart she is), mastered economics and geography, and of course like everyone her age she's totally literate in computer and iPhone. 

I suspect she got help with getting up to speed on that from her boyfriend. He majored in technology and works for a software firm. He's a Canadian born in Hong Kong. One of the reasons it's so heartwarming to watch them taking such loving care of each other is that he's Chinese and she's Tibetan.

Of course time and kids roll on. This was, after all, her first face-to- face peek at America. After breakfast, she was gone. First to see a cousin in Boston and Boston itself, then on to New York where her sister, on full scholarship at Skidmore, is working in a restaurant for the summer. So from the hightop of Manang to the see level of Manhattan: the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum, and her favorite place, MOMA. To save money, she and her boyfriend stayed at an Airbnb room somewhere in New Jersey.

She also found plenty of her people in Queens and gorged on Nepali dhal bhat. "It's hard for me to speak Nepali any more," she said when she came back, on the way home, looking very stylish in a striped cotton frock. She'd had a splendid week in America, memories to carry her through a summer of classes and two minimum wage jobs: one waiting tables by day at a Thai restaurant and one tending to sick people in a hospital at night.

For breakfast, we had coffee and croissants. (She loves coffee although she comes from a strong tea culture.) Her boyfriend brought downstairs all the towels and sheets they'd used, immaculately folded. She packed the remains of the Nepali dinner I'd made for a frugal picnic lunch and off she went with her boyfriend back to Halifax, radiantly grateful and buoyant. "Life is good," she said. "It's been hard but people like you help me so I know I can do it. My dreams are coming true, even though sometimes I just can't believe it."

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

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