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, November 19, 2015

Time out

I finally got to answer my own question: why are there so many Tibetan Buddhist retreat centers in the SW corner of France known as the Dordogne. I got in a car and drove there, from the elegant port city of Bordeaux.

Like many famed regions of France, this one is named for the river the meanders through it. Yes it is dotted with chateaus like the Loire in the Touraine, but it is uniquely lined with porous limestone cliffs that rise and fall abruptly along its banks. Medieval redoubts of yellow stone that glimmers in the sun were carved into those rock faces. Way before that, prehistoric humans huddled in their natural caves. This is the region of the famed primitive grotto paintings of horned wild animals that launched Western art. 

The Vezere flows into the Dordogne as other smaller rivers do, making the land fertile for farming. It must have been a prehistoric paradise. It looks like paradise today: neatly tended fields, pastures of dairy cows, forests full of fungi, flocks of dock and geese, tiled roof stone farmhouses, massive stone block chateaux and water flowing everywhere.  

It is so timeless, time disaappears. Buildings are referred to as Romanesque. This was the land at the heart of the Hundred Years War, the Aquitaine of Eleanor and her Richard, lion in winter. A hundred years of mass killing and destruction over passing thoughts that got stuck in someone's head. Some medieval villages still have their walls. The chateaus outside them are Renaissance.  Only tourists, masses of them at times, disturb the peace in which this verdant land now rests in hard earned retirement.

The energy here is timeless. That must have attracted the great masters, Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who set up houses a kilometer or so from each other on a lushly verdant hill looking over a valley in this prehistoric region, this stage on which the human drama has so long played. They set up retreat centers and stupas and I was fortunate enough to visit them, and be received with immense kindness and joy. 

A gray haired nun from Tibet rules their roost in excellent English, abetted by a young Spanish nun and two Tibetan women from Darjeeling who look after the late masters' houses. Live-in volunteers too of course: everyone busy building a larger temple at Dudjom Rinpoche's house and a field of stupas at the three-year-retreat center. The land hhardly shuddered. None of this seems at all out of place up the hill from the village of Le Moustier with its boulangerie, stone church and auberge/restaurant.

Or maybe it was simply that the shabby cars and sometimes makeshift cabins were very familiar hallmarks of Dharma centers I know in the United States. People who want to pray hard and do good are not hedge fund managers. They are old shoes. 

There are, as I said, a whopping number of retreat centers in the area and I was only able to visit one. But it was an infinite blessing to be so welcomed, fed, invited to circumambulate the stupa field in progress and to meditate alone in Dudjom Rinpoche's private shrine room just because I said I was a longtime Dharma student. I left a khata for the long life of my beloved teacher who will be 83 in another two days and dedicated the merit to everyone. 

It was a magical moment to contemplate the headlines, before more horror came. A moment to remember that we may think our world is dark beyond measure from man's inhumanity to man, but in this ancient region, we are reminded that there have always been wars and violence and the primal aggression of males necessarily locking horns in bloodbath to dive into gene pool. A hundred years war, crusades, Revolutionary War, Franco-Prussian war, Civil War, two world wars and so on. So even with ISIS nothing's changed. Except that lands like this one of the Dordogne have been there, done that enough times to be over it now. Its hard earned peace and plenty are a huge sigh of relief. 

May we all be as free of suffering as the Dordogne has become. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Prayer power

The first week of May I bought one of those miniature orchids that fill the entranceways of Trader Joe stores: $6.95 for magenta. It had two stalks, half of each's flowers already in bloom, the remaining buds fat enough to pop. I gave it six weeks, just about the time I'd have fresh flowers from my own garden.

Orchids need moisture so this one provided the perfect opportunity every morning to give away the small water/tea offering ritually made the morning before to Mahakala, the protector and remover of obstacles. Ever since one of Rinpoche's lamas told me five years back that honoring Mahakala this way would help me, I have faithfully put water from the tea kettle into an espresso mug that I put in front of Mahakala's picture on my shrine while invoking his name, followed by three loud claps. The air expelled in that sound of two hands meeting represents at least for me the obstacles Mahakala can remove. And I have to say, I've noticed he has removed quite a few. Some sailing has been astonishingly smooth.

So, every morning new water and the next morning a spritz for the orchid. I don't really know how long these industrially raised mini orchids stuffed into tiny pots are supposed to last. I've always assumed the blooms would burst, be beautiful, fall and that would be that. We're talking maybe six weeks, eight on the outside.

It's understatement that I was startled to discover this orchid had two blooms and a new bud on October 30 when I needed to throw it away. It wasn't ready to be canned. It was stubbornly going to live past the Day of the Dead. 

The same spooky longevity happened to the last orchid I watered with Mahakala's blessed water.  It's two stems dropped all their white blooms one by one over a period of three months and as I was lifting it toward the trash, I noticed three new buds trying to swell on those embarrasingly naked stems.  So I pushed that plant into the hands of someone who needed good luck and did the same with relentlessly beautiful orchid. Who knew prayer is reallly Miracle-Gro? I am now a firm fan of the positive energy it releases. I need my life to bloom so I'm keeping at it every day.  Om shri Mahakala yaksha betali hung zsa!