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.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

We are All on the A List

My beloved Rinpoche seems to spend most of his teaching time harping on the same simple point: now is the time to take up the Dharma as fiercely as you can. Don't wait; don't get distracted; don't make excuses. Just pass Go ASAP. Suffering will get you if you don't watch out. 

I flew to Vancouver for 48 hours to hear him teach a newly found pith instruction he boiled down to the same message. I reasoned, as I always do when he does this, Rinpoche couldn't get to the meat of the matter because he was speaking to a vast assemblage of ordinary people who dropped in for the weekend, not long term yogis privy to the secret esoteric practice instructions passed down through generations. What could an old man facing what could be his final public words say, but:  Please please practice.

Of course Miss Piggy wanted the heady stuff. I'm not a long term yogi, but I've been studying for 30 years and I flew a long way to learn something new. Disappointment made me fidget in my seat and tune out. I know. I know, my mind railed.  I've heard it 100 times: meditate, be kind, avoid negative thoughts and activity. You have this precious human life so hard to obtain: use it or lose it.  I'm sick of hearing about how amazing it is to be in a human body--especially when mine is falling apart.

Yes, you get old and start losing your parts: the eyesight, the hearing, the knees and hips, the eyebrows (never the hair on your legs of course) and tiny waist. You end up wondering why all the fuss about this human body that's got expiration dates all over it. This is the age of sustainable. It's so not. In fact, I've started to think of the diminishing form as the Buddha's dirty trick to finally make me realize the only thing that doesn't disintegrate or even grow old is the mind (notice how you always feel the same young in your thoughts?), so get on it now.

Still, gurus always remind us our mind is housed in our body, temporarily. Like a rental car we eventually return, it's a vehicle for getting around. The body is also sort of a gym in which the mind can strengthen through fitness training. Or warp. In other words, a mind needs a body. Some body.

A precious human body being nearly impossible for the mind to obtain is the first of four thoughts supposed to turn the mind to practicing Dharma. A student hears it early and often. It's sort of a scare tactic. The BOO! subtext is how the odds of being born, the mind's being reborn, in a human body --and one that's got all its faculties working to boot--are the same as those of a turtle popping its head up in the Pacific Ocean into a floating brass ring. The Universe's A list of somebodies is that short.

Humans make the list as the only beings with minds sharp enough to cut through the daze/days to the causes and understanding of how to eradicate suffering. We are the only creatures motivated by abstract ideas. Each of us is the agent of change we can believe in because we can believe in change. Since only humans realize it exists, only humans can effect it. We alone can free ourselves from the endless woes of the world. So hurry while you're in a human body.

I thought myself pretty inured to this same old, same old motivation coach line and left Vancouver grumpy about not learning anything super new.  So I feel obliged to confess it's been a surprise--or maybe Rinpoche's deliberate trick-- how activities since have ratcheted my usual precious human life ho hum up to Holy Cow!

A long hot summer has revealed beyond question the pathetic minority we human beings are. For one thing, I've been dealing with huge colonies of harmless black ants crawling everywhere, huger colonies of red ants digging up the sand under my brick walkway, spraying telltale flyers from swarming colonies of carpenter ants that would like to eat my house for lunch. And those damned fruit flies that mysteriously show up on the kitchen cabinets, those unswattable little buggers.

More annoying, I'm scratching the skin off my arms and torso where the toxic hairs of the hundreds of brown tail moth caterpillars crawling around the oak trees caused itchy rashes. These are not the four dozen tent caterpillars that built a huge cocoon in my sand cherry tree, causing me to saw off its largest limb. Then there are the earthworms I inadvertently disturb and damage trying to help a plant. And Buddha only knows how many white aphids are now munching on my drought stricken perennials, how many new almost invisible spider webs are being spun to catch them.

I joke that the way Tibetans give corpses to wild animals and birds to eat as a way of compensating for the animals they ate, I've given my live body to tiny creatures. I've gone through two tubes of 1% cortisone cream to stop the itching not just of brown tail moth caterpillars but mosquito bites, bigger black fly bites and the endless nips of "no see'ums", aka gnats, at night. The final insult was when I attempted to break up a huge seaweed clog on the ropes securing my dock and emerged from the salt water literally covered by hundreds of tiny tan wiggling worms that stung.

I don't want to know about the microscopic dust mites that live in the dust I pay dearly every two weeks to eradicate because they've eaten flesh off my face and triggered asthma. I don't count the bees buzzing around the purple lavender bushes and flamboyant red flower stalks of a Persian plant. I've lost count of the disgustingly voracious army of Japanese beetles trying to devour it, the dune roses and the sand cherry tree.  My garden is under siege, and me as an army of one is fighting a battle against hundreds of these little shiny savages. At least six dozen lie dead in the four day old trap, another two dozen in the jar of soapy water left out as a warning, yet every afternoon they keep coming like waves of a tsunami.

One groundhog who's eaten a quarter of my perennials, half my annuals and all my black raspberries. Two chipmunks hungry for my blueberries. A family of dreaded red squirrels, a fat gray squirrel always scurrying. A woodpecker whose sound echoes, a bald eagle mom and its baby learning how to circle, 18 Canada geese all in a row swimming by, a pair of ducks with three ducklings paddling behind, three great blue herons hanging around the shore at low tide alternating with a half dozen snowy egrets so regal on spindly black legs, a flock of terns diving for the huge schools of small silvery "bait" fish carried by the fast moving tide, the continual splash of bass breaking the water. I hear the haunting cry of an owl from time to time, just heard the raucous squawks a crow mob and watched five seagulls fighting over a clam dug up by one. Clams and blood worms under the salt water mud, snails and mussels in the seaweed, crabs and lobsters crawling along the bottom, green flies skimming the surface...

Amid all this body options, I ended up an A lister with access, the elite with an In. And you did too. In this world of infinite critters and pests and living bacteria, we got the precious, hard-won human body. And look at me wasting it to death, sitting around sipping coffee, checking email, soaking up the sun, running off to hot spots and worrying about its hair, even though I've been warned at least 100 times I could lose this opportunity next time around. Look how many disgusting creatures I could turn out to be.

The swarms of summer radicalized me. So I am sharing the news. Somehow somewhere in the past I --and you--did enough things good and right to not be a Japanese beetle (hedge fund managers only), sand worm, mosquito (insurance executives exclusive), aphid, carpenter ant or gnat. Whatever made us win the karma lottery, I--and you--better be doing it from now on so next time around we win again and get another human body--maybe even in a more elite situation. A body with all its working parts, that's "precious" because it's the only vehicle driving to immortality with no suffering. Now really is the time to think ahead and be kind, avoid negative thoughts and harmful actions. Now may be the only time left to focus on the Dharma and liberate ourselves forever from pain, distress, decrepitude and death. Life in the body we've got may not be the greatest, but it's going to be a helluva lot more horrid to be a cockroach, termite, leech or vole.

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

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