Posts Tagged ‘samsara’

Muddy water world

July 22nd, 2009    -    2 Comments

Between a supremely perfected Buddha and us, who are ordinary, there is no difference as to substance. This “substance” can be likened to water. One of the salient characteristics of water is its conformability: when put into a round vessel it becomes round, when put into a square vessel it becomes square. We have this same adaptability, but as we live bound and fettered through ignorance of our true nature, we have forfeited this freedom. To pursue the metaphor, we can say that the mind of a Buddha is like water that is calm, deep, and crystal clear, and upon which the moon of truth reflects fully and perfectly. The mind of the ordinary man, on the other hand, is like murky water, constantly being churned by the gales of delusive thought and no longer able to reflect the moon of truth. The moon nonetheless shines steadily upon the waves, but as the waters are roiled we are unable to see its reflection. Thus we lead lives that are frustrating and meaningless.

To be continued

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Eight is enough

July 1st, 2009    -    3 Comments

The momentary fascination with the reality TV train wreck “Jon & Kate Plus 8” has me wondering if the sad saga of family striving and dissolution is beneficial as a morality tale. Does the failed couple’s melodrama teach a real-life lesson about balancing careers, money, self-image, household responsibilities, individuality and passion post-parenthood?

Yes, there’s a lesson, in the same sense that wildfires teach us not to throw matches and car accidents teach us not to text behind the wheel. The damage, however, is so dear that it’s hardly redemptive unless we can change the course of our own catastrophe.

“Jon & Kate Plus 8” is the story of what happens when what we have is not enough. A young and aspiring couple finds that the babies don’t come easy enough, the family isn’t full enough, the money doesn’t go far enough, the house isn’t big enough, the help doesn’t help enough, the good times aren’t good enough and the ever after isn’t happy enough.

Sound familiar? This isn’t just their dirty laundry; it’s mine and likely yours too. More than that, it’s the basis of Buddhism.

Read the rest and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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Getting back to one

April 5th, 2009    -    13 Comments


There is a beginning meditation practice – which is profoundly advanced – called “counting the breath.” Once you have positioned yourself to sit on a cushion, a bench or a chair, you settle the mind in the hara, which is the gut, and you start to count your inhalations and your exhalations. The way I do this is to count an inhalation “one” and an exhalation “two” then an inhalation “three” and an exhalation “four.” The instructions are to continue in this way until you reach ten. Sounds clear and simple enough. The truth is that when you try to do it, you find that you can’t get much beyond four or five before the mind darts across a meadow, over a fence, builds up speed and takes off into the beyond. When that happens, you start back at one, and keep going.

So in this beginning meditation, which becomes even more difficult with the frequency of your practice, you spend a considerable amount of time trying to get to ten. Get to ten, come on, you tell yourself, get to ten! Get somewhere, you dolt!

The thing is, should you ever get to ten, the instructions are to start back at one. The ten and the one have no merit or meaning, you see. But try believing that for yourself.

***
The other day I heard from my sister. She is fortunate enough to live along the beautiful coast near Newport Beach, California. She is doubly fortunate to rent there, because as well-off as she is, she could not afford to buy a home in those environs during the recent run-up in this world’s capital of fantasy-made millionaires.

Two months ago she had to vacate her rented condo when the owners suddenly showed up, out of work and with nowhere else to go but back where they started. She moved just across the road to another complex of lavish new patio homes, and she loves the place she’s leasing from a self-made titan now sleeping on his brother’s couch. Then she noticed that two of the six homes on her cul-de-sac were on the market, and last week another neighbor fled in the cover of night. It is and will yet be more of a ghost town, eerie for its glam appearance as a destination lifestyle with no visible lives. It recalled to me my own shock and shame when my first husband and I naively walked into and then out of a predatory mortgage 25 years ago during one of Houston’s colossal real estate boom-and-bust cycles. In the glow of your self-immolation you see that the castle you’ve built is only made of popsicle sticks.

We were trying to get somewhere. We thought that’s what a go-getting couple was supposed to do. Get somewhere. But the world is always getting back to one.

***
Then I was in a waiting room and I saw the new issue of People magazine, where someone or the other is always revealing the new version of themselves: made up, made over, reborn, relaunched, remarried, rehabbed, reformed and 50 pounds lighter!

And there was Kathy Ireland revealing the new her, just the latest go-getter to tell you her diet gets and her money gets and her happiness gets and success gets. She says she had grown overwhelmed, overstressed, overweight and over-everything before she found some new secret way to get a better body. But wait! Didn’t she already have a do-over? Wasn’t she the SI swimsuit model who remade herself into a billion-dollar design empress? Didn’t she already have a rebirth and a makeover? Hasn’t she been all the way to ten a time or two? And she’s still spinning on that disastrous wheel? Asking us to buy advice from her? I know where she’s headed; we all know where she’s headed.

Maybe she thinks she’s getting somewhere else this time, but the world is always getting back to one.

***
When we sit, we always come back to one. And the more we come back to it, the easier it is to see a way beyond it. There is something beyond one, and we call it one.

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Disturbance at 30,000 feet

February 8th, 2009    -    13 Comments

This is why I am disturbed by what the kids in my daughter’s third-grade class say when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Famous,” they say.

It’s what disturbs me about me, too.

For your automotive safety

January 8th, 2009    -    14 Comments


We have a new motor vehicle law here in California. It is a good law. There are about a billion worthwhile reasons to have it. Along the roadways there are portable lighted signs with the newest prohibition spelled out on them. It’s jarring to see, because I am flabbergasted that we actually need a law to inform and correct this behavior. And yet, it doesn’t go far enough.

Don’t text and drive.
Don’t sleep and drive.
Don’t read Braille and drive.
Don’t needlepoint and drive.
Don’t stir fry and drive.
Don’t tie shoelaces and drive.
Don’t repot plants and drive.
Don’t braid hair and drive.
Don’t count pennies and drive.
Don’t crack nuts and drive.
Don’t finger puppet and drive. Don’t even think about it.

Just don’t.

A toast to the last of the good stuff

December 16th, 2008    -    22 Comments


The other day I was passing time in one of my many embarrassingly self-stimulating pursuits when I ran across this comment about my book:

“I think I will eventually buy it cheap and used online.”

I don’t know the person who wrote it, but we are all careful about our purchasing decisions these days. What struck me is why she would broadcast her intentions in a way that seems both self-congratulatory and deprecatory about the value of a book – my book in particular. What price is so much cheaper than $9.56 new? Or even $11.95 list?

I’m not here to rail on anyone about the end of the publishing industry. Like a lot of industries collapsing these days it has long engaged in a stubborn suicide spiral. Publishers seem to have been blindly unconcerned with writers, readers or the revolution in content delivery. (Beware, beware, those of you awaiting publishing knights in shining armor. No one rides in on a white horse. You, yes you, the writer, remain your sole means of transport. So saddle up and get going.)

No, what I want to rail against is the peculiarly uncivilized value system during this, the decline and fall of our civilization. A system in which we can spend $10 a week on coffee in a cardboard cup, but scrimp on the $9.56 for a book.

And don’t worry: I’m indicting myself here. My husband and I don’t dare live without our $12 pound of connoisseur coffee beans each week.

One early Saturday morning about a month ago I stopped by Starbucks for my ritual tall-drip-with-room-for-cream $1.60 cup of slightly stale coffee on the way to the Zen center. Normally I make a pot at home but don’t want the roar of the grinder to wake the dead at the dark hour of my departure. There were about half a dozen folks ahead of me in line. The stock market had fallen, oh 700 points or so the day before, yet here we all were, living proof of our unshakable values. We could, on this day of our lives, own a share of Citigroup, the largest financial institution in the world, for $4. Or, we could have a grande vanilla soy latte. We all know how that story ends. It’s not a happy ending.

And so I make a toast today, a toast to a better tomorrow; a kinder, gentler, nobler nation; a toast to quiet circumspection, art and imagination; to our wiser selves awaiting revelation in the turn of a page.

A toast not just to the book or the bookshelf; not to the library, no, not just to the borrowed book; but beyond that, to the hard currency of words worth owning.

To the bookstore! Where everything is already dangerously, precariously, woefully half off and going out of business.

***

This entire post was written by hand in 15 minutes flat in the pages of Jen Lee’s magical Don’t Write: A Reluctant Journal while my hard drive was being replaced in yet another cruel case of ill-timed obsolescence. Get your own journal today. It’s not just a blank book. It’s a white horse!

Forever again

December 2nd, 2008    -    9 Comments


Never again believe what you read.
Never again fly on the most overbooked air travel day of the year.
Never again go via this airline through this airport.
Never again be in a hurry to get home when fog socks in your destination.
Never again leave your dog at home with a dogsitter who misunderstands/misreads/forgets when you are returning.
Never again get the smell of fear, anxiety, panic and dog poop out of the rugs.
Never again use sudsing detergent in your new front-loader.

Now, never again say never again. Instead, sit a few hours of Rohatsu at the temple this week and make your mind open, your heart forgiving and the world right side up.

Forever again.

The jingle of a tin cup

November 16th, 2008    -    13 Comments


One very late night among many very late nights lately, Georgia spoke up before falling asleep. Does this mean I am a professional? she asked. I assured her. Yes, you are a professional.

My nine-year-old is a professional. A professional beggar. She was the last in a cast of dozens given a role in our little town’s live theater performance of “A Christmas Carol.” She is deep into final rehearsals and costume fittings, and this is where our story turns. She was cast, or so we presumed, as a beggar girl. The costume is for a beggar boy.

You don’t have to tell me that to a nine-year-old, the difference between a boy part and a girl part is unfathomable and untouchable. And although she has been counseled by her parents that there is little to be done at this late and desperate hour, no fix or balm; although everyone has tried to convince her that playing a boy is Oscar bait for pretty girls, she cannot be sold or satisfied.

Because she is safe in expressing all of herself to me, her deep and dark feelings, she does. Every morning and night she tosses them up to me, her worrisome frets and ceaseless spins, about how to change the costume, how to replace it, get around it, make one more phone call, concoct one more reason, convince the powers that be, etc. etc. chapter and verse. (Mind you, she does not under any circumstance want to quit the show. She is an actress, first and last.)

On the way to school on Friday morning she lifted her chin and said again, as if anew, “I still really need to change that costume,” perhaps hoping that phrasing it as a need instead of a want would score results from her miracle-making mom.

I stopped cold and said icily, in a voice that would freeze your eyeballs: IT’S NOT IMPORTANT!

And it’s true, it’s not important. It just wasn’t a very nice thing to say.

We are beggars, the both of us. She is begging me to do something. And I am begging her to do nothing. We are, each of us, nearly always begging for what we don’t have.

***

A long time ago I had a Buddhist boyfriend who dumped me (but that’s another story) and as he got sick and tired of me he started to say abruptly rude things. They were probably true, but as the saying goes, I wasn’t ready to hear them. I hear them now! One thing he said was that I needed to learn the difference between need and want. He probably said it in the context of my complete debasement, in the midst of vain and endless pleading, while I clutched his pants leg, being dragged across a parking lot, wailing But you can’t leave! I need you!

The difference between need and want? I hadn’t a clue at the time. He set me wondering even as he set me wandering and I presumed that he had achieved some lofty kind of Buddhist understanding far beyond a groveling earth-dweller like me.

(Beware any Buddhist who appears to have attained any understanding, particularly the lofty kind.)

He hadn’t achieved anything, but he was right. I really didn’t need him, although my “needing” of him did set me off on this path to satisfy my wants, and I really did need that. We all do.

***

What is the difference between need and want? One starts with an “n” and one starts with a “w.” That’s about all I can distinguish. They are just words we either like to use or don’t like to use, choose or don’t choose, to label our dissatisfaction, our unfulfilled desire. Because really, whether we sanction something as a “need” or not, do we really need it? And when for a breathless moment we want something, do we really want it for long? I guess not, because look how easy it is to live without all the things we once wanted, and none of the things we don’t have but still think we need.

Life really is pretty easy by itself, unless we need or want for something different.

Needs and wants are the things we beg for, whether it sounds like begging or not, whether we are aware or not, no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the costume. Begging is the role of a lifetime. The curtain rises, and we start begging. The curtain closes, and who knows what becomes of the beggar? The real question is this: when, in the brief span between the rise and the fall, will we ever stop? When will we ever enjoy the show?

Shhhhh! It’s starting.

***

A reminder to put my whole self in the cup, and get the world in return.

Photo originally uploaded by Alastair Bird.

Life is suffering

September 29th, 2008    -    12 Comments


There’s nothing new about the news.
It’s always time to practice, she reminds herself.
Things change, she knows for sure.
Let go, she intones.

And still, there’s nothing new about the news.
Must we always fail our children?
I’m afraid I know the answer.

Otherwise occupied

September 18th, 2008    -    21 Comments

I’m breaking my silence for a bit of nitpicking, which I’ve gotten pretty good at.

Quick! Give me two words that unnerve you more than:

Great Depression

Terrify you more than:

President Palin

Paralyze you more than:

Hurricane Ike, Josie, Kyle or storms beginning with the letters LMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Nah! Bring on all those lightweights!

It’s HEAD LICE, the mantra of my week in the here and now. Should this catastrophe ever befall your household, smack dab in the middle of your self-imposed meditative solace, I will tell you what works (two treatments, four comb-outs, and ferocious use of scissors; spending eight back-breaking hours over two days peering through a magnifier at each of 100,000 hair strands; and doing five loads on hot at the laundromat because the WASHING MACHINE BROKE last week). Here’s what doesn’t work (anything less because believe me I tried).

Friends, I want to attest to the power of prayer, because little by little, things are looking up.

And my neighbor survived the train crash with the blessings of two broken ribs, a broken leg and a completely intact sense of gratitude. May we all be so rich.

So not me and other music to drown by

August 31st, 2008    -    23 Comments


The drowning man is not troubled by rain.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sent me underwater a mere twelve hours after our seven-hour drive home from six days of vacation. The parking ticket on the car we left behind? The opaque algae bloom in the fishtank? The stinking carload to unpack and sort? That assault awake at dawn? No food in the house? No milk in the fridge? No cream for the coffee? The dog’s persistent whine to eat, to chase, to go outside? My daughter’s breathless urgency to make French Toast for breakfast? Then open her own restaurant? Write the menu? Make a flyer? Charge premium admission for patrons seated in the backyard? Have a lemonade stand? Have a bake sale? Have a Labor Day party for the neighborhood?

And all in the first 45 minutes of the day.

By the time my husband wakes I’m already over my head in dread. I’ve remembered what it’s like now to be home. A ranch manager. A playground supervisor. An animal handler. A carnival barker. So not me.

What’s the one thing I could do for you so you have a better day, he asks when I’ve sunken from view, just a telltale bubble on the surface. So not me.

I’m dumbstruck by the question. One thing? For me? A better day? There’s not one thing that can be done for me, I think to myself, because I’m not even here. There’s no room for me here. This is all so not me.

I wish you could see it all with my eyes, I say, knowing the complete impossibility of that request. Because it’s all me.

***

One thing I’ve noticed since I installed the new bloglist down the right hand column, the one that shows the title of the latest posts from everyone, is how often we write about the same thing at the same time. Themes seem to dance among us like the waves of a desert mirage. We write about power one day, belief the next, hope, wish, and the eternally cherished first day of school.

You might call this coincidence. In Buddhism we call it no coincidence. There is only one mind, you see, and it is what you see. The mind that is always in front of you is the mind we all share, although the filters we perceive it with are uniquely our own.

We share one mind, and in that way we share one life, but we do not share the view of it. The judgment, the resentment, the desperation, the dread, the fear of drowning, is only me.

***

There are a lot of things you can find on vacation when you’ve temporarily lost sight of the crumbs, the weeds, the dog hair, the fish tank, the empty fridge, and the overdue registration on the car you left parked on the street outside your house.

On vacation, it can seem like you find yourself. But what you’ve really found is that vast field beyond yourself, beyond your limited views and habitual perspectives. You find mind, the mind so easily lost when all we see is the drudgery of a daily grind. And you wish you could live in that boundless space. In truth, you already do.

On my vacation I found an oasis in a tiny shop in Carmel, a shop oozing with rich comforts and colors and drenched in herbal fragrances. I bought two flavors of these delicious shower gels, the one thing I can give myself to wash away the dread of the day. No one else can do it for me, thanks honey.

Then I realized, because we share this vast mind and all things in it, one of these gifts is most certainly yours.

The better to drown with.

***

Leave a comment on this post anytime by the end of this Friday, September 5 and you could drown yourself in 8.4 fluid ounces of bathtime bliss.

Oh! And you’re all invited to our Labor Day lemonade stand and bake sale. It’s a party for the neighborhood, you see, to celebrate the drowning of me.

***
I just love when this happens! This giveaway was won by one of my dearest drowning buddies: Lisa at Sunset Pig.

Plus we made $20 at the lemonade and bake sale.

What an (awful, terrible, rotten) mother I am

August 18th, 2008    -    22 Comments


“Mom, are you ever going to grow your hair out again?” she asks for the trillionth time, while I am sitting at the kitchen table trimming her nails for the billionth time. This after one of those long, full exhausting Sundays of overdue chores that quite nearly empties me out. (Quite nearly.)

“No,” I snip in reply. (I am a Buddhist priest and what length of hair I still have tells you everything about the ego I’ve yet to let go.)

She looks away and says nothing, and I feel the temperature climb up my spine to a rolling boil.

“Why would I?” I erupt. “I’m just a slave around here!” (Did I say that? Or was it my mother, or her mother, or the ancient mother of all mothers?)

It’s quiet as I finish up her hands and feet, then she skips up the hallway to her room.

“Here, I want you to have this,” she says when she returns, holding out a folded bill. It’s $10 from her savings.

I shake my head in remorse.

“It’s for helping us,” and here she pauses to find the words, “to live.”

(Leaving me to repay the favor.)

Bottoming out

August 5th, 2008    -    21 Comments


Him: Are you really going to quit?
Me: It’s just that in the face of this pain, the only thing that makes me keep going right now is ego.
Him: Isn’t that true of everything?
Me: No, when I do what needs to be done, that’s not ego. I would run 16 miles to go get help if the house was on fire. But when what keeps me going is pride, or shame, or obligation, or obstinance, or the idea that I’m accomplishing something or overcoming something or the fear of letting someone down, that’s ego.
Him: (dejected) I just thought it was a pretty neat thing for you to do.
Me: Like that.

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