In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tsog? Saag!

Just a funny little story about misunderstanding ...
I was at the Temple, having finished my reception shift and having helped Dachog prepare tsog offerings for that evenings' Wishfulfilling Jewel puja. I was planning to pick up Indian food on the way home, so I was on the phone with Richard to find out what he wanted.
When he said "saag", I said "tsog?" They really do sound similar, even to someone with decent hearing.
If he had ordered his usual, saag paneer, I think I would have gotten it, but he wanted saag korma.
If I hadn't just prepared tsog offerings, I probably would have understood.
Context is everything.
At home they call me "Miss Communication" (or is that miscommunication?).

I used to be an editor, and my Dad used to claim I couldn't be a communications professional because I was so bad at communicating - which to him meant I didn't phone him often enough.

Sometimes when I make a mistake, I console myself that I'm mistaken about literally everything - in the sense of the true nature of reality - so what's one more mistake?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where Is the Itch?

The hives I had for a few days itched. It was interesting to try to investigate where the itch really was. The more attention I paid to the itching, the more it itched. When I could put my mind elsewhere, there was no itch. Where did the itch go? Nowhere. It simply disappeared, like the elephant of last night's dream, in the classic example.

I imagine you can do the same experiment with pain, but unless it's mild, that's a harder test to do - it takes a much stronger mind. At the recent Western Canada Dharma Celebration in Vancouver, Gen-la Dekyong taught briefly about pain. She gave the example of a migraine and suggested applying compassion: Instead of focusing on yourself, think about all the others whose suffering is so much worse. If my notes are accurate, she used the phrase, "push your mind away from yourself." I'm thankful that I haven't had any pain yet; I hope when it comes that I am able to make that push.

It also helps to learn more about "non-ascertaining perceivers," which Geshe-la covers in the book Understanding the Mind. He has a really useful section called "Application of Non-Ascertaining Perceivers to Dharma Practice," which says in part:
At the moment, when we meet an attractive object, we usually pay considerable attention to it and try to gain as vivid perception of it as possible. ... Instead of paying so much attention to objects of delusion, it would be wiser to develop non-ascertaining perceivers with respect to them. Training in non-ascertaining perceivers with respect to objects of delusion is the practice of restraining the doors of the sense powers.
In Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life Shantideva advises us to remain like a block of wood whenever we encounter an object that stimulates strong delusions. ...  During the meditation session, it is necessary to practice non-ascertaining perceivers towards all the objects of the senses, so that we can pay full attention to the internal object on which we are meditating. ...
In a casual way, we like to say we "self-generate" as a piece of wood, even though that's not technically  correct.

The itching also seemed like an attachment teaching: The more you scratch, the worse it itches, the more you scratch. It's what I'm doing a lot of the time. You can hear your Mom saying, "Don't scratch!" but sometimes it seems like that would really solve the problem - just a light scratch here. Invariably I regret it later. Cravings entice us with promises of satisfaction they never deliver. As Atisha says, "Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practice contentment."

By the way, my hives are pretty much gone - disappeared back to wherever they came from - except for a couple, which are just scabs of their former selves.

A Couple More Thoughts on Upgrading & Self-Generation

Regarding yesterday's post, I have a couple of comments and clarifications.
The upgrading analogy refers to situations like on an airplane: You completely leave behind your coach seat and move up to first class. (You don't hold onto your old seat. Everything is better in first class - you have no interest in coach.) I wanted to clarify that, because I think sometimes when you upgrade software, the program may make use of some of your current version and then add stuff. We tend to do something like that when we're first learning how to self-generate.

Richard pointed out that Heruka is the Tantric Buddha of compassion, so you're imputing yourself on a completely pure being who's perfected exchanging self with others - he has only cherishing for others.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Self-Generation Like Exchanging Self with Other

At the recent Western Canada Dharma Celebration in Vancouver, Gen-la Dekyong explained self-generating as a Buddha as being like switching labels: You take the label "I" off yourself and stick it on, say, Medicine Buddha. Then you strongly think, "I am Medicine Buddha," and forget entirely about that old ordinary self. (Because we use lanyards with our nametags for festivals and celebrations, I also imagined it as taking my lanyard from around my neck and putting it on Medicine Buddha. The analogy isn't as good, but it amused me.)

On retreat I'm getting a feel for that switch when I imagine myself as Buddha Heruka. It reminded me of how it feels when I try to exchange self with other. I'd forgotten this part, but in Eight Steps to Happiness (which, by the way, is now available as an ebook), Geshe-la explains that Tantric self-generation is indeed a form of exchanging self with other: "Those who are skilled in Secret Mantra, or Tantra, have a profound experience of exchanging self with others. In the Tantric practice of self-generation, we exchange our previous self with that of a Tantric Buddha."

Of course, exchanging self with others is about changing your object of cherishing from yourself to others, whereas self-generation is about changing your object of identification - technically, your basis of imputation - from your ordinary self to an extraordinary being. But having that flexible sense of yourself - loosening up your idea of who you are and who you can be - is great mental training and brings nothing but benefit to ourselves and others, now and in the future.
It's like an upgrade, an upgrade to a first-class body and mind. I trade in this body and mind - painful, limited, destined to fall apart and decay - for a shiny, new mind and body, which never give rise to pain, have great ability to benefit others, and last forever.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Health Update - Good News

I am trying to be more focused on That Mountain (you) than This Mountain (me), but some folks seem interested to hear what's happening with my health, so I will try to cooperate.

Yesterday I got very good news: My cancer marker went down to the normal range! It's at 14.8, to be exact, which is in the middle of the range. (When I was initially diagnosed, it was almost 1,000.)

I'm just past halfway of my scheduled chemo treatments. I still need to discuss with my oncologist how this development might affect the original plan, which was for 4 months of chemo. In the past, he's said he'd like to see the number below 10. I had a recent dream that it was 6, and the oncologist in the dream wanted me to have more chemo, which puzzled me.

Do I finish out the planned chemo, seeing it as insurance against recurrence? (Is it like antibiotics, in that you need to take the full course even when your symptoms are better?) If so, I'd be done in mid-March, which would make it very feasible for me to attend US Festival.
Or do I end early, getting "time off for good behavior"?
At what point does the toxicity of the chemo outweigh the benefits?

My oncologist, Dr K, relies more on the scans (CT of torso, MRI of brain) than this blood test, so he's certainly going to want to see pictures at some point. Normally that would be done after I finished treatment.
MDs rely a lot on data, and I suspect there's no data on partial treatments. Thankfully, my oncologist is flexible and has a lot of experience, so he doesn't simply go with the standard.

For someone on chemo, I feel really good. If I were having more trouble, I'd be more likely to try to shorten treatment. This is my 2nd recurrence, so maybe I should pound the cancer, routing it for good.

I still have my hair, although it's thin in spots. I'm on the same chemo "recipe" as before - same drugs, same dosages - and in the past I always gone bald after 2-1/2 weeks. A month into treatment, wondering why my hair hadn't started falling out, I accused my oncologist of putting only pomegranate juice in my IV! He insisted he was giving me the drugs, in full dose. Whatever he's been giving me, it's working.
You know the expression "shock of hair"? It means head of hair, or more specifically, a noticeable mass of hair. In my case, it is a shock - it sticks out straight in every direction, as though I'd stuck my hand in a socket. I try to keep it under wraps - and hats - so as not to scare people.

I do have some fatigue, which is a drag, but I can still do most of what I want to do, as long as I get a lot of rest.
In the last few days, I developed hives, which I'm told is probably a reaction to the Taxol chemo. They look like zits or spider bites and are scattered around my body: 1 on the top of my foot, 1 on my calf, 1 on my shoulder blade, 1 on my neck. I was getting a couple of new ones each day, but I think they're reversing course now.
I also have hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) from the Cisplatin chemo I got for the 1st two rounds - until my doc switched me to it's cousin, Carboplatin, which is considered as effective. Carbo has different side effects, notably worse blood counts.
Dr K referred me to the same doc he went to for his hearing. I'm scheduled for a hearing test and consultation on a hearing aid in mid-February. In the meantime, there are some funny conversations, including the one I had setting up the hearing appointment. Thankfully Richard is easy-going, because when I'm not mishearing what he says ("meditate"? no, I said "vegetate"), I'm constantly asking him to repeat himself.

I consider myself very fortunate. These chemo drugs are effective for me; for many patients, they aren't. I am grateful for so many things, including you.
Thank you for your support.
Thank you, Medicine Buddha.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Emptiness Like a Whiteout?

We've had snow in Seattle the past couple of days.
The Buddhist Center in Seattle is doing 2 weeks of Buddha Heruka retreat, which means lots of meditation on emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomenon - that the "things we normally see or perceive do  not exist." (They exist, just not in the way we think they do.)

So, on a break between meditation sessions, while walking the dog in the snow, I was contemplating emptiness. Of course, with the new white snow covering everything, it's easy to think about purity, then about the purifying nature of emptiness. And how the snow makes the things we normally see disappear. There are still forms there, but they're obscured.
To try for a better analogy, I thought of a whiteout in the mountains, where you can't distinguish between ground and sky. All you can see is white in every direction. Everything is obliterated.
I'm not sure if that's helpful, but it's what I was thinking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Hazel's gone - off to the Pure Land. She died peacefully on Sunday at home, surrounded by family, with her Teacher, Gen Lingpur, there making prayers.
Hazel spent her last days in her meditation room. Her family was also gathered there, and Lingpur tells me that some of them were reading the Buddhist books Hazel kept there, even though they weren't Buddhist!
Please pray for her family, especially her husband, Hank, and her two daughters, as well as her parents, who live in a house behind Hank and Hazel's.
She will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sue Hulley

Sue passed away peacefully last night. She was a longtime Kadampa practitioner at Saraha Center in San Francisco, a branch teacher, and a Festival gompa steward, as well as a wife and mother. Many of her Sangha considered her the mother of their center.
Please pray for her and especially for her family.

I am sad at the loss but will use it as fodder for meditation. It happens that we're on renunciation, contemplating in particular the suffering of separation.

Delusions and Personal Associations

What is my mind really thinking?
Years ago, at a discussion class, CarlH made a comment about examining the emotional associations you have with your attachments. So helpful to know!
One of my main ones is a cup of tea. But why? The warmth of it, even just holding the cup in my hand, represented comfort. When I was feeling a bit down, I'd start to crave a cuppa. After I got some insight into that association, it was kind of fun to examine how a cup of flavored hot water could possibly solve my problem. I still drink tea, but have lowered my expectations of what it can do for me. You could say I enjoy it more because I'm not looking for it to give me something it can't, which just creates disappointment.

Being on a restricted diet also helps me examine the associations I have with particular foods. I like to think I eat because it provides fuel for my body, but mostly I'm kidding myself.
Likewise, bumping into my retreat boundaries helps me see my attachments - and my impatience too. I usually limit checking email and reading the news until afternoon, and invariably there will be times when I want to do those in the morning. I'd say a good boundary is one that comes up for you to work with, without causing too much tension.