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."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blog on Holiday

Off to US Festival. Also visiting family.
Gathering material : )

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Prayers for Tharpaland

Excerpt from an email sent by Kelsang Shri, the Admin Director at Tharpaland International Retreat Centre in Scotland:
We have found out quite recently that the proposed windfarm at Tharpaland may not yet have full planning permission to go ahead. While the wind farm situation in Scotland is high profile, especially due to Donald Trumps campaigning and address to parliament on this issue, we have been asked by Venerable Geshe-la to campaign vigorously against windfarms and in particular to attend the demo in Edinburgh on Wed 25th April 2012 if at all possible. ... Can you all help us by promoting this demo as much as possible, encourage people to go, display the following poster in your centre and help us to finally win this fight against a windfarm at this sacred site. This is a very important time for Tharpaland and anything you can do to help, and especially by coming to the demo will be greatly appreciated. If you can't attend then please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

If you're not familiar with Tharpaland, here is a brief introduction from their website:

Tharpaland International Retreat Centre was founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1985, when he began a three year retreat here together with ten of his students. During that time Geshe-la also wrote and edited several books on the essential practices of our tradition.
Over the years retreaters have come to engage in long solitary retreat, shorter solitary retreat and guided group retreats. Through the power of all their practice, Tharpaland has become a very blessed and peaceful place to engage in retreat.
"When I go to Tharpaland, it seems as if I am entering another world. It is so quiet, pure and clean. I like Tharpaland very much, the time I spent there was very special for me".
- Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Sufferings of Aging

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd been reading the book A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents - and Ourselves by the New York Times writer Jane Gross. It's her story about taking care of her elderly mother as she declines over the last four years of her life. Her descriptions of those sufferings really made an impression on me and strengthened my renunciation and compassion.

Here's one example about getting to an MRI appointment, from early on:
Since her arthritis was worst in the morning, she had to rise at dawn and wait to dress until her joints had loosened. I’d go to her apartment and help her downstairs to the car, fold the walker and put it in the trunk, and then settle her into the front seat and fasten her seat belt, since she could no longer swivel from the shoulder and waist or manipulate the buckle. These were among my early lessons in how hard it is to be old — how long everything takes, how much some of it hurts, and how a caregiver must stop moving at warp speed and adapt to the pace of someone who is disabled, trying to make it all look natural and effortless.
I learned this much: Never shame your mother into rushing to keep up with you. First of all, it’s not nice. Second, both of you will have to cope with her broken hip if rushing leads to a fall.

A few years later her mother loses her ability to speak and then the ability to swallow, among many other losses. Gross's mother, Estelle, wasn't someone who wanted to be kept alive with things like feeding tubes; in fact, she had a risky surgery on her spine because she was hoping the operation would kill her, her family learned after the fact.

More excerpts:
My mother and I knew that, most likely, she'd missed the moment for a quick and easy passing. ... The reward for living this long, she often said, and studies support it, is that you get to "rot to death" rather than die. ... It was, she thought, the perfect trope for what happened to anyone who had the misfortune to need a nursing home or to have to pay someone to live with them at home, babysitter style, because they were too compromised to be alone. .... For someone of her nature, the long, slow, humiliating decline - mentally or physically - was unacceptable. ...

A doctor writes about his mother's fear of becoming "little more than a blank stare."

Helping our parents transition from total independence to partial or total dependence is a delicate balancing act that is impossible to do perfectly. Empathy, I would argue, is our best guide. While it may be impossible to escape the complicated feelings engendered by being thrust into a quasi-parental role toward one's parent, you can try to leaven those thoughts by considering how they feel about the same role reversal. The work, and ultimately grief, is ours, but the accretion of losses is theirs. They are giving up their independence, their physical or mental capacities, their pride, the role as head of the family, their spouses, and their friends. Their reward for longevity is often a wheelchair and diapers and being ordered around by their children. On the days when I wished I could run away from my responsibilities, I'd practice this mind game: If I can't bear one more day as my mother's mother, imagine how she feels. ...

Friday, April 20, 2012

More Prayers for Michael

Please continue praying for Michael Maloney, who is transitioning to home hospice, and for his kids - Lily, Nate and Polly - and for Eve and the rest of his family.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sweeter and Sweeter

As Geshe Kelsang says in the first sentence in the Preface of Modern Buddhism, "The instructions given in this book are scientific methods for improving our human nature and qualities through developing the capacity of our mind." Many of us know this line, and I'm sure some of you have even taught about it.
I appreciated Gen-la Dekyong's explanation of what makes it a scientific method, which she gave at the public talk in Vancouver as a prelude to the Western Canada Dharma Celebration this January.
She described two key attributes of a scientific method:
* It is reproducible.
* It works for everyone.

Throughout this public talk, she encouraged us to find a Buddhist concept that resonated and test it out: Does it make my life better? Does it solve my problems?
I love that Buddhism supports our personal explorations of its teachings, rather than just telling us to rely on the authority of scriptures and teachers. When Gen-la Khyenrab was General Spiritual Director, he was explaining these experiments of Buddhist teachings at US Festival one year, and he noted that we didn't need to run a control experiment, because we'd been doing that our whole lives and knew the results.

As an analogy, Gen-la D described an ordinary experiment of adding sugar to coffee or tea. We know our drink is going to get sweeter. We don't wonder what effect it's going to have. You get the same results I do. The more sugar you add, the sweeter your cuppa gets.
With Kadam Dharma, my life is getting sweeter and sweeter. I know the more Dharma I incorporate into my life, the sweeter it will get. Sweet!

Michael's in the ER

Please pray for Michael, who went to the Emergency Room a few hours ago.
Thank you.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Prayers for Uma's Mom

Please make strong prayers for Uma's Mom, Kamla, who is now on hospice care at home after having a few seizures.
Thank you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weeding My Delusions

Today we had perfect weather in Seattle, so I spent a bit of time in the front yard tackling the weeds. I often associate weeds with delusions and imagine I am getting at my bad minds as I am pulling up the weeds, sort of like Lam Chung with his dust ("Out with the weeds, out with the delusions"). Some similarities:

* You want to get both weeds and delusions up by the root if you can. Using the right tool for the particular plant/delusion helps. Ideally you get the entire root (self-grasping), even if it goes very deep, but there's satisfaction even in getting some of root, or even the plant above ground if that's the best you can do at the time.

* Because they both tend to proliferate, it's good to prioritize the ones that can do the most damage to others. In weed terms, where we live, this means getting the dandelions that will spread to the neighbors. (In delusion terms, this generally means anger and its allies.) Which leads to the next point ...

* Attack them before they can spread. If the dandelion goes to seed, those seeds will be blown next door. I'm imagining the neighbors appreciate it, even if we don't get the root up, if we can keep the seeds out of their yard.

* As with delusions, weeds are much easier to pull up - especially if you're trying to get the whole plant - if you get them while they're still small; think of the anger analogy of putting out fire. For delusions, the more familiar you are with your mind, the more quickly you notice yourself starting to smolder, the more quickly you can douse it out with the water of love and compassion or emptiness or any other antidote.

Elderly Driving

This post is another one of those public-service announcements that has no Dharma and may not be of interest to you unless you have an aging parent who maybe shouldn't be driving a car anymore, in which case I urge you to read this.
I've been reading a book called "A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents - and Ourselves" and will probably post later about how it's deepened my understanding of the sufferings of aging. One small but critical section if you're in this situation is about dealing with a parent who is unfit to drive, or is headed that way soon.

"Some of the stories recounted in news reports, by friends and colleages and on my own blog and others are chilling. An 86-year-old man at the farmers' market in Santa Monica confused the brake with the accelerator and mowed down 73 people, killing 10 of them, including a 3-year-old. [One of my Sangha who works with the elderly said it's common for older people to confuse those pedals in the car and get in an accident.] A woman with early-stage dementia at an assisted living facility near Clearwater, FL, on her regular drive to the nearby grocery store, mistook a boat ramp for the continuation of the roadway and drove into the Intracoastal Waterway, drowning in her car. After a fall, a woman drove herself to the doctor, who said not a word about her method of getting there; on the way home she had a collision at a gas station, injuring several people and avoiding an explosion at the pumps only because of the fast intervention of the station's attendants. ... An old man driving the wrong way on the interstate caused a 3-car accident that killed a much younger man headed to work, a mother and 3 children, and himself. Another old man abruptly cut in front of a truck in a blinding rain, causing the truck to swerve. The 4-vehicle accident left 1 couple dead and a child in a vegetative state."

Because it's such a loss, older seniors are often reluctant to give up driving, and families often won't confront them. Another Sangha friend was in this situation, and her siblings didn't want to challenge their Dad, who has a form of dementia. She stepped up but became the target of a lot his anger.

As it says in the AARP online seminar about talking with older drivers:
"It is more important to avoid crashes or death than to avoid unpleasant topics.
Do not postpone the conversation because you fear the reaction or worry about the responsibilities you will have to assume.
If you have a valid safety concern, it is better to start having conversations than to wait. Hurt feelings are a normal part of the process. When they emerge, stay calm, acknowledge them, try to become as informed as possible and focus on using productive discussions to defuse any negative emotions."

AARP 10 Signs That it's Time to Limit or Stop Driving
AARP Talking with Older Drivers
AMA Older Driver Safety

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tell me ...

"Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
- Mary Oliver, from her poem "The Summer Day"

This quotation arrived in my email, in a newsletter I subscribe to - it seemed serendipitous. Oliver's not a Buddhist, although she often sounds like one. (You can read some more samplings of her poems at

In a rare interview, in O magazine, March 9, 2011, the poet says, "When I was very young and decided I wanted to try to write as well as I could, I made a great list of all the things I would never have." It sounds like something an aspiring nun or monk - or a layperson serious about training in non-attachment - would do and reminded me of Gen-la's advice at the end of the Western Canada Dharma Celebration on how to finance a trip to Summer Festival: Every time you deny yourself something, you put what it would have cost into a box on your shrine. She said we'll be able not just to afford our own trip, but also to sponsor some of our Sangha friends: )

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Traversing the Path

Usually we say "traveling the spiritual path," but a few months ago Gen Khedrub called it "traversing the path." He may have been influenced by all the mountains around Seattle, and the hiking and mountaineering they attract. I've often thought of the path like that.
Some associations:
* The cycle of Lamrim meditations feels like circumambulating a mountain again and again, spiraling upward, so that you're making the same circuit but at increasing elevation with each pass, and the view gets better and better.

* I've been bushwhacking a few times, going off trail when it looks like there's a shortcut. The trail seems obvious when you're on it, and you think it will be clearly visible when you're bushwhacking above it, but in my experience it quickly disappears, and it's much harder to get back to than you think. Leaving this spiritual path is like that: It's much safer to stay on the trail. There is no shortcut anyway.
In the Pacific Northwest when I've gone off-trail, I've followed streams to help me navigate, but invariably there is Devil's Club growing nearby and invariably it is slippery by the stream. You can see where this is going: You start to slip and grab for something nearby to keep from falling. You end up with a hand full of thorns from the Devil's Club. Samsara!

* The spiritual path becomes more like mountain climbing than hiking as you progress. I'd assumed that the longer you'd been on the path, the safer you were, but after seeing some long-time practitioners fall away, a Teacher told me it gets more precarious as you get higher on the mountain. Your faith can get tested in ways you never anticipated.

* Also, in mountain climbing you're roped up to your team. If you start to slip, you're taught to yell "falling" so that the others on your rope-team can stop you. Sangha can only help them if you confide in them when you're having trouble. Which is why it's so important to develop trusting relationships with some Sangha friends.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Commands for Dogs and Meditators

I mentioned in a previous post that training a dog and training your mind feel similar, as both require perseverance in the face of repeated noncompliance. I even use the same commands for my dog and myself:
* Sit - stop procrastinating and get your butt on your cushion to meditate.
* Stay - hold onto the meditation object without wandering off, distracted.
* Leave it or Drop it - forget that object of distraction and put your mind back on something positive. I use this command with my dog when she's found something stinky or when she's starting to be aggressive with another dog. I use it on myself when I'm starting to get fixated on something that's not taking my mind in a good direction. It's the advice New Yorkers often give: "Fuhget about it."

As Gen Jampa said at last year's Fall Festival(?), we shouldn't be like a dog with a bone. Not only are dogs obsessed with them, he said, they growl if anyone approaches while they are gnawing on their bone.
Then there's the popular bumper sticker "Wag More, Bark Less," and the cat equivalent "Purr More, Hiss Less." What do you think the human equivalent is? the Buddhist equivalent?
"Smile More, Frown Less"? or more bluntly, "Love More, Hate Less"?
"Abide More, Grasp Less"?

Having a sense of fun about discipline works for me. As Gen-la Dekyong said last Fall, and Kadam Morten really emphasized in his review, we should be "serious in a light-hearted way."

The Ducks in the Road

The same day I wrote about learning from the ducks on the lake, I saw a mallard couple in the middle of the road. Every day I walk by there, and I've never seen ducks anywhere near the road, much less in the middle of it. It's a busy street, with 2 lanes in each direction, and cars go fast if there isn't too much traffic. I waved my arms so that the cars would stop, which they did, and then immediately a passenger jumped out of a pickup truck at the front of the line and ran toward the ducks, flapping his arms ... but it was the flapping of the duck wings that resulted in flying, as they escaped safely ; ) I was feeling compassion, wishing that the ducks wouldn't get hurt, but he had superior intention, actually doing something so that they wouldn't. I was very happy that the cars in both lanes stopped and especially that he acted so quickly to prevent any harm.
It also struck me that the ducks didn't realize they were in danger, just as I often think, when I really should be fearful of the danger I'm in, given the negative karma I'm creating and the boatload I brought with me from previous lives. Good thing that Buddha is doing the equivalent of running at me with his arms flapping : )

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Learn to Yearn

I've been thinking for a while about the word "yearn," which Gen-la Dekyong uses a lot regarding attainments. Like "beseeching," it's an unusual word. Sometimes it helps to consult a dictionary: "to have an earnest or strong desire" or "to long persistently." OK, that's a start.

Today while reading the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, there was an article that used the Bruce Springsteen lyric about having a "hungry heart." (I'm a fan of his, being from Joisey and all, although I don't like to admit that's where I grew up; I did take his advice and make a run for it, all the way to the West Coast.) That's it! A hungry heart yearns.

I'll admit there have been times when I've been reciting the words in a prayer, thinking "that would be nice" but not really wishing strongly, much less wanting them more than anything. My prayers often need more "omph." We try to pray from the depths of our heart, but as I've said before, we're often praying from the shallows - just going through the motions, sometimes barely thinking about what we're saying.

We need to learn more about what we're asking for, so that we really want them, but it seems like we also need to learn how to yearn. Blessings seem to help deepen those requests, so that a virtuous cycle is created: Yearning for blessings leads to more blessings, which in turn increases the yearning as well as the blessings.

Why am I holding back? What would make me hungrier?
I'd say another obstacle is that we're so accustomed to being complacent. Because we tend to think of things as fixed, we struggle with believing such radical changes are possible. Sometimes I think we fear being naive, because being jaded and cynical or ironic is considered more hip.
We're so enmeshed in the ordinary, we forget to see beyond, to the extraordinary.

What are you yearning for?