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 27, 2014

The Meaning of My Orange Rain Jacket

When my maroon rain jacket stopped shedding rain and started absorbing it instead, it was clear I needed a new one. Here in Seattle, I wear a jacket almost every day - for the wind if not the water. I decided I wanted a very visible color for safety. In the winter the sun goes down as early as 4:30 in the afternoon, so I often end up walking our dog in the dark. I want to be visible for her sake too.
Bicyclists and some runners are very good about lights and reflective vests; pedestrians not so much, particularly not the students at Ballard High, which I pass by every time I drive from my house to the Temple. They favor all black clothes, of course; much hipper than the geeky orange. They cross in the middle of the block, often without looking up from their smartphone. (There's a reason those devices aren't called wisdom-phones.) I want to yell wrathfully at them but instead make prayers that Dorje Shugden will protect them.

There was a jacket that was said to be the best at water-repellency, was reasonably priced, and came in bright orange. Then I realized that what I was thinking about was my precious human life. Also the wisdom of Manjushri and Je Tsongkhapa.

I've built a pretty solid habit where I say Dorje Shugden's mantra when I'm driving, that he will protect others, as one of my worst fears is hitting a pedestrian or another car. Help me out here, people. Thankfully I've seen on community boards around town that the city has a "Drive With Care and Walk Aware" campaign.

And I saw those posters yesterday when I was putting out publicity for the Center. Exiting a Starbucks as an older guy entered, he commented that he liked the orange and said - get this -  that it was a Buddhist color! We stepped inside and had a short conversation about Buddhism, with him talking about his Guru. True story.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Personal Best (or Worst?)

In thinking about the Winter Olympics next month, where athletes not only hope to win but also to set their "Personal Best" records, my latest little joke is that I've been continuing to set my Personal Best in the chemo competition. That is actually one of the games you don't want to win. It is a select group, however - it's not as if just anyone can get chemo. You have to qualify with a scan or a blood test, and you could say it involves a lot of training and a support team (doctors, nurses, friends - as opposed to coaches, massage therapists, and teammates).
Since I was diagnosed in April 2009, this is my longest run of chemo without a break. With this chronic disease, what you're working toward is periods with "no evidence of disease" (NED, pronounced like the man's name). Women with this cancer look forward to "dancing with NED."
For example, I had a few months of treatment, then was NED for 6 months, restarted chemo and had, say, 4 months of NED. ...
My current record starts in mid-Oct of  2012 and is still on. There are 2 tiny tumors remaining in my abdomen, and I'm not done until they disappear from the scan.
I get my treatment - a traditional chemo drug plus a newer targeted agent - every 4 weeks. (Before switching to that combo of drugs in mid-August, the schedule I'd always had was weekly chemo 3 weeks out of every 4. The schedule varies depending on the chemo drug and other factors.)

Yesterday was my treatment day, which typically involves 3 stops at the cancer clinic:
1. Lab to draw blood to make sure my system is strong enough to benefit from the chemo. For example, some chemo drugs are known to be hard on your red blood cells, so they want to check that the level is high enough; if it gets too low over time and continued chemo, getting a blood transfusion will fix it.

2. A nurse does the initial intake to check my vitals, medications, and latest side effects, then Dr K shambles in. His presence is so modest - he wears a tweedy blazer, not a lab coat. You wouldn't know what a great doctor he is, or how accomplished he is in other ways: researcher, photographer, climber. Or that he is a family man, who the chemo nurses have described doting on his granddaughter. When chemo nurses get cancer, they go to him. He treats everyone from VIPs to charity cases.
Typically I don't have many issues I need to discuss with him, and we'll just chat or joke about politics, because otherwise we would cry about them. He told me clearly when I first saw him that an office visit lasted as long as a patient needs. For some reason - it wasn't on my conscious agenda - at that first appointment I asked about end of life issues, and he said we could always talk about it, and that we could also schedule an appointment at the very end of the day so there would be no pressure to end it at a particular time! Who is this man?

It's very cheerful there, throughout the clinic - from the receptionists to the nurses to the security guards. As a regular, they all know me by name; we're like friends. There is so much laughter. Who are these people?

3. If I pass the blood test, he sends me down to the chemo floor, where I get hooked up to the IV machine and start getting infused with "pre-meds," which help prevent reactions, then one chemo drip over a period of hours, followed by the other chemo drug over a few more hours. Lastly there are a few "flushes" with saline and Heparin to clean out my port, a device that was years ago was surgically implanted near my collarbone that makes my blood system easy to access. As someone with bad veins, I particularly appreciate the port, but even patients with good veins like their port from everything I've heard. If you're anticipating ongoing treatment, ports are so very nice to have. The total visit time varies, as you might expect given all the variables above, but usually runs 6-7 hours.

So, yesterday was my chemo day, but surprisingly I did not get chemo. When Dr K saw what the chemo drug had done to my skin, he said there was no way I was getting treatment, but instead was to take a break for at least 2 weeks to recover. I'm to check in with him early next week if I think I could benefit from seeing a dermatologist.
In early February Dr K and I will meet just for an office visit to discuss which of the drugs on the menu I should try next. I already know the main possibilities, and we've discussed their pro's and con's at previous junctures; in fact, Dr G (the great 2nd-opinion specialist I somehow managed to see twice) gave me an ordered list with additional reasons, so I already have a pretty good idea where I'm headed....

... which is to Vancouver next weekend to the Western Canada Dharma Celebration, with Gen-la Dekyong granting Amitayus Empowerment. Blessings of long life, good fortune and wisdom. Just what I need - what we all need. Thank you Buddha.
I even hope to attend her Modern Buddhism public talk on Thursday evening.

Hope you can make it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prayers for My Uncle Bob, Who Died Yesterday

Dear friends,
Please make prayers for my Uncle Bob, Robert Sharp, who died yesterday at home at Lake Tahoe, and especially for my Aunt Ruth (my mother's only sibling), as well as their 3 children and 7 grandchildren. 
He loved Tahoe, where he lived for decades with his family in a beautiful house overlooking the lake. Wednesday afternoon he was taking a nap in his chair and never woke up again.
Uncle Bob had a good life. After engineering many of the roads in Nevada, he and his wife traveled the world and enjoyed the local area. He continued skiing there late in life, taking full advantage of the free senior lift pass.
It was a surprise, even though he was 91 and had Alzheimer's. His family thought his wife was physically in worse shape.
My cousin Gerry was trying to reach his sister Roberta, who is in Mexico and hadn't heard yesterday, but I trust is now on her way back to Nevada. Roberta has been so kind to them. She was driving up to their house - snowy mountain roads in the winter - engineered by their father, I think! - from Reno to the top of the mountain weekly, to bring mail and groceries ... even though her parents had 24 x 7 live-in help. (Gerry and his other sister, Janet, live on the East Coast, which makes it hard to get to Tahoe as often.) 
I am sad for them, but also feeling sad because it reminds me of my Mom (who died at 65).
Tomorrow is powa at our Center, so there will be prayers for him.
Thank you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Making Dharma Fun

One of the ways to stay with it long-term is the switch up your practice, by adding new things or doing Dharma in a way so that you continue to enjoy it. There are also some practices here that are small and easy enough that you can do them when you're tired or sick.

* Gamo said "I find it fun to be creative with offerings on my shrine" and sent me this photo:

Other possibilities:
* Learning a new Dharma skill, such as torma making, mantra rolling, statue filling, or mala making.

* Creating some other kind of Dharma craft. My mother-in-law, Dachog, is wonderful about using her many artistic skills in creative ways for Dharma, such making as felted birds for the bookshop, which remind me that their 2 wings represent compassion and wisdom.

* Making long mandala offerings in place of short ones.

* Rejoicing, such as in your Center's managers and volunteers, in friends' or other people's virtue,
such as this man:
"He clipped coupons, wore sweaters with holes in them to make people think he was poor and took a bus ... .Only a tight circle of family and friends knew that MacDonald was nurturing a secret fortune. When he died in September at the age of 98, he left in his will a $187.6 million charitable trust to Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington School of Law and the Salvation Army. ..."  as described in "Seattle man’sfrugal life leaves rich legacy for 3 institutions" in the Seattle Times.

* Volunteering at the Dharma Center, such as cooking for a class, distributing publicity, or buying tsog offerings for a puja. Such a wide variety of enjoyable activities - you can usually find one that works for you.

* Playing around with emptiness in meditation break, such as imagining that you're an actor and your world is simply a set. Or remembering it's all an illusion. Or imagining that you're walking around within your mind. Or ...

* Studying in a different way, such as by reading the book out loud or organizing your notes.

* Working on and tracking the Four Great Preliminary Guides. I'm inspired by Sangha who've told me they've completed them, and appreciate hearing tips from them about how to proceed!

* Offering attractive or delicious things to the Buddhas, especially to your Guru at your heart, while walking around or sitting down, such as the moon, or the mountains covered with fog or homemade Christmas cookies.

* Saying mantras, including to animals or blowing out their blessing to the whole world.

* Imagining you're the last ordinary being and that everyone around you is a Buddha; sometimes I like to think that they're wondering what's taking me so long, appreciating their patience with me, and trying to get a move on.

* As Gen-la Dekyong has demonstrated, when you overcome a delusion, even a small one, you can declare "Victory!" I think she even pantomimed thrusting her fist in the air. Sometimes when I'm struggling to get out of my warm, cozy bed, I ask Vajrapani for help, and then celebrate overcoming gravity and my aversion to the cold.

* It's also fun to follow Geshe Ben Gungyal's example of shaking his own hand when he did something good but upbraiding himself by saying "You rogue, you scoundrel" when he did something bad. Using those old-fashioned words makes it lighter and brings a small smile, so you're not being too hard on yourself. He's also the Geshe famous for tallying up his activities at the end of each day by counting up the white stones he's given for each positive mind and the black stones for each negative one. It's notable that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso mentions Ben Gungyal in almost every book, including Meaningful to Behold, on page 238 of the latest edition.

* Doing a sadhana you don’t usually do, such as Quick Path instead of Dakini Yoga, or treating yourself to the short but melodious Avalokiteshvara practice, with audio.

* Performing extra physical prostrations. I heard a story from International Teacher Training Program, where a Teacher related that the group had asked Geshe-la what was the most beneficial exercise, as though the debate was between swimming and bicycling. He replied that after 100 prostrations, you could do whatever activity you enjoyed most! It's also fun to mentally prostrate to people walking by or drivers in other cars, regarding them with respect.

* Attending a GP class you don’t usually go to. It also feels good to introduce yourself and have a conversation with someone you don’t know, even if it initially means getting out of your comfort zone and overcoming your attachment for your friends.

* Reading Geshe-la’s kids’ books, which I was told aren’t just for kids.

* Just staring at an image of a Buddha, whether it's a statue or a full-color illustration or even a line drawing. In fact, there's a long-term practitioner in Seattle who photocopied each line drawing in the books and collected them in a hand-made book.

* Reading a book on the side (other than the book you’re studying). Even just a paragraph, taking time to really think about it. I used to do this with Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Because it's a poem, it's such a treat - very different from the books we formally study - with so many beautiful lines to memorize.

* Looking backward and forward at your life. If you're feeling discouraged, it can be so helpful to see how far you've come. Or looking forward, identifying with your potential, knowing that your compassion is the seed that will inevitably ripen into enlightenment. Gen Choma was very encouraging when she talked at the Post Fall Festival Retreat about realizing emptiness, saying "it was just a matter of time."

* Dreaming about a Celebration or Festival you'd like to attend this year, and then taking steps to make it happen. If you think you won't be able to go because of your job or your resources, I highly recommend talking regularly to our Dharma Protector, who I like to call "the best travel agent": he has made arrangements for me when it seemed it wouldn't be possible to go, notably to Summer Festival 2009, Brazil in 2010, and to a Celebration in Canada last year.
You can go to your regional celebration, your country's Festival, or the international Festivals, especially Summer Festival at our Mother Center in England. I get a boost every time - no space here to list all the benefits.
Also note that Fall Festival this year will be in NY, which will be easier for Americans than traveling abroad. You may not be aware that the Highest Yoga Tantra (HYT) empowerments are being offered this year in Hong Kong in December at the Asian Festival! I have been to Hong Kong a few times, and there are a lot of English speakers and excellent cheap food of all kinds - one of the easiest places to visit in Asia.

* Imagining what it will be like when you’re a Buddha, being able to really help everyone. I had a friend who asked me what my specialty was going to be, because as a vet, she wanted to be the Buddha of animals. Of course, it’s not as though Buddhas have their exclusive territories, but it’s fun to think about. We also used to joke about what color we’d be, what our hand gesture we'd have and what we’d be holding. I thought maybe I could be the Buddha of lost causes, while recognizing there really aren’t any. By the way, I'm not saying that's a qualified practice, because I've never heard it from a Teacher or read it in a book.

* Watching Kadampa videos or visiting the NKT's Facebook page or Kadampa website, because there’s always something new. For example, you can see videos, photos, and updates on the NKT International Festivals FB page.

* Listening to Kadampa recordings when you're doing mundane tasks, such as walking the dog.

* Trying a new way of dealing with difficulty, such as a different way to combat impatience from what you usually do.

* Seeing Dharma lessons in everything. I remember Gen-la Dekyong at a Festival in NY saying that we could learn even from the ducks in the lake. I like to hear Dharma in pop music, as if it's coming from Buddha. I'm thinking of lines like "I'll take you there [the Pure Land]"or "Don't you worry 'bout a thing."

Sometimes it helps, when I've gotten myself into a heavier place, to remind myself I am on - as the book title says - the "Joyful Path."

P.S. I thought I'd posted this a couple of weeks ago, which was when I typed it all up.