Hold It All

Category: Buddhism

The Good News of Dipa Ma

Dear Friends,

There’s a phrase I came across in the last twenty years—“news you can use”—which I think came from one of Pema Chödrön ’s books.

Which reminds me of U.S. poet Ezra Pound’s version of a Confucian classic— “In letters of gold on T’ang bathtub: as the sun makes it new/day by day make it new/yet again make it new,” which became a modernist credo.

Which reminds me of a poem I share frequently, “The Good News” by Thich Nhat Hanh, which he wrote presciently in the late 1970s (“The good news they do not print/The good news we do print”).

All of which is to recognize that Amy Schmidt’s book Dipa Ma has news that I can use, it is a work to make myself and others new, and it is a demonstration itself of good news.

Less than two hundred pages but packed with one-liners, stories, recollections, and contextual advice, I offer five examples of the Good News of Dipa Ma…

When I feel I am not up to a particular challenge, I do well to call to mind this simple story: “Dipa Ma and I were on an airplane coming to the States from India. it was very, very turbulent, and at one point the plane hit an air pocket and dropped. Drinks and other objects flew up to the ceiling as the plane dropped downward before hitting stable air again. I kind of screamed. Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle from me and she reached out and took my hand and she just held it. Then she whispered, ‘The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Medicine for the Sick

The Dalai Lama: We should have this [compassion] from the depths of our heart, as if it were nailed there. Such compassion is not merely concerned with a few sentient beings such as friends and relatives, but extends up to the limits of the cosmos, in all directions and towards all beings throughout space. The Bodhicaryavatara, xxiv 

 

Recently, I have read several books by the articulate proponent of Secular Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor. As a young person committed to the Dharma, he produced a translation from the Tibetan text of Shantideva’s classic, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I went back to a translation from the Sanskrit by Kate Crosby & Andrew Skilton on my shelf, The Bodhicaryavatara: A Guide to the Buddhist Path of Awakening. Perusing it, I found the following verses*, to inform and inspire my slacker self…

1.8.  Those who long to transcend the hundreds of miseries of existence, who long to relieve creatures of their sorrows, who long to enjoy many hundreds of joys, must never abandon the Awakening Mind. 

1.28.  Hoping to escape suffering, it is to suffering that they run. In the desire for happiness, out of delusion, they destroy their own happiness, like an enemy.

2.37.  Everything experienced fades to memory. Everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and is not seen again.

3.6-9. With the good acquired by doing all this as described, may I allay all the suffering of every living being.

I am medicine for the sick. May I be both the doctor and their nurse, until the sickness does not recur. Read the rest of this entry »

With Gratitude for Amy Schimdt

I am happy to be able to introduce friends to Dipa Ma in our “Facing the Future” class beginning next week:

Because Dipa Ma was able literally to see through the stories of the mind, she did not acknowledge personal dramas of any kind. She wanted her students to live from a deeper truth than their interpretations of, and identification with, the external events of their lives.

One night a student showed up who began asking Dipa Ma a lot of questions. He was quite challenging and confrontational and coming from an abstract intellectual place and trying to get her to argue. At one point she stopped and said in a very calm voice, “Why have you come here? What is your intention?” The sincerity of her question immediately silenced him.

Her heart, like the door to her apartment, was always open.

Dipa Ma and I were on an airplane coming to the States from India. It was very, very turbulent, and at one point the plane hit an air pocket and dropped. Drinks and other objects flew up to the ceiling as the plane dropped downward before hitting stable air again. I kind of screamed. Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle from me and she reached out and took my hand and she just held it. Then she whispered, “The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.”

–from Amy Schmidt’s essential book, Dipa Ma: The Life and Teachings of a Buddhist Master

Stephen Batchelor’s Gotama: A Dissenter, a Radical, an Iconoclast

Stephen Batchelor has been exploring for quite some time a Buddhism with overt religiosity stripped away. His thoughtful, engaging project reminds me of a similar one undertaken by John Dominic Crossan regarding the historical Jesus. The following passages come from his 2010 book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist; as you read through them, compare and contrast with other Buddhist teachers you’ve read, from Pema Chödrön and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhism) to Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism).

I was beginning to suspect that the Mahayana traditions had, on certain points, lost sight of what the Buddha originally taught. 97

The Buddha dismisses such questions, because to pursue them would not contribute to cultivating the kind of path he teaches. 99
It seemed clear from these texts that the Buddha’s original approach was therapeutic and pragmatic rather than speculative and metaphysical. 100

This story of intrigue, betrayal, and murder locates Gotama in the midst of a highly volatile world in which he was deeply implicated. 108
… his role as a social critic and reformer was one who rejected key religious and philosophical ideas of his time, who ridiculed the priestly caste and its theistic beliefs, who envisioned an entirely new way in which people could lead their individual and communal lives. 109
I have to acknowledge that the vast majority of Buddhists have shown little if any interest in the personality of the man who founded their religion; they have been content to revere a remote and idealized figure. 110

He saw his teaching—the Dhamma—as the template for a civilization. 110

Gotama’s voice is confident, ironic, at times playful, anti-metaphysical, and pragmatic. Over the course of his formative years, he had achieved an articulate and self-assured distance from the doctrines and values of Brahmanic tradition. But exactly how he did this, we don’t know. 124

Gotama’s awakening involved a radical shift of perspective rather than the gaining of privileged knowledge into some higher truth. 129
… Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment. 129 Read the rest of this entry »

Facing the Future: Resources for Resistance and a Rebirth of Wonder

Dipa Ma’s greatest gift to me was showing what was possible—and living it. She was impeccable about effort. People with this ability to make effort are not disheartened by how long it takes, how difficult it is. It takes months, it takes years, it doesn’t matter, because the courage of the heart is there. She gave the sense that with right effort, anything is possible.
—Jospeh Goldstein

Listening to birdsong and the wind sift through the t0ps of forests never failed to provide respite from bearing witness to ecocide.
—Dahr Jamail

The only worth globalizing is dissent.
—Arundhati Roy

and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

_________________

Recently, a friend, acknowledging the pressing issues of the climate, told me matter-of-factly, “Relationships are the most important thing in life.” In this fall class, we will engage in minute particulars of care for our natural world, practice choosing skillful means in daily life, pursue political and cultural investigations, call things by the their true names, savor and circulate poems, and cultivate neighborliness and the dear love of comrades.

Among our teachers will be two women from India, the Buddhist meditation adept Dipa Ma and the activist and writer Arundhati Roy, as well as the intrepid U.S. American journalist and mountaineer Dahr Jamail.

We meet on five Tuesdays in October, and three Tuesdays in November, beginning October 1. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and g0 till 8:15. Each session with have time for silence, paired sharing, writing exercises, book discussions, announcements, poetry recitations, and deep looking. A class blog will enable us to share our various writings and sources of inspiration. Read the rest of this entry »

Keep It Simple

If you are mindful, you can choose with wisdom how to respond.
If you are not mindful, your life is run by reactivity. It’s up to you.

–Munindra, teacher of Jospeh Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, & Dipa Ma

The Buddha Is Hanging with the Groundlings at the Globe Theatre

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Photo: Munindra

“Surely, Thich Nhat Hanh Doesn’t Think that the Diamond Sutra Applies to Trump, ICE, and the Republicans!”

The Buddha said to Subhuti, “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If  you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagatha.”

Diamond Sutra, section 5

Look deeply at the one you love (or at someone you do not like at all!) and you will see that she is not herself alone. “She” includes her education, society, culture, heredity, parents, and all the things that contribute to her being.  When we see that, we truly understand her.  If she makes us unhappy, we can see that did not intend to but that unfavorable conditions made her do it. To protect and cultivate the good qualities in her, we need to know how to protect and cultivate the elements outside of her, including ourselves that make her fresh and lovely.  If we are peaceful and pleasant, she too will be peaceful and pleasant.

If we look deeply into A and see that A is not A, we see A in its fullest flowering. At that time love becomes true love, generosity becomes true generosity, practicing the precepts becomes truly practicing the precepts, and support becomes true support.  This is the way the Buddha looks at a rose, and it is why he is not attached to the rose. When we are still caught in signs, we are still attached to the rose. A Chinese Zen master once said, “Before practicing Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. While practicing Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. After practicing, mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers again.” These are dialectics of prajnaparamita.

—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond That Cuts Through All Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra