Forgive Me, Lord Buddha
Frantic against the screen,
seven wingéd ants
each half an inch long
I capture one in a little jam jar
to take to the Grange and inquire.
I think of making holes in the lid,
like we used to do,
but it is one of my good lids
and even though this glossy fat ant
may another time have been my mother,
she is now a bother and a pest.
I screw the lid on tight.
The little glass chamber sits all night
and the next day; and this morning at last
I’m on my way to the Grange. The silent
shrunken prisoner seems good and dead.
But…wait. She moves! A breath! However faint,
she lives. My heart is already broken,
like yours. My throat aches
as I unscrew the lid, imagine a hungry
gasp, spill her panting onto the grass.
Flying Through Clouds
by J. S-B.
One most splendid day
When I was literally up in the air
Flying through clouds
My pilot showed me shadows and rainbows that can form near these
I say lighthearted
Because these obscurations were small and diaphanous.
The kind that are wispy.
The kind that one can see light through gray.
The kind that you knew would soon dissipate
And leave you free to feel the spaciousness
Of the brilliant blue sky.
Free to expand to another layer of openness
To let rainbows enter your life.
The play of the sun on the clouds and the plane, skillfully maneuvered,
Bring to light the shadows,
And with luck, the rainbows.
Shadows and rainbows manifest and then disembody with little effort
Revealing the impermanence of the ever changing sky
So like the impermanence of our lives and the relief that knowing brings.
The wonderment of the play of shadows and rainbows
In perfect harmony
Is worth striving for
If only for that moment of complete presence.
We must courageously fly through cloud after cloud after cloud and
Learn to enjoy our shadows
Until we know in our body and soul
That our spirit was already the rainbow
Just waiting to be seen.
This poem is dedicated to Bill Warren and all pilots who teach the bliss of non-thought through complete presence in the sanctity of space.
Into the Bardo of the Night
Into the bardo of the night I fly.
It’s home I hope for.
It’s warm with the heater blowing,
While the deepening blue of twilight sky,
Sketches a moon in luminous clouds.
On the freeway the lights are red and blinding white.
They move so fast,
A line of fire that soars toward some destination.
It’s home they hope for.
Buddhahood is Like Jiffy Pop
Over thousands of lives
The universe shakes and pounds you.
It gets hotter and hotter.
This bumping all the time against the other kernals
Is very uncomfortable.
Then one Buddha pops.
There is a pause while the universe stops
For a moment, celebrating,
It is eons before another.
Now the crowd is really getting restless.
They start popping all over the place.
I am in the middle of this.
I cannot escape the restless turning and jumping
In and out of lives again and again.
But I am getting restless.
I am heating up now.
Oak tree, bones, stability of mind
River, blood, fluidity of mind
Sunshine, body heat, clarity of mind
Wind, breath, flexibility of mind
Sky, nostril, spaciousness of mind
This poem was inspired by my participation in the Calm Abiding and Extraordinary Calm Abiding Retreat [Buckhorn Springs, February 2008] with Lama Pema and Lama Yeshe.
Reflections on the Buckhorn Springs
Calm Abiding Retreat
Turning off Highway 66 onto the dirt road to Buckhorn Springs, I feel immediately the turning away from busyness, turning into the slow lane. Oak and pine line the road. As we pass under the gate of Buckhorn Springs, my shoulders start to relax, my breath deepens. Jenn and I left Oakland, California, this morning and it is now late afternoon. We are the new kids on the Tibetan meditation block. Trained in Vipassana practices, I wonder how my mind will respond to the more colorful, visual Tibetan teachings. No worries.
Calm Abiding — to rest with whatever is arising — is an apt description of the retreat. Lama Pema and Lama Yeshe are masterful teachers, offering the teaching in step-by-step, bite-size portions. Patient and funny, wise and compassionate, they welcome every question. I am grateful for the short sittings; practice sessions that refine my ability to visualize — warm-ups for the mind. Calm Abiding resonates with my Vipassana mindfulness training.
The land and beings of Buckhorn Springs offer the perfect container for a retreat that focuses on the elements. We gather to sit in the spacious, beautiful dodecagon, built of timber hewn on the land and assembled by the land steward. The lamas encourage us to spend time in nature on our breaks, to commune with the elements, lie on the earth. Birdsong, rushing creek, damp meadow ice puddles, sun-heated rocks — all support and enliven meditation practice. Primordial, sacred, pure. I feel my own pulse tuning itself to the accompanying surge of the snow-fed creek. The silence, the land, the teachings, the lamas, the sangha, all nourish my practice. Exquisite vegetarian meals are created with grace and attentiveness. Mind notices taste buds savoring wraps stuffed with chard, yams, and goat cheese.
I notice after several days of these skillful Tibetan practices, acceptance grows of my own eventual death. Bones to ash to soil to new life. A lasting memory: Lama Pema in robes and lotus baseball cap soft-shoeing her evening exit with a song from the Singing Yogi’s reframing of Milarepa, “Yogis and Yoginis…” as the sangha joins in chorus. I am inspired by the range and warmth of this Ashland sangha of kindred spirits — serious, silly, sublime, and practical.
From Machik’s Class [Fall ’07]
“Machik’s Complete Explanation” is a new class offered by Lamas Pema and Yeshe. It is exciting to read about a realized Tibetan woman who lived so long ago, and had a profound affect on Tibetan Buddhism by developing the Mahamudra Chöd practice. I am really enjoying this new class and the book that was translated and written by Lama Sarah Harding. She visited KSC and offered teachings last Spring. The depth of information is compelling and overwhelming. My mind is being stretched ... and that is a good thing.
I lucked out in finding a way to attend Mingyur Rinopoche’s teaching on the Seven Points of Mind Training at KDK in San Francisco. It was due to the generosity of a sangha member and the usual diligence in organizing by KSC. Easy access to travel and room information made it possible for me to follow an inkling that I should hear this often-praised teacher. I had read a few pages of his second book, Joyful Wisdom. His writing was a refreshing array of clear and simple explanations laced with colorful, sometimes humorous stories.
We anticipated a packed chamber at KDK, but I could see that meticulous effort was being made to assure our comfort. Crowded in spaciousness, we had lots of opportunity to make new dharma friends. Five to six lamas lined the side of the shrine room, forming a wall of protector chanters. Lama Lodru humbly led Mingyur Rinpoche up to a seat raised several inches taller than he. On his first ascent, he playfully steadied himself using his hands on the open stairway. When he stood at full stature, his head was directly under the gold cloth outlining an umbrella hanging from the ceiling. The cloth briefly draped itself symmetrically around his head and onto his shoulders, creating the semblance of a crown. On successive entrances, Rinpoche became quite agile with the steps and sat down more quickly.
On each entry, his first comment was to discourage us from prostrating. Then we were led in chanting the opening prayers. For this first session he seemed to quickly get down to business by directing us to the Root Text—the sequence of the 59 slogans incorporated in the seven points.
It had been too long for me to remember when I’d heard a condensed teaching on the Seven Points of Mind Training or lojong (mind training). I began to wonder what he was going to offer that might enrich my very basic knowledge. It didn’t take more than a few moments to feel the essence of his brilliance, as the same simple clarity of his writing deepened my focus. With subtle direction he wove the narrative of the text, reading from his Tibetan pecha (sacred text). His examples often filled the room with belly laughs. Then in a soft tone, he would say, “Now sit in alaya (pure consciousness).” Seated in the back, I sometimes missed his first cue, but I never lost the cadence because his posture and steady outward gaze projected his intent.
The first night he encouraged us to focus on how “awesome we are” and to see life like “a wave in the ocean.” Making resting in alaya of absolute bodhichitta seem natural, he closed with what would be a continuing pattern of listening to any question. I was surprised to hear myself ask one well before my usual comfort with timing in a new group. He also allowed even more time to address our curiosity or confusion by opening each session with a Q and A period.
By the second session we jumped right into the main focus of the practice, tonglen (taking and sending). The central importance of tonglen is based on its profound relevance in developing loving-kindness first for ourselves and then others. Mingyur Rinpoche skillfully described the significance of “giving riches to others and taking others’ suffering into yourself” by describing how “everything we have comes from others, even our bodies. If we understand this, our heart is open and everyone is like your family.” His remaining presentation wove the value of loving kindness into the fabric of each slogan. Cautioning us to allow for gradual acclimatizing to the practice, he equated it to the activity of an old cow peeing. It starts out slowly and seems to gradually build and go on forever. Did I mention how vivid and accurate his light hearted metaphors were?
The KSC contingent swelled to twenty by Saturday afternoon. Each one of us seemed to be impressed with the broad spectrum of his acumen. His depth of understanding appeared to be matched by the carefree quality that Lama Lodru had listed in the characteristics of an awakened being. Dramatic playfulness and teasing oozed from his being. Fully entertaining, he delivered the meaning in the profundity, beauty and fullness of the message.
Though his English was exceptionally easy to understand, his effort at learning, pronouncing and refining his English translation progressively became a prominent part of our sessions. One charmed sangha member referred to these moments as him “moving into being delightfully democratic.” Open to being corrected and guided by his audience, his humility and diligence joined the joyfulness, generosity and patience that had permeated the teaching. At times his focus on translation felt distracting. Yet, with a pause in my impatience, I sensed the significance of a unique opportunity. This group of about eighty students was playing a part in the evolution of a profound and unique teacher. His determination to deliver purity in the goal of lineage transmission by understanding the nuances of the English language was truly inspiring.
His dramatic childlike flair kept the atmosphere enlivened as the hours of sitting through the seventh session lengthened and our seats hardened. He was charming and compelling. Everyone with whom I spoke radiated a unanimous agreement. In closing he injected the reminder that a Buddhist uses tonglen for developing compassion merely cultivates one arm of our goal in reaching enlightenment. Throughout his presentation, the essence of his wisdom permeated the message so completely that he was emulating the other arm, wisdom.
On Monday morning, a few KSC students, along with Lama Pema and Lama Yeshe met with Mingyur Rinpoche, to extend an invitation to come to Ashland. He was impressed with the building project and graciously accepted our compliments and questions. He didn’t see an opening in his schedule in the near future, but offered to keep it in mind.
The Chenrezig Empowerment was offered on Monday evening. All but three sangha members from Ashland had left. I stayed for the Empowerment somewhat out of curiosity, as I had received this one before. It became one of those experiences that is difficult to articulate. I was more profoundly moved during the ceremony than by any of the events of the whole weekend. It was heartwarming to notice one of the lamas share my expression, our eyes brimming with tears.
I’m writing this a few days afterward, still in the Bay Area. Despite many wrong turns and maps with print too small to read, the time remains blissfully expansive, filled with the charm and wisdom of Mingyur Rinpoche.
With gratitude to a wonderfully supportive sangha, generous friends, blind curiosity and inspiring lamas, I sign this,
A humble sangha mate.
Submissions are welcome!
Submissions are welcome!