Touches of kindness ~ a day in the life of Sue Hulley

My good friend Sue is currently in hospice. Please pray for her.

I had the opportunity to visit Sue when she invited me to stay with her for 10 days in Marin in November (overlapping with the 20th year anniversary celebration of Saraha Center in San Francisco.) Here is something I wrote at the time.

11.08.2011

“Health is fragile and life is short. I’m sitting in the radiology waiting room while my friend Sue has her port seen to – we have an appointment in an hour with her chemo doctor in the cancer center down the road but who knows if we’ll be done here by then. It is not in our hands.

A woman sitting near us, with a pixie face and big blue eyes, whose hair is just growing back into a fuzz, is asked by the nurse: “Do you want to come with me?” “No”, pixie lady replies, but she goes anyway.

So much paperwork! Just to get past the entrance for a chest x-ray involved paperwork and insurance details in triplicate, followed by a long questionnaire of an entire medical history – all lest the minutest detail might have changed in the last few weeks since Sue’s last x-ray so that, goodness forbid, her insurance might not cover it anymore. Paperwork is challenging even if you’ve just had a cup of Starbucks – what to do if you’re feeling bone tired and can hardly sit up straight?! As Sue says, “Look at the chairs!” These are not designed for people to recline.

“There is only one thing for it”, Sue says, “when you lose your autonomy. I have had to stop identifying with my body and appreciate the opportunity to practice patience.”

And the fact that everyone sitting around you is either in the same boat or already overboard kind of means that there is less room for self-pity. One lanky man sitting opposite us seems to have lost half his face, he looks like a Persian cat and his voice is a sibilant whisper. He is being tended to by a brother, it seems. The elderly lady next to me has sparkling blue eyes and a sweet smile, but also a deep air of resignation. The nurse says to her, “Maureen, that is a lovely sweater. I love the color red.” A moment of kindness in the face of all Maureen is having to go through, a touch of humanity to make the patients feel less alone.

Sue, noticing this too, says, “What a difference even one small human encounter makes when you are in the system waiting for appointments etc. One touch on the arm, and a kind comment, makes it all meaningful.” I tell her that it reminds me in a funny kind of way of being in the busy San Francisco airport the other day. The lack of autonomy as large numbers of people are processed and the individual gets caught up in the big garbage collecting claw as opposed to picked off gently in the tweezers (Sue’s words, she has such a way with words!) Crowded never-ending security lines but one official was so welcoming: “Hello mister so and so!” “Hello Ms L, how are you doing?” “Ah, you’re from the Phillipines, how great is that!” A little bit of love transforms everything.

There will be a changing of the guards as Sue’s valiant and cute as a button partner Bill drives over to relieve me so I can make it to the temple in time for a powa (transference of consciousness) for Maynor. As for perspective, I hear Sue, who has just said that being stuck with cancer treatment is a luxury compared to this atrocity: Maynor was a gentle 19-year-old, always helping his mother and grandmother around the house, when he was brutally tortured and killed in Honduras last week. He was in a taxi and mistaken for a gang member in possession of information needed by another gang. After chopping off 10 toes and 9 fingers, his torturers realized he actually did know nothing and killed him off. Meanwhile, they beheaded the taxi driver for good measure. Maynor was the brother-in-law of Michael, a member of Saraha Center. Maynor’s stunned father was there at the powa, very quiet, but managing to smile at all gestures of concern. His uncle, an old friend called Carlos, was there too, with tears in his eyes: “I miss him.”

Meanwhile, talking of perspective, I have a torn rotator cuff and it pales into nothingness next to Sue’s and Maynor’s situations.”

Please keep Sue in your prayers during this time.

First you, then me ~ the Bodhisattva’s attitude

I hope you’re having a happy holiday season. Just before Christmas I wrote a couple of articles about becoming more generous, and I have a few more things to say on the subject. We’ve no doubt bought and given all our presents by now, but we don’t have to wait a whole ‘nother year before we go crazy giving again! Generosity is the first “perfection” of a Bodhisattva, an essential part of their way of life leading to enlightenment. The more generous we become, the happier we’ll be.

What is a possession?

We have a strong sense of ownership, which if you check is a strong sense of mine. And where does a strong sense of mine come from? It actually comes from a strong sense of me — I in the possessive mode. Of me. The stronger our sense of mine, the stronger our sense of me. Our possessions are mine, which is like me in the possessive mode, me apostrophe s, me’s. It’s all about me. This shirt is my shirt, it is of me, get off it, you can’t borrow it! My shirt!

I had this experience, actually, I will confess. After the marathon we ran in Sacramento some years ago, we were given these fantastic red shirts with the logo: “Run for World Peace” and this great quote, “Without Inner Peace, Outer Peace is Impossible.” My shirt fitted me perfectly. And I loved it, and was so looking forward to just wearing it.

But then somebody said sadly, “Oh, I only got a large, I can’t wear a large, I’m a small,” and this thought came into my head, “Oh, crikey, I’m going to have to give them mine, aren’t I, show a good example?” So I did, I asked if they wanted to swap, and there was a pang – “Ugh. I’ve got a large shirt now, a large red shirt saying, “Without Inner Peace, Outer Peace is Impossible.”

It is so useful when things like this happen, you just see this childish, pathetic mind. I was happy to make her smile, truth be told, but at the same time I had attachment to this shirt, I had already labeled it “mine”, and as a result there was a bit of a pang. And then of course I had to give away the large shirt too as it didn’t fit.

So in reality this mind of holding onto things, it’s painful. Miserliness is a painful mind. It’s a tight mind, there’s no joy in it. That’s something we can check – “Do I derive any joy from holding tightly onto my things?” The part of me that did manage to give the shirt away and see the happiness she got from it felt great! It was such a better feeling!

Happiness is a state of mind, and we can’t find it in our shirts (especially when we already have a bunch of shirts!) There is no long-term security in any of our things, there’s not even any short-term security in them, for they cannot actually protect us from suffering, which is also a state of mind whose causes lie within.

Why do we feel so insecure that we have to bolster ourselves up with possessions, people, money, and so on? That insecurity is coming from our exaggerated sense of self, trying to protect that self, when in reality that’s counter-productive. The way to protect ourselves and find happiness is in loving others and letting go of that strong sense of self.

The weight of the world

Also, we are going to be dead within a few hundred months (but you knew that already, right?!) At that point, everything’s ripped away from us – our things provide us with literally no security whatsoever at the time of death.

In Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully, my Teacher says that if we’re very attached to our possessions throughout our life, then when the time of death comes we’ll be like a bird trying to fly with weights tied to its little feet. The bird cannot move, and, in the same way, if we die with miserliness still in place, we’re in big trouble when it comes to future lives. We’ll be weighed down in samsara, this cycle of impure life. From Buddha’s point of view, it is very dangerous to have strong self-cherishing and miserliness at the time of death. We definitely don’t want to be weighed down.

And miserliness already weighs us down now. It is such a heavy mind. Giving is such a light mind. It is such a free-ing and flexible mind.

SCHLURP

Self-cherishing is like a big black hole. It doesn’t matter what you throw into a black hole —  SCHLURP! It sucks it all up, doesn’t it? We have been throwing things at our self-cherishing our entire life, let’s face it. We’ve been trying to protect our precious selves, nurture ourselves, give ourselves things, help ourselves, humor ourselves, grasp at happiness non-stop throughout the entire course of our life, but have we in fact succeeded in giving ourselves that lasting happiness or freedom from problems, or has our self-cherishing simply sucked it all in so we just have to go feed it again the next day – SCHLURP?!!!

When we learn to cherish others, then we naturally want to protect them, nurture them, and so on. We want to give them things when it’s suitable. We want to give our time, our advice, our encouragement, our love, our protection — like a radiating sun. That’s the difference. Self-cherishing and miserliness are a big, black hole, whereas cherishing others and giving are like a sun shining, radiating blissful energy towards everybody. We ourselves are so happy, and the people we’re with are happy.

Letting go

We will experience happiness both now and in the future. In his Friendly Letter, the great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says:

There is no better friend for the future
Than giving – bestowing gifts properly
On ordained people, Brahmins, the poor, and friends –
Knowing enjoyments to be transitory and essenceless.

There are a lot of deserving people we can give to – those who need help, those who’ve been very kind to us, those who are dedicating their lives to helping others, and so on. We can give, knowing that in any case our enjoyments are transitory and essenceless, so why hold onto them? They’re all utterly temporary. If we have some understanding of the dream-like nature of things, we also know that we cannot even find anything outside of our mind, so why would we want to hold onto it? It is about as satisfying as trying to grab ahold of objects in a dream.

At its deepest, the practice of generosity is very close to the practice of wisdom, because it is a profound sense of letting go of that sense of mine, which is so close to our sense of me. Giving up a sense of owning things is an amazing practice with profound results.

I would love to hear your own stories and observations on giving v. miserliness. Please give this Article #99 to anyone who might like it! And like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you want to discuss these kinds of things there as well.

Awakening our inner Santa

This is continued from this article for the holiday season. So, what’s wrong with miserliness. Well, for starters:

Due to miserliness we sometimes wish to hold onto our possessions forever, but since this is impossible we experience much suffering. If our possessions dwindle, or we are forced to give them away, we experience great pain. The more miserly we are, the more concerned we are about our possessions and the more worry and anxiety we suffer ~ Understanding the Mind

With miserliness, we are tied to externals. We are tied to our things. They become like dead weights — we’re worried about them, anxious about them, holding onto them tightly, weighing ourselves down. But possessions do not equal happiness. Wealth doesn’t equal happiness. Happiness comes from a peaceful, positive, happy mind. There is nothing actually out there that has the power from its own side to make us happy. They’re just things.

What does it mean to be a generous person?

Happiness is a state of mind, so its real causes lie within the mind.  Buddha Shakyamuni said in one Sutra that if people only understood the incredible good results of not clinging so tightly to their things but instead sharing them with others, then even if they had only a few scraps of food left to eat they’d still want to share it. If they could find someone to share it with, they would.

Even though there is a recession on, we still actually have an awful lot of things, don’t we, compared to many people in our world? These great resources are due, karmically speaking, to generosity we’ve practiced in the past. One question is, are we holding tightly onto a lot of things that we don’t necessarily need?

No one is suggesting you rush out and sell your house (if you still have one) or empty your bank account, because being homeless would just cause a whole lot of problems for a lot of other people. When we talk about “giving” in Buddhism, we are really talking about just that wish to help others through our resources, that wish to share, the wish to give when the time is right, and so on. (There is actually a type of giving that’s called “keeping”, where we don’t rush off and give everything away but instead look after resources like a custodian so as to help people most effectively when the time is right. The great Tibetan Yogi Marpa practiced this type of giving, and you can read about it in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)

When people who are very generous go into a situation, such as walking into a room, they think to themselves: “What can I contribute here? What can I do to help? What can I give — can I give my time, my enthusiasm, my love, my attention, my support, any of my possessions?” This is the practice of giving.

me v. others

With miserliness, if we walk into a room, it’s like: “What can I get out of this situation? Who here can help me get what I want?”

I think this kind of sums up the difference between miserliness and the spirit of generosity, which is what we’re actually talking about here, not actually giving away our last cent. I’m trying to make this clear because otherwise people can start getting nervous when they hear advice on giving! (Though at this time of year we at least are more predisposed to it, hence the timing of these articles ;-))

The one-year rule

So if we are really holding tightly onto things we don’t actually want to use, we might want to ask ourselves why that is the case. (I’m actually talking to myself here.) Perhaps we’re holding onto things that we feel might come in handy fifteen years down the road — a bunch of stuff we know we’re never going to use but still there’s a sense of, “Ooh! What if I give it away, I might need it one day!” I know people who subscribe to the “one year rule” – if they haven’t used something in a year, the chances are they’re not going to use it, so they give it away. (One good friend of mine is down to pretty much two suitcases! And it makes him feel very light on his feet, free and flexible). But with our miserliness we get anxious at the thought of even giving something small away. We think “Maybe I’ll have a two year rule. Or maybe a ten year rule. Or how about a death rule – I’ll give it away when I die.” (It is a bit late by then – as Milarepa pointed out, it is far better to give stuff away while we’ve still got the choice to do so, before it is ripped  from us.)

“Heck, why did I give that away?!”

Understanding the Mind continues:

Miserliness is the opposite of the mind of giving. Sometimes miserliness prevents us from giving at all, and at other times it causes us to develop a sense of loss or regret when we do give.

Have you ever had the experience of managing to give something away but then thinking: “Heck, what did I do that for?!”

Although miserliness might appear to be a prudent attitude that assures our material security in this life, from a long term point of view it is very foolish. By preventing the wish to practice giving from arising, miserliness causes poverty in future lives. ~ Understanding the Mind

From a Buddhist point of view, we talk about past and future lives and about karma, that all our actions have consequences. In the short term they have consequences, and in the long term they have consequences. Buddha Shakyamuni explained that from giving comes wealth whereas from miserliness comes poverty.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Even psychologically speaking, if we’re holding tightly onto our things and not giving them away, we can sense that we’re not really creating the cause to get things back, are we? But when we give, we’re creating the cause to receive.

If you have any observations or questions, please share these in the comments so I can try and address them.

And please do share this article # 98 for Christmas 🙂

From Garvan Byrne to Christopher Hitchens ~ a broad spectrum of belief

When someone linked to this video a few days ago on Facebook, I watched it once, was mesmerized, and had to watch it again. My thoughts keep returning to this child. I’m not alone — tons of people have commented on this video. Have a look and see what you think, and I’ll resume this below.

Recently I did some articles on blessings, and Gavan is a shining example of what I was trying to get at, even if we are in different religions and have somewhat different beliefs.  Since time immemorial, people have had the experience of communing with holy beings, in all traditions.  Either we are all quite mad, or we are all quite, quite sane! You decide.

Children can be quite amazing sometimes. My friend Julie told me recently about a little boy who attends Kadampa Meditation Center NYC in Manhattan (which has just signed the contract for a beautiful new space on 24th Street :-)) In school, his teacher was showing the kids diagrams of everything inside the human body. When she’d finished, the four-year-old put his hand up and said: “You’ve forgotten something.” “What is that?” she replied. “The Buddhas. They are in here too.”

Meantime, on the other end of the spectrum, I confess that, although I don’t subscribe to his atheistic world view, I’m going to miss Christopher Hitchens a little! He spoke truth to power, and reminded me that none of us, whatever position we hold, can afford to get caught up in hypocrisy or use any part of our religion as a justification for unkindness and discrimination.

I’m pretty sure that Garvan didn’t.

Two more to go…

So, this is article #97 on Kadampa Life! Thank you for helping me get here. If you still like this blog, please feel a warm fuzzy invitation to subscribe! That way, you don’t have to keep coming back here, because every four or five days the articles will drop conveniently into your inbox.

Watching out for the Scrooge within

The holiday season is upon us, and it seems as good a time as any to think about miserliness and generosity.

Ebenezer Scrooge: What reason have you got to be merry? You’re poor enough.
Fred: What reason have you got to be miserable? You’re rich enough.
Ebenezer Scrooge: There is no such thing as rich enough; only poor enough.

Self-cherishing is depressing

We’ve looked at how so many problems come from self-cherishing – negative actions, suffering, anxiety, prejudice, disharmony, inequality, an inability to reach out to others with love or compassion, etc. Self-cherishing has so many faults and makes us so miserable. In a chapter called Exchanging Self with Others in Transform Your Life, you can read pages and pages about what self-cherishing is and what’s wrong with it. For example, my teacher Geshe Kelsang says:

With self-cherishing we hold our opinions and interests very strongly and are not willing to see a situation from another point of view. As a consequence we easily get angry and wish to harm others verbally or even physically. Self-cherishing makes us feel depressed whenever our wishes are not fulfilled, we fail in our ambitions, or our life does not turn out the way we planned. If we examine all the times we have been miserable…

We can do this, you know, check in our own experience all the times we’ve been miserable and ask, “Who was I thinking about at that time?” We will probably discover that these times are indeed:

…characterized by an excessive concern for our own welfare. If we lose our job, our home, our reputation, or our friends we feel sad, but only because we are so attached to these things. We are not nearly so concerned when other people lose their jobs or are parted from their friends.

Pretty small package

The poet John Donne said:

When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.

One clear example of self-cherishing holding sway is when we feel miserly. With miserliness, we are really wrapped up in ourselves, just trying to hold onto our stuff. And not just material things or people, but our time, our energy, our love. As Scrooge says:

I wish to be left alone, sir! That is what I wish!

We are just holding on, bolstering our sense of self, we don’t want to let go. We don’t want people intruding on us, let alone asking things of us. When we have a miserly mind, we don’t want to share, we just want to hold on with tight fists and a tight mind. Tight-fisted is a great word for it because I think we do physically clench up when we’re miserly.

Yesterday the cat Rousseau had the delusion of miserliness. We have new tenants upstairs and one of them, Pete, was giving Rousseau some of his very favorite salmon treats. Little Nelson shyly tried to join in, but Rousseau growled – translated into English he was warning: “It’s mine, go away, go away!” When Nelson did not immediately leave, Rousseau chased him around the garden and under the house. (This happens rather too often.)

We try to teach our kids (and even our cats) how nice it is to share: “Look how much happier that child is because they’re sharing! Look, little Johnny, why don’t you share? Look how nice it is!” Because it is, isn’t it? Cats who share their treats and kids who share their toys are happier – that’s why we encourage them to do it. Cats and kids who play generously with other cats and kids obviously have a lot more fun.

I was thinking I could learn from Rousseau’s behavior, take a big leaf out of that book. Why do I hold tightly onto things? It’s exactly the same childish mentality, isn’t it? “I want this to myself. If I keep it to myself, I’ll have a great time, but if I give it to someone else, I’ve lost something.”

This is miserliness – the feeling that giving or even sharing something will mean losing out. We don’t lose out at all, the opposite is the case. We gain, but we feel we lose out, so why is that?  The reason we feel erroneously that we are losing out is because we are under the sway of our ignorant self-cherishing.

As my teacher says:

Controlling our self-cherishing is of great value, even temporarily. All worries, anxiety, and sadness are based on self-cherishing. The moment we let go of our obsessive concern for our own welfare, our mind naturally relaxes and becomes lighter.

Defining miserliness

Miserliness clearly obstructs our ability to be generous. Geshe Kelsang gives a definition of miserliness that comes from the teachings of Buddha, who was an extraordinary diagnostician of the mind with a clear understanding of which states of mind give rise to happiness or suffering. Buddha explained clear definitions, types and divisions for all types of mind — positive, negative and neutral — and explained how they arise, what faults or benefits they possess, and how to abandon or cultivate them. In a way, the whole practice of meditation is basically just this — learning to identify negative states of mind (called “delusions”) in order to get rid of them and learning to identify positive states of mind in order to cultivate them. Every single person reading this, if they want to, can reduce their miserliness and become more generous. There’s nothing fixed about us at all. If we use our wisdom and our determination, we can definitely change everything about ourselves to become totally, kinder, wiser, and more generous people.

So the definition of miserliness is a deluded mental factor (or state of mind) that, motivated principally by desirous attachment, holds onto things tightly and does not want to part with them.

Giving on the other hand is a virtuous determination to give, motivated for example by love — you want to give things, love, time, encouragement, advice, support and so on — all coming from the wish to help others.

generosity

So miserliness is the polar opposite of giving, isn’t it? It is motivated by attachment, which is the delusion that thinks happiness lies “out there” – it inheres in my things, for example, such as my salmon treats, or is to be found in my spare time, or in my best friends. Attachment grasps tightly at the causes of happiness being outside the mind. Motivated by it, we then hold onto things (and people) tightly and don’t want to part with them, which is the opposite of wanting to give them away or share them.

What’s wrong with miserliness? More in the next article… Also, if you have any observations or questions about this subject, please share these in the comments so I can have a go at addressing them!

And please feel free to give this article away to anyone who might like it 🙂

Top Five Regrets of the Dying – and a Buddhist’s perspective

A hospice worker called Bronnie Ware wrote a very interesting article called “Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. I (and others) posted it on Facebook and it garnered a lot of attention, probably as all of us are dying sooner or later, and who wants to die with regrets?! Other hospice workers chimed in to agree that they found these to be the top five regrets amongst their patients too.

I think Buddha’s meditations can help us prevent all of these (as well as  a few other regrets I can think of) and make the most of the time we have left. I hope she doesn’t mind, but I’m going to borrow Bronnie Ware’s points and share just a few more ideas below; and please add your own ideas in the comments.

Meditating on death awareness now — remembering the fact that we are definitely going to die and lose everything external, and that this could happen any time, even today – is probably the most effective preparation for preventing these regrets. If we live each week, or day, as if it is our last, this tends to get our priorities straight! And it doesn’t have to be scary either, it can be very liberating. (You can try this experiment to see if this is true.)

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

We are often wrapped up in the so-called “worldly concerns” of wishing to experience praise and a good reputation and not criticism and a bad reputation, and this can make us overly fearful. We need integrity – knowing based on our own wisdom (not blind allegiance) what is good and kind, and sticking to it regardless of what everyone around us thinks or does. We need a self-worth based not on distracting, fleeting concerns like our reputation and whether or not people like us, but based on the good qualities we are developing in own mind – our own love, kindness, compassion, wisdom, and so on. These are what make us feel good about ourselves both now and at the time of our death.

If we imagine what it is going to be like to lose everything – our body, our possessions, our career, our friends, even our most dearly beloved who seems to have been validating our existence – what do we want to have left? Does it matter at that time what others expected of us? Or does it matter more that we have tried to live up to our highest ideals?

If any of you have lost your job recently, or a loved one, or your health, did you find this to be the case?

When we meditate on death awareness, we think of what it’ll be like to lose EVERYTHING, the entire infrastructure of our life, including our friends, our possessions and even our own body. This can have a dramatic effect on our mind because it puts us in touch with the naked truth. But sometimes I think it can also be very powerful to meditate on losing one thing at a time. You can start by imagining that you are fired from your long-term job/career (you can also imagine what often goes along with it, such as being pitied and/or criticized behind your back, and no longer having anything in common with the people you made your working life with.) You can imagine that your most dearly beloved partner, parent or child dies. You can imagine losing your health. What matters at these times, what protects you from pain, what do you have left, what do you want to have left?

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

So true, isn’t it, that old adage that no one’s last words are “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”?!

Of course, it depends what we’re working hard doing, and especially why. If we are motivated by a desire just for making this life comfortable, and especially if we become addicted to earning more and more money, status etc, when we see that these pursuits are pointless in the light of death we are bound to feel some regret for the wasted time and energy. But if we work hard to help others, motivated by a wish to bring happiness and freedom into others’ lives, I doubt we’ll regret that. It doesn’t matter so much what job we have to do to earn our keep and look after our loved ones. It matters far more why we are going to work each day.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Bronnie explains that “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

I think this is related to #1 above. It’s a good idea not to suppress our emotions/pretend we’re someone different. Bodhisattvas have a vow to avoid both “pretension” and “deceit”. But nor do we have to suddenly tell everyone exactly what we think of them, especially if it may hurt them (see this article about criticism) – we’ll probably regret that too! Better to work on overcoming the resentment by learning to love unconditionally, based on a genuine self-confidence. From our side, do we really need to worry quite so much about what people think or say about us, or even say to us? It means very little in the grand scheme of things.

There is a Kadampa motto:

“Help others as much as you can. Harm your delusions as much as you can.”

Following this advice gives us the courage we need.

4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends

See, Facebook is helpful!! Children of my nieces’ generation will never have to lose a friend again; they’ll be followed from crib to grave by hundreds upon hundreds of friends…!!

Actually, of course, we don’t want attachment to our friends, as this will cause us pain at the time of death when we understand we have to lose them in this current form. But if we have the three types of love – warm affection, cherishing them as precious, and wishing them to be happy – we’ll never truly be separated from our friends. (You can find out more about the difference between the positive mind of love and the delusion of attachment in Joyful Path.)

It is good to live as if every encounter we have with another may be our last – it’ll naturally prevent our being cross with them, and mean that we appreciate every moment we have together.

5. I wish I’d let myself be happier

Bronnie says:

“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.”

So, the sooner we realize this, the better! Enough said.

Please add your own observations on these or any other likely deathbed regrets you can think of. And share this article if you feel like it.

Tara Day

(I wrote this article on 8th September shortly after Rousseau first came to my house, and he has relaxed quite a bit since then! Still, a story is a story…)

Buddha Tara

Today, and the 8th of every month, is Buddha Tara Day, so here is a quick anecdote to celebrate her.

I just got a rescue cat, a panther to be more precise. A dream cat just like the ones painted by Henri Rousseau, and hence his name.

Rousseau stands on his back legs without leaning on anything and growls deeply like a bear if he sees or hears anything out of the ordinary outside. Out of the ordinary at this point includes anything with skin, fur, feathers, or scales.

Can you see Rousseau in this painting?

So he was growling at the door in the dark of night when my Russian neighbor ran up to it, all in a fluster, saying that there was a man who needed an ambulance but her phone was dead and I had to “hurry help”.

We ran over a couple of streets while I spoke on the phone to 911, to find a large rather respectably dressed man in the midst of a psychotic episode, yelling into a cell phone with no one the other end, staring blankly at everything and nothing, lurching violently around, repeatedly slamming his body hard on the pavement, and, most alarmingly, staggering into oncoming traffic.

...and/or Buddha Tara

Irena is about 5 foot 2 but she was trying to touch him: “Please seet down sir, you hurt self.” The policeman on the line (I’d called medical emergency but they decided I needed the police too) heard him scream and told us firmly to “Step away from him immediately and wait at a distance.” We didn’t have to wait long, and I guess this is the point of my story. The fire/rescue paramedics turned up in minutes, sirens blazing, followed fast on their heels by the ambulance and police. It seemed that Irena and I were no longer needed 🙂

It was the same when someone, probably Mr. Magoo, flew off an embankment, having mistaken the gas pedal for the brake, and smashed onto my car several years ago – the entire rescue brigade was there in no time at all. And what struck me then and now was how kind all these emergency people are. They didn’t know (me or) this psychotic fellow personally, but they were still going to do what they could to help him. The fact that they felt sufficiently responsible for him to appear within minutes of the call for help was impressive, and shows the power of community and our dependence upon others. We can say skeptical things like, “Yeah, well, they’re paid to do it”, but when we meditate on the kindness of others we can see that a kindness is a kindness, regardless of motivation (and in any case, let’s face it, we find it hard enough figuring out our own motivation half the time, let alone that of others ;-))

Their speed reminded me of Tara, the “swift one, the heroine”. She is right there, swift as the wind, whenever we need her. If human beings can show up that fast, clearly it is no problem for her to show up the instant we call.

Tara is seated but her right leg is outstretched, showing how quickly she will jump up and help us, her total commitment to us. But Tara doesn’t run around like a headless chicken focusing exclusively on the outer world, getting entirely stressed out. Her left leg in the meditative posture shows how we need to focus on compassion and wisdom in our heart so that our actions of helping others flow naturally from there. Responsibilities born from compassion and love are not stressful or burdensome but joyful; hence her beautiful smiling face and energetic posture.

(On that point, we can be very busy doing the things we naturally want to do and not find it in the least stressful e.g. a child having fun in crowded DisneyWorld, as opposed to feeling pressurized at having to work hard every day because we feel we need something in return.)

As for Rousseau, he likes Tara and all the Buddhas. He stares at their pictures for ages each day without growling at all. He just has to work a bit more on the sentient being part.

Do you have any Tara stories to share in the comments?

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Meantime, check out Losang’s immaculately beautiful statue of Tara: