June 30, 2007

The American Dream

I wonder who came up with “The American Dream?” Probably advertisers trying to sell the idea of the single family home with the white picket fence, Levittown. Maybe not; there was such a housing crunch after World War II, I doubt they had to advertise at all. In any case, who decided marriage, 2.3 children, a single family home with a yard, dog, car, television, and the afore mentioned fence was the ideal to which we should all aspire? More pressing perhaps is why don’t I want any of that? (Well, except the dog.)

When I turned twenty-five, both of my Grandmothers came for a family dinner. My Grandma Delmira, the more outspoken of the two, asked me “How does it feel to be twenty-five?”

I thought for a moment. “Like I’m behind schedule.”

“Because you’re not married and don’t have any children?”

……… “Uhh….” ………

Mind boggling, that. Couldn’t have been the furthest thing from my thinking. “No, because I haven’t finished college yet.”

“You’re not meeting any nice men at college you feel like batting your eyes at?”

“Grandma, I wouldn’t know how to bat my eyes even if I felt so inclined.”

“Well, what would you do if you felt inclined?”

“I don’t know. Hit him in the head with a club and carry him back to my cave?”

………End of conversation.

This week Family Camp has been held at Shambhala Mountain Center. There are little monsters everywhere. Yelling, making messes, brandishing sticks, reenacting Lord of the Flies, toddling about, asking you (a perfect stranger) if you’ll be their friend, if you’ll play with them. There are parents too, which is almost as bizarre. When does yelling “What’s your problem?” at a three year old become useful? Mostly it has been okay. The parents are good and mostly the children are good. The older kids have even ungrudgingly helped with rota. It is still strange. I find myself constantly on the lookout for trouble, waiting for one of them to hurt themselves, hurt each other, break something, etc.

There are a few children on the land, whose parents are staff. Lilly is the baby, fifteen months, walking and just starting to talk. She has her mother and father and at least a dozen aunts and a few uncles, all of whom pass her about from hip to hip without so much as a squawk. I tend to find myself studying her, like an anthropologist with the missing link suddenly thrust before them. She waves and says hello to me, which is endearing given that I am not one of her many aunts. They other day she was toddling about while we were making origami. She wanted to see, so I lifted her and set her on the picnic table. It may sound like nothing, but the fact that she didn’t yell, squirm, or cry is a major accomplishment for me.

It’s not that I don’t like children; I just don’t understand them. I never wanted to spend time with children my own age when I was younger. I understand, intuitively, dogs and horses and cats, the way their thoughts turn, the way they structure their societies, the way the feel and speak. So what’s so hard about kids? At least they are my own species, right?

Moreover I really don’t feel any inclination to have one of my own, certainly not biologically. What’s so special about my genes? I would like to adopt, but older children, because they need it most. Everyone wants the babies. But that desire, I think, is born out of my overriding desire to help people and not any specific desire to raise a child of my own.

Even when I contemplate this future, I don’t necessarily picture a husband as one of the necessary ingredients. I would like to have a long term, meaningful relationship, and sometime sooner rather than later would be nice, but that does not equate to husband and does not equal forever. It would be nice to be married, I think, but I am not going to pin all my hopes on it. Being married probably ranks somewhere with winning a hundred grand at power ball. Nice if it happens, but it’s not on my list of goals I’m going to work my ass off for.

I’m glad I was born in this era, when it is acceptable for a woman to remain single, have a career, a social life, and no children. Granted, there is still a stigma attached, but I think I can handle that. I also think it will probably disappear in my lifetime. So what is “The American Dream” for people like me? Who knows?

I at least want the dog, maybe two or three.

June 27, 2007


Just the other day, I was Googling for Buddhist Blogs and found nan demo nai, which is Japanese for 'nothing.' (Just for fun I'm trying to learn to say 'nothing' in as many languages as possibly. So far I have English, Japanese, and Spanish. Please feel free to help in this quest.)

Yet, seek and ye shall find. My answers were delivered into my lap this morning as I logged onto In Limine and found a link to The Zennist who had a link to Blogmandu (see all to the right). Blogmandu is blog dedicated to finding other Buddhist Blogs and furthermore has sponsored the Blogisattvas for three years now. Great stuff. So, as I explore Blogmandu's many links, I'm sure I'll be adding more links on my own site. I especially like Buddhist Geeks. I am so in that crowd!


June 26, 2007

"In Love"

I recently read an article by Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown in the anthology Buddhist Women on the Edge titled “Romantic Vision, Everyday Disappointment.”

“By romantic love, I mean that which focuses on the loved one as the object of passion, devotion, and fixation. The loved one becomes the answer to all of life’s problems, the source of all our happiness, and potentially, the source of all our woes. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that romantic love is deeply unhappy love, addicted to misery and suffer, cloaked in fantasy and separation.

“Romantic love has become a kind of religion in Western culture. In his landmark book, Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont traced the development of romantic love in the courtly traditions of the Middle Ages, describing it a s a Christian heresy. He described how Christian nobles transferred their devotion from the unattainable god to the unattainable lover, imbuing her with ideal traits beyond any mortal woman. He argued that such a view of romantic love survives today; even now, one of the most pervasive and unacknowledged forms of theism is our romantic life. We have made the lover into a god, and we are in love with love rather than with the lover. The lover is cast in a specific role in order form him or her to remain a god.”

Many years ago I sat around a table in a pub with a group of friends, split between the 20-somethings, like myself, and the 40-somethings and listened as they described the difference between “love” and “in love.” At the time, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, wisdom bought with more years than I possessed. Time, however, and much thought have convinced me it is all a bunch of bullshit. No one is every really “in love” with anyone else, they are only “in love” with the ideal of that person, that fantasy they have built up in their own mind, and mostly they are “in love” with being “in love.” If one is “in love” that implies one can someday be “out of love.” It is unsteady and capricious.

Love, on the other hand, real love sees clearly. Real love is not blind. It can be self-less and altruistic. It can love the person with all their faults and flaws included, sometimes even because of those faults and flaws. It can understand that the other person cannot, in fact, answer all of life’s problems, and moreover that it is okay. It is right to be that way. It can also help one see the lover’s problems clearly and respond in a compassionate, generous, and wise way to help that person. Love is steady and sure and all pervasive. It is built on clear seeing, and there is always disappointment and that is okay too. We all get hurt sooner or later, no matter the relationship, lovers, parent-child, student-teacher, siblings, friends, coworkers, strangers you see in the check out line, anyone we interact with at all. Being willing to be hurt is what it means to be open, to love openly, indiscriminately, without the blinders.

“When aloneness and disappointment dawn for us, the relationship might have the space to begin…There may be good times, there may be bad times. What happens though, si that we begin to ahave a relationship with a person. We can begin to see the lover as someone separate from us, and we feel aloneness in relationship.

“When we begin to see the other person, there is a new opportunity for romance in a sane sense. The lover’s very otherness can attract us. It is fascinating what makes my husband furious, what makes him laugh. He really likes to garden, he really hates to shop. Continual facination can bloom, because the other person is beyond your boundaries of expectation and conceptualization. That facination can include moments of desperation, discouragement, and resignation. It also includes moments of humor, delight, and wonder. But all of it is tangible and vivid.”

I have felt the pull of romantic love, that excited wonder. What would it be like to marry this person? Have children with this person? Have him make me breakfast? Go to art festivals and theater shows with him? Have someone to appreciate my twisted sense of humor?

That’s not real. Maybe he doesn’t believe in marriage. Maybe I don’t really want children. Maybe neither of us can cook. He doesn’t like art galleries and I don’t like musicals and neither of us understand the other’s sense of humor. Love can be there anyway, long after the bubble has burst. Long after disappointment and frustration has dawned. Love can let you hang in there long enough to realize he can in fact cook, but he likes fish and I like beef. We both love movies and books and good classical music and hiking. We can even learn to understand and appreciate our different humors. Maybe this isn’t the person I’ll marry, and maybe it is. Who knows?

“There is tremendous groundlessness, for we really don’t know where the relationship is going…And, perhaps surprisingly, there is an opportunity for boundless passion when you are not trying to fit someone into a role. This can be happy passion, because you are not trying to manipulate the lover into filling your needs; it is passion which can include sexuality without fear of intimacy.”

“In love” is limited by a state of mind we are either “in” or “out” of, but real love is boundless and unbridled.

June 25, 2007

Bodhisattva Vows

Yesterday I pulled the three plastic boxes out from under my plywood bed. These boxes protect my best clothes, my special occasion clothes, from all the many kinds of peril. I pull out my gold lace skirt and my black back-less shirt. It is a special day. I am getting bodhisattva’ed.

Of course, that’s not the correct way to put it. I am in fact taking my Bodhisattva Vows for the first time. After lunch, I walk the long hike up to Red Feather, my meditation seat under on arm, the hot sun and the cool breeze behind me. Red Feather has been restricted these last few weeks for Sutrayana Seminary participants, but the Bodhisattva Vows which twenty of them will be taking are also open to staff. There are two of us taking them this time.

I relax for a while on the lodge porch before heading over the to white shrine tent with the others. Tom, the mustached Assistant Director with the booming voice walks us through the ceremony, showing us when to stand, when to bow, when to prostrate, when to kneel, etc. on the bare zabutons of in the front two rows. One last chance for a bathroom break then we sit in silent meditation in the hot shrine tent as the audience files in. I don’t even bother to try shamatha. I just sit, my thought whirling in my head, my back aching, and study the ikebana arrangement before me.

Finally Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown arrives and we rise. She speaks about the Bodhisattva vow in a soft, clear, smiling voice. She talks about generosity and the treasure of bodhicitta (mind of enlightenment) which we posses, cultivate, and offer to the world. She talks about the community, gathered here to support us, and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas who have gone before. It is a very big day, she says, a wonderful day.

We renew our refuge vows, hands in anjali at head, throat, and neck, then a half-prostration. Three times for the three jewels. We supplicate to the teacher to consider us and help us “arouse the mind that aspires to unsurpassable, perfect, complete, great enlightenment.”

The teacher repeats the instructions to the disciples: “Generally, wherever there is space, there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, there are kleshas (poisons, corruptions). Wherever there are kleshas, there are negative actions. Wherever there are negative actions, there is suffering. All these sentient beings who suffer have been out fathers and mothers, and they have been only kind to us. These kind parents of our are drowning in the great ocean of samsara….”

Then we take the Bodhisattva Vow: “All buddhas and bodhisattvas dwelling in the ten directions, please consider me! … from now until I reach supreme enlightenment - in order to take across sentient beings who have not crossed over, to liberate those who have not been liberated, to encourage those who need encouragement, and to establish in complete nirvana those who have not been established - I, Tsetan Dolkar (my refuge name), will arouse the mind that aspires to unsurpassable, perfect, complete, great enlightenment.” Repeated three times.

Then, together with the assembly of sanga before, behind, and beside us, we say the first stanzas of the Bodhisttva Vow of the Mahayana Morning Liturgy:

“… So may I become sustenance in every way for sentient beings To the limits of space, until all have attained nirvana.

“ … So I to, for the benefit of beings, shall give birth to bodhicitta And progressively train myself in that discipline.

“At this moment my birth has become fruitful; I have realized my human life. Today I am born into the family of the buddhas; now I am a child of the buddhas.”

We offer a gift, placing it first in Acharya Judith’s hands then on the table beside. This gift need not be expensive, but only of value to us. It is the beginning of the act of generosity. My difficulty in choosing my gift arose when I considered that all the things that I posses which are most important to me where gifts from others, whom I did not want to disrespect by giving away what they had given me. David arrived at a wonderful suggestion. I had briefly thought to give me hair, but I cut my hair off almost ritually every few years anyway, so I did not think that would be enough. David suggested I have a fundraiser and let other people shave my head and then donate both the hair and money. I think that is a wonderful idea, but as it was only an hour before the ceremony, I think I shall save it for another time. There will be other vows, other teachings, other seminaries, I am sure.

Finally, we complete the liturgy with the final stanza: “Today, witnessed by all the protectors, I have welcomed the sentient beings and sugatas. Devas and asuras rejoice!”

Remember this moment, Acharya Judith tells us, 4:15 p.m. on June 24, 2007. It is special.

We stand once more to pass before the teacher to receive our bodhisattva names. The night before we interviewed with Acharya Judith and these names are her gift to us. They may be considered both highest praise and greatest insult, for they represent both our greatest strength and obstacles. As the names are read, in their Tibetan and then English translations, there are smiles and some laughter, some rueful grins. These names are not public names, though not secret, but generally to be shared only among the community of bodhisattvas.

My names suits me perfectly. It is in two parts, as they all seem to be. Both fit me and yet the first is certainly my greatest obstacle to the second. It is ironic and makes me smile. And it is beautiful. The others who have heard it also grin with humor for they can see that it is me.

Afterward, we rise and stand in respect as the teacher departs. We all gather in the lodge of a reception. Toasts are raised to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, to the lineage, to Acharya Judith (who almost cries when the young woman offering the toast praises her children), and to us, the newest of bodhisattvas, still squeaky and shining.

Two small glasses of wine go a long way at higher altitudes and I carefully walk back downtown, my meditation seat under my arm. There are many hugs and congratulations from those I meet. I drink lots of water and eat a hearty dinner before setting off to bed. It was a good day.

So how does it feel to be bodhisattva’ed - slightly tipsy, and I don’t think it’s from the wine.

June 22, 2007

Samadhi Point

"Oh, Great Man of the Mountain, I have travelled long distances to reach you. I have come through scorching valleys and up arduous mountain trails, across great boulder strewn ridges, through forests of mighty trees, against gale force winds and under the burning sun. I have wandered through the territories of great bears and lions, stinging insects, and had vultures and hawks watch me from on high. But I did not falter, Oh Great Guru of the Rocks! I have come hence to ask you this one burning question, Oh Wise Man!

"Do you have any snacks?"

June 20, 2007


From: Sanford, Brandon

Sent: Wednesday, June 20, 2007 8:55 AM

To: Monica Sanford

Subject RE: Music & All

"LOL crazy hippy Buddhist’s never thought in high school that my sister could be lumped in with 'crazy hippy Buddhist’s' the surprise twists and turns life throws our way sure make things interesting :-)"

Family is good for keeping things in perspective.

Passion and Aggression

Aggression is bad. We get that, no worries. “Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side are they,”—Yoda

So what about passion? Sounds risky to me. Passion can lead us willy-nilly chasing pleasure. It can inspire attachment, envy, and clinging. It can inspire blindness to anything which contradicts our passion, as in the case of passionate beliefs, or hatred for anything which threatens the object of our passion, as in the case of jealousy or covetousness.

Yet passion has an eagerness to it, an energy, which can grant us the power and motivation to carry out difficult tasks, if it is directed truly. It can bring great joy and joy to others. Half of compassion is passion. Compassion is not only “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress” but also “a desire to alleviate it.” (Miriam-Webster Online)

Wait a minute – desire? I thought desire was bad, too?

“But according to the view of vajrayana Buddhism, desire is also the working basis of compassion. Desire’s very eagerness to please carries intelligence, which when liberated from self-centered preoccupations, resonates with the emotional experience of others. Desire becomes empathy as we develop our capacity to recognize the different styles of suffering…

"In order to work with our self-centered desire, we train in the foundational vehicle, the hinayana, in which we learn self-restraint, renunciation and simplicity. However, after disciplining ourselves in this way, we retain a residue of aggression: we have rejected too much of the intelligence of desire, and have cut ourselves off from the suffering of others.

"In the broad vehicle, the mahayana, aggression is seen as the strongest obstacle to the practice of compassion, we cannot benefit beings if we are angry toward them or toward their suffering. With mahayana training, aggression is transformed into patience and care, and we are able to begin to relieve the suffering we encounter. But while the mahayana acknowledges the close relationship between desire and compassion, there is the danger that desire can lead to ‘idiot compassion,’ a kind of compassion tainted by our own personal agendas.

"So having completed the training of the first two vehicles, we discover a residue of blindness or obliviousness which inhibits our further development. In avoiding painful emotions, difficult life passages and underlying habitual patterns, we have become enamored with the idealism of our compassion.

"When we continue our training in the ‘diamond vehicle,’ the vajrayana, we address directly this oblivious quality. Vajrayana training and practice give us immediate proximity to all aspects of our experience, removing the blinders which remained from the previous practices.

"This time the residue that remains is passion. However, it is now said that passion need not be an obstacle to spiritual growth. By this time, it has been refined through spiritual training and represents the warm heart combined with the intensity of vajrayana experience and practice.” – “Pure Passion”, Judith Simmer-Brown, Shambhala Sun, July 1999.

So when we were screaming like idiots at the soccer match on Monday, was that aggression or passion? The hallmarks of aggression are hostility, an intent to injure, unprovoked attacks, attempts to dominate, and actions rooted in frustration or anger. The hallmarks of passion are emotional, as opposed to reason, a strong desire, devotion, driving intensity, ardor, affection, enthusiasm, and zeal. Passion also has links to anger. It seems, anger is the key.

We lost that soccer game 6-3. It was hard fought and the win well deserved by the other team. Afterward, some questioned our screaming, chanting, flag waving behavior on the sidelines as not very Shambhalist, not very Buddhist. I think they were right to question because it brings our behavior into focus. We were aggressive or passionate? If we were passionate, was it born of anger or enthusiasm?

I noted a strong lack of anger, a kind of happy rueful contentment. No one seemed to mind that we lost. We all groaned as the other team scored and cheered as our team scored, but in then end I think everyone acknowledged the joy of playing. Yet, the Dhammapada warns us:

“The winner sows hatred

Because the looser suffers.

Let go of winning and loosing

And find joy.

There is no fire like passion,

No crime like hatred,

No sorrow like separation,

No sickness like hunger,

And no joy like the joy of freedom.”

-- Dhammapada, 15. Joy

Fire both warms and burns.

June 18, 2007

One Hundred Days in Shambhala

So, for my 100th post, I decided I would post the first pages of a work in progress. Sorry if the quality isn't any good. I couldn't figure out a way to post it as a PDF. It is supposed to be viewed book (facing pages) style with the first page as the cover, the second as the back of the cover, the third (contents) being viewed together with the second, etc.

Hope there aren't too many typos, but please feel free to point them out!

June 16, 2007

New Photos

It was a good day with the camera. Photography can be a form of mediation when it gives you a new way of seeing.


Anything that breaks habitual patterns is the road to nirvana.

June 14, 2007

Song of the Sandhills

“As we settled into our new town, population nine hundred, in the heart of the Sandhills, I wasn’t able to overcome the feeling of foreboding for the terrain: sparse grass, lots of sand, a few stunted trees, abandoned farmhouses, virtually no breaks in the endless expanse. There weren’t any vistas. Back then I began to plot my escape.” – Judith Simmer-Brown, Acharya in the Shambhala tradition, in the article “The Joy of the Lonely Dancer” in Buddhadharma magazine, Spring 2006

What is it about two people which can make the same experience, the same place, so fundamentally different?

The Sandhills of Nebraska are vast, wild, and above all, free. It is a place were the ocean forgot itself and sank beneath the dunes of what was once a great inland sea. It remembers every now and then, when the great spring thunderstorms wake it and it bubbles up into wet meadows, marshes, and springs. The grass lives there, and tames the restless nature of the sand, which always wants to follow where the wind blows. It waves in the wind in homage to the rhythmic patterns of water, long since gone. The rain comes in the spring and turns it bright green. The sun comes in the summer and burnishes it to a sharp golden gloss. The snow comes in the winter and protects it under a thick white blanket. And all year round the cattle roam much as the buffalo once did.

To Acharya Simmer-Brown, what in her youth seemed to represent emptiness, loneliness, and hopelessness, to me represents infinite possibilities, limitless beauty, and all-encompassing freedom. Standing out on those wind-kissed hills, listening to the grasses speak in their rustling language, I could envision the blue mountains to the west, far beyond my sight, the hot deserts to the south, and the endless plains of Canada to the north. To the east was home, the rolling fields of eastern Nebraska, nestled up to the Missouri River, and the great cities sprawling cities which live on its banks.

The Sandhills were not home for me, but they are my history. My mother and father both grew up there, among the ranches and small towns. My grandparents still dwelled there, and numberless kith and kin. They were my summer playground, where I could walk just over the rise of the hill, down the next vale, and be totally and completely alone. No sound but the wind. No sight but the grass. No companions but the birds and prairie dogs.

The lonely child who travels through

The fearful waste and desolate fields,

And listens to their barren tune,

Greets as an unknown and best friend

The terror in him, and he sings

In darkness all the sweetest songs.

-- Chögyam Trungpa, from “The Silent Song of Loneliness” in Mudra: Early Poems and Songs

The wondrous child who travels through

The golden hills and speaking grasses,

And listens to their verdant tune,

Greets as a well known and best friend

The joy in her, and she hears

In starlight all the sweetest songs.

-- Monica Sanford, “The Song of the Sandhills”

The Head-Slapping Path

“When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps in the path of bodhi.” This is what the slogan card sitting on the shelf above my desk says. Right now I’m having a hard time seeing that path.

Karma brought me here. You might even call it bad karma that I didn’t manage to find the architectural internship I spent all spring seeking, interviewing with dozens of companies. So, instead I cam out here, knowing I would only make a quarter of what I could have had I staying in Nebraska and found a job at a shoe store. Karma is what it is and I didn’t regret the circumstances.

Now I am filled with fear – fear that I will regret having to leave here. It was all contingent, coming here, so many ifs. If I didn’t find an internship. If I could save enough money during spring semester. If I could find a sub-letter. I didn’t find an internship. I saved up five hundred dollars. I found a sub-letter with good references.

Now I don’t have my internship. My car broke down almost as soon as I arrived here, so I don’t have my five hundred dollars (though I do have a working car). I have not received June’s rent from my sub-letter and his third chance is about to expire. No matter how hard I try, I can’t pay my bills on my salary, which is pathetically small.

I want to stay. Two people, young men who came to work for the summer, have already been forced to leave because of financial difficulties. They went home to find ‘real’ jobs and pay their bills. I want to stay.

How do I transform this path into bodhi? Bodhi is enlightenment, or sometimes “the path of no more learning.” (H.H.D.L. in How to Practice, p.203) The Buddha would probably tell the young man to keep his money and keep the apartment and live well. I called him and told him if the money is not deposited today he is going to be evicted.

I’ve heard people say that when you come here everything comes up. All the neuroses and psychoses and issues and mental baggage, eventually it all comes up, because we practice, we sit, we work with the mind, but also because this is a hard place to live. It makes you question your very lifestyle, your culture, and all your habitual patterns that you find just don’t work up here. They are right. I have gone to bed angry, frustrated, and scared (mostly of imaginary bears) more times since coming here than in the six months previous. I have listened to my mental monologue, that nightly rant which I have lived with, let settle, let go of, and then found again the very next night on a different topic.

A friend who stopped by my office asked me if I was lonely. I have an office all by myself, but I am so far from lonely that I couldn’t hit it with a pole the width of the Grand Canyon. I eat three meals a day with hundreds of people, dozens of friends and acquaintances I know and like and can speak with on almost any subject imaginable. The Facilities guys and so many others are wandering in and out of the shop all day. My only “private” space is my tent, which I only go to for sleeping. There are usually a half a dozen girls in the shower to chat with. Even sitting outside or in one of the lounges reading a book, there is usually someone sitting next to me. Angie and I are even share a book by reading out loud together. No, I’m not lonely.

It is no wonder then that most of my nightly rants center around people. Let’s face it, I’m a hopeless introvert, but I learned how to work with other people, how to be considerate and kind, compassionate and gentle, flexible and accommodating. I have not yet learned how to be confrontational, and I hope I never do, but I am thinking I at least need to learn how to be more firm, how to put my foot down.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I can get people to do what I want, or that I should or will. Each person has their own choices to make, and they often don’t factor me into the equation when making them. So when my problems stem from the people around me (or five hundred miles away and living in my home), I can use them to learn how to better serve others. They say wisdom must be combined with compassion in order to reach perfect enlightenment. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is slap someone upside the head, but only wisdom will tell you when is the right time to do that (and how much force to put into the swing).

While this may give me the opportunity to learn both wisdom and compassion, it won’t put enough money in my bank account to let me stay here. And this is probably the place best able to teach me those things. It seems chock full of people put here to teach me, sometimes by slapping me upside the head, and sometime with hugs, words, or just a quiet presence on the bench beside me.

What’s a girl to do?

June 11, 2007

What We Call "Suffering"

In response to greenfrog’s post in In Limine today.

Labels are concepts. A way we identify things in our world. We are conceptual beings and cannot escape this nature (until enlightenment, maybe). We apply concepts to self more than any other thing, in an effort to define our actions and affirm our existence. Labels are a tool, and like any tool sometimes we misuse them, but that does not make the tool itself bad (nor good). Just like there is no good or bad karma, there is just action. It is our reaction (to the label, situation, etc.) which decides good or bad, positive or negative, happiness or suffering. That reaction is certainly colored by experience, our own and others'.

The self experiences things. The self has the potential to experience things. This ability & potential is the ground of basic goodness. It does not depend on karma, or our actions, or the outcomes of those actions. It just is.

"It is not just an arbitrary idea that the world is good, but it is good because we can experience its goodness." -- Chogyam Trungpa

Just like we apply labels to ourselves, so we apply labels to our experiences. That car accident was a bad experience. But was it? Did it allow you to have compassion for the other driver? To deal with anger? To apply equanimity? Did it, for that split second when you knew what was about to happen and also knew you couldn’t do anything other than squeeze your eyes tightly shut, did you wake up just a little in the moment? Did you realize anything about your life? So was it a bad experience?

This is not about trying to whitewash everything. To say nothing bad ever really happens. That is delusion. This is real life and in real life there is always a little pain, but pain does not have to become suffering. They are not the same. This is a truth we need to realize.

“In working with ourselves, cleaning up begins by telling the truth. We have to shed any hesitation about being honest with ourselves because it might be unpleasant. If you feel bad when you come home because you had a hard day at the office, you can tell the truth about that: you feel bad. Then you don’t have to try to shake off your pain by throwing it around your living room…Still, fundamentally speaking, our existence is all good, and it is al launderable.” – Chogyam Trungpa

I love that idea. My life is launderable. Whatever my experiences, whatever has gone before, I’ll just put them in the washing machine and wait thirty minutes. When they come there are colors I never saw before, good smells, and soft fabrics. I can look back and see the pain without labeling it suffering. I can look forward and see pain, sickness, old age, and death, without labeling it suffering.

There is a poster hung here in the shop where I work: “You will never be able to reach a non-conceptual state by blocking conceptual thoughts. Take these very thoughts themselves as your object and focus right on them. Conceptual thoughts dissolve by themselves. When the clear away, a non-conceptual state will dawn.” -- Wang-ch’ug dor-je, the IXth Karmapa. (The Karmapa is the head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Trinlay Thaye Dorje, is the current & 17th Karmapa.)

(Side note: the only difference between this shop and all the many others I have been in is that instead of pictures of naked chicks on the walls, they have posters which say stuff like that.)

Suffering an unnecessary label, a concept which we can transcend.

June 08, 2007

Ice Cream Day

Yesterday was wind day. Today is ice cream day. Tomorrow is tent day.

Yesterday the staff woke from a mostly sleepless night to a day of howling cold winds and hectic work. Some had been up until four in the morning trying, in vain, to secure the tents. Most of the rest had not slept much anyway due to the wind. A brave few had even spent the nights in the tents, though most had sought safer housing. During breakfast an all-call came over the radio to save the main shrine tent. The walls had to be taken down, the outside posts retied and the ropes tightened to prevent further ripping of the roof or possible collapse. After breakfast a damage report meeting was held, and plans were formulated while we waited for the wind to die down. After lunch, crews were assembled, split up, and sent out to begin repairing the damage. I helped draw damage maps between overseeing the contractors up from Fort Collins to work in the Rigden Lodge. Late in the afternoon I finally got to confirm that my own tent was still standing with only a ripped awning to show for the bad night. Everyone went to bed early that night, most of us heading for our tents before dark.

Today I got to go with Sue on a stupa tour (so I can learn how to give them) and I got to be the eyes for a blind man. I got to sit in the sunshine during lunch and discuss how to reconcile the Christian idea of a soul with the Buddhist ideas of non-self and reincarnation. After lunch I got to share my ice cream sandwich with Roger’s dog, a thirteen year old border collie who is going to live up here with him for the summer (dogs are generally a no-no and require special permission). To me dogs are the original Dorje Kasung, the original protectors.

Tomorrow the entire staff is to gather at the main shrine tent at ten o’clock to take it down. It takes sixty people to raise and lower this tent. Even looking at it from outside cannot convey the size of it. Only when you are inside do you realize this tent could probably hold five hundred people. The four main masts are larger around than most tree trunks, certainly bigger than telephone poles, and the eight secondary masts are almost as big. We are going to lower it so they can repair the tear in the roof which happened in the wind storm. Then it has to go back up by noon on Wednesday, in time for Warrior Assembly. Many of the side poles must be repaired where they are bent or broken and the ropes which secure the sides must be rerun where they snapped. The shrine must be rebuilt, the lights and sound system restrung, and the cushions returned.

Everything changes.

June 07, 2007

Damage Control

Wind! Much wind! 100 mph wind!

No injuries. Much damage to the tents. Little sleep. EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL! Much work to be done.

Good practice!

June 05, 2007

Every Little Thing

A flock of birds came to roost near my tent in the wee hours, small chirpy creatures. One sounded like a shrieking monkey and woke me. It was gone and I was just drifting off again when a roar jolted my eyes open. How does one maintain equanimity in the cold dark just before dawn when trying to decide if the creature making the deep angry rumbles is a bear or a moose? Either way, I would prefer it further from my tent than it sounded.

The Dorje Kasung were doing drill before breakfast. “Victory Over War!,” they sang as they marked, and “War, what’s it good for? Absolutely nothing!” I like the Kasung. I like all the contradictions of them that work so well together, paramilitary pacifists. They make me feel protected.

This morning as I neared my office I spied the muskrat in the lagoon, very near the shore. We are not supposed to have muskrats in the lagoon because they chew holes in the impermeable liner. But I like this little guy. It is like he is saying our lagoon is healthy because he likes to live there. I think his presence is auspicious good karma, like the ducks. He was cutting grass to make his house. Maybe we’ll have baby muskrats, too.

Jim, the contractor, arrive to make some repairs on the new lodge. “Have you ever put your nose to a ponderosa?” he asked me. They smell like vanilla, nutmeg, and mint, each one a little different, but they all smell good.

At noon sitting, Morgan and Christopher sat on either side of me. Morgan is eight, blonde, and round cheeked. Christopher is nine, dark haired, and always running. They fidgeted and squirmed and looked around and made faces at each other. (It is amazing what details one can see out of the corner of one’s eye when paying attention to it.) At least I was distracted by something other than my own thoughts for a change, but probably only came back to my breath just as often had they not been there.

I traded barbs with Knowles at the toaster during lunch. He’s quite good at verbal fencing. All in fun and no one’s feelings hurt, though my toast did get a little burned from neglect. There’s something to be said for being nice all the time, but I hope I’ll never loose the lighthearted fun of trading insults and arguing bizarre topics using twisty logic with good people. My Australian and Canadian friends say we Americans are far too sensitive, can’t take a good joke. Maybe we could let go of the image we have of ourselves from time to time.

I climbed on the roof of the Rigden Lodge with Jim after lunch. There is a good view from up there. All the beauty, both man-made and natural, is visible. I almost failed to even see it, we were so busy looking at peeling stucco, nail heads, fascias, and louvers. So much of our life is like that, too busy to see what is right before us, wrapped up in tiny details all the time. I feel fortunate that I am of sound mind (mostly) and body and not afraid of heights so that I can appreciate things like that.

The early morning visitor was a moose. I looked it up on the internet and found a sound bite. Now I can sleep easy. While moose can be dangerous, they are far less likely to come into your tent and eat you. I’m grateful to the person who posted the sound bite, whoever and wherever they are. Interdependence in action.

All these little things and more, are there in the present moment.

June 04, 2007


Thunder! like a bell

beauty unbidden, basic

Wake up! lightning shouts.

Confessions of a Lapsed Vegetarian

I don't like vegetarian/vegan food. Never really have actually. I don't care fore tofu, most beans, plain yogurt, and many of the cooked vegetables often substituted for protein. I actively dislike tempeh and mushrooms. I only eat spinach raw.

I thought it was difficult being vegetarian in Nebraska, but here, I've just plain given up. In Nebraska, I can control my own diet. I like pasta, white rice with teriaki stir fry, potatoes and corn, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables. For protein I love milk, cheese, fruity yogurt, smoothies, pinto beans and refritos, and soyburger which I add to many, many dishes.

So I'm a bad vegetarian. The deal was (which I made with myself) I won't buy meat, order it at restaurants unless there is literally nothing vegetarian on the menu (as is common in Nebraska), or request it from friends or relatives, but if someone puts it in front of me.....well, I do actually like meat. At home it usually means I end up eating meat once every couple of weeks, usually when I'm with my family. Grandma is a fan of Atkins, so at her house I eat pot roast, and Dad is a fan of Arby's, so when he's buying I eat roast beef. My friends have all adjusted fairly easily, since we all like Italian, Mexican, and restaurants which serve breakfast all day, all of which are easy on vegetarians.

I try the things the kitchen here puts out. I keep hoping to find something I'll like, but the truth is woman cannot live on salad and peanut butter alone. And they do such good roast chicken here...and salmon...and ribs...yum!

*sigh* What's a girl to do?

June 03, 2007

"Oh, Cookies!"

Today I took a cookie. They were provided for the participants in the Sacred Path program and set out in the dining tent. I knew they were not intended for me, but I took one anyway. They were chocolate chip after all.

Greenfrog also chose today to Asteya, non-stealing, in his blog, In Limine. One of the Five Precepts commonly found in Buddhism (emphasized in Theravada) is not taking that which is not offered and is analogous with Asteya. So, in a karmic way, I got my hand caught in the cookie jar.

He also wrote on the subject of politeness, which brought me back to an article of Chogyam Trungpa's which I just read today. It is part of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, an anthology, but if my memory serves it is taken strait out of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Chogyam Trungpa says:

"Being gentle and without arrogance is the Shambhala definition of a gentleman. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the definitions of a gentleman is someone is not rude, someone whose behavior is gentle and thoroughly trained. However, for the warrior,gentleness is not just politeness. Gentleness is consideration: showing concern for others all the time. A Shambhala gentlewoman or gentleman is a decent person, a genuine person. He or she is very gentle to himself and to others. The purpose of any protocol, or manners, or discipline that we are taught is to have concern for others. We may think that if we have good manners, we are such good girls or good boys; we know how to eat properly and how to drink properly; we know how to behave properly; and aren't we smart? That is not the point...

"Good behavior is not meant to build us up so that we can think of ourselves as little princes or princesses. The point of good behavior is to communicate our respect for others. So we should be concerned with how we behave. When someone enters a room, we should say hello, or stand up and greet them is a handshake. Those rituals are connected with how to have more consideration for others. The principles of warriorship are based on training ourselves and developing self-control so that we can extend ourselves to others. Those disciplines are important in order to cultivate the absence of arrogance."

As I sat and read this under the shade of the pine trees, Nick came over to sit with me. We chatted for a few seconds, then Daniel came over to sit with us in order to speak to Nick. Both apologized for invading my space. That thought had never occurred to me. "It's okay. I don't have any space," I told them, but it felt good that they were concerned. They are good warriors.

I think these two things are flip sides of the same coin: 1) being polite, considerate, and respectful of others, and 2) renunciation or the complete sharing of ourselves ("our" space and "our" stuff) and the breaking down of barriers between ourself and others. This includes the idea of possession, "mine," and privacy.

Chogyam Trungpa: "...What the warrior renounces is anything in his experience that is a barrier between himself and others. In other words, renunciation is making yourself more available, more gentle and open to others. Any hesitation about opening yourself to others is removed. For the sake of others, you renounce your privacy.

"The need for renunciation arises when you begin to feel that basic goodness belongs to you. Of course, you cannot make a personal posses out of basic goodness. It is the law and order of the world, which is impossible to posses personally..."

Not to say one should be a doormat, let others steal all our possessions, or invade our space all the time. But wouldn't it be nice if we had such a generosity of spirit, such equanimity, that when people did act in such a way towards us it did not cause us suffering? And wouldn't it be even better if we had both the perfect wisdom and compassion to know what to do and say in those situations to get them to stop and wake up? (Because if they act in such a way towards us, they are sure to act so towards others with less generosity and equanimity.)

Surely, if a four year old can do it, so can I.

June 02, 2007

Sage & Smoke

We drove, in Dickie’s beat up Toyota Land Cruiser, up to Red Feather today to investigate the Earth Dorm as a possible new location for the Fire Puja ceremony. I learned that all the bushes on the slops along the way are sage and we stopped to rub some in our hands and smell. Sage is my secret to good potato soup.

We measured and photographed the Earth Dorm. Sutrayana Seminary is being held at the Red Feather campus for the next month. For an auspicious beginning, they held a Lasung, which was beginning as we finished our work. The Dorje Kasung was there in force, holding a circle of protection beyond the circle of chanters. In the center, was a large iron stove into which John Ohm, a senior Kasung and our fire marshal, was placing wet juniper, to create a dense, fragrant, white smoke.

I stood silent and listened to the chant. We supplicated to vanquish our enemies, raise Windhorse, and clear all obstacles, real and imagined. We gave all good offerings, real and imagined, and supplicated the guru lineages, the Gesar, Rigden, Depa, all-pervading Garuda, and others to help us achieve our goals. Then the chant changed, to the root syllables even I knew. “Kiki soso ashe Lah gyel loh Tak seng kyung druk di yar ke,” the Shambhala Warrior’s Chant. The circle began to move, each person slowly approaching the fire pot in a snaking line, holding books, malas, hats, scarves, and other offerings over the smoke. I, having not prepared, smoked my always present hat and silver scarf, and myself.

The smoke is strong, and as all-pervading as the Garuda, but it is not unpleasant. It is a reminder of the many well wishes, blessing, and loving thoughts of the community come together to wish an auspicious beginning to the Seminary. The small, but ever growing, gaggle of children from Shotoku were there with their small herd of minders. It is strange to see children on the land, but good, very good.

Smelling of sage and smoke, I am saturated with drala, “the unconditioned wisdom and power of the world that are beyond any dualism.” (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, page 103.)

June 01, 2007

Of Mice & Humans

I have posted this photograph before, calling it “The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya from a Mouse’s Eye View.” At the time I took it, the tall grass was waving, and I found it amusing to wonder what a mouse must think of the stupa. The second half of the stupa’s name is “Which Liberates Upon Seeing.” As I understand it, just seeing the stupa is supposed to wake you up, even if only for a moment and only on a very subtle level. It shocks you with its very presence into a state of liberation. I wondered if mice, ravens, deer, and the other animals which live around the stupa benefit from its presence.

Also it is a lovely photograph and when I got my new computer, I chose it as the background. Looking at it again, months later, it has gained more meaning for me, deeper meaning. It is a pun. It is now a reminder to me, as so many things are, not to take anything for granted and not to take anything too seriously. I’m not sure I can even explain exactly what this photograph has come to mean to me.

I am struck how the grass, with their full seed heads waving in the wind, is just as beautiful (to me) as the stupa itself. That all the beauty and glory of the stupa can be contained in a single blade of grass. That all the culture, history, effort, and intention which human beings poured into the stupa, nature can produce and outdo. Both the grass and the stupa arise from cause and condition and both will pass away, yet the distinction lies here: one was made by human hands and one was not. So why then do we glorify the work of our own ambition and fail to glorify the grass, or the wind, or the clouds?

Ego. “I made this!” We look at this great work of human hands, of thousands of years of artistic achievement and cultural evolution and we marvel. We look at the grass and see only grass, mundane, and something we (humanity) had nothing at all to do with. If it is untouched by human hands, it is somehow insignificant. Arrogance. There is a photograph of Chögyam Trungpa’s which I have long admired. It hangs in the dining hall here at Shambhala Mountain Center. It is a single full head of grass against the glorious blue background of the sky. I think Chögyam Trungpa understood.

To mice a single grain of grass is as wonderful as the stupa is to us.