Nine-eleven Fourteen Years On

Cityscape, by Michael Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

Cityscape, by Michael J. Leu, etching from the collection of the author.

September 12, 2001

Brooklyn, New York

Yesterday our world changed and our lives will never be the same again. Yesterday at 8:46 a.m., while I was driving to my Manhattan office, just yards away from entering the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, I looked up at the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What I saw will be burned in my memory forever. I saw the North Tower explode into a fireball, with confetti-like showers of shattered glass glinting in the sun across the blue sky around the buildings. Plumes of black smoke began pouring out. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked to the people in the cars around me, and no one else seemed aware of it. I had 880-News Radio on, and they were not speaking of it. I tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through. I called (my friend and colleague) and told him what I was seeing. By then I was going into the tunnel, unable to leave the queue in which I found myself. As I proceeded with painstaking slowness, often dead-stopped, I listened to Don Imus on the radio and CBS radio also. About 20 minutes after the first explosion, which I now knew was the impact of an airplane, I learned another plane had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Before I emerged from the tunnel into the now-war zone of lower Manhattan, I also heard President Bush speaking of the crisis for the first time.

When I emerged, I saw both towers flaming and spewing clouds of black and gray smoke. All traffic was diverted to downtown, emergency vehicles and MTA heavy equipment blocking all routes north. Unable to get to my office, which I would have done if permitted, I got on the FDR heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. There were very few vehicles on the FDR, and most were pulled over by the side of the road, their occupants standing together, cameras trained on the WTC towers, which were still burning furiously. I opened my window and shared a sentiment of shock and dismay with a man standing by his car. Car radios were all on 1010-WINS, as was my own at that moment, the doors open and the sound of the news briefs and unfolding events in the air. I got on the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Traffic was very heavy and slow onto the bridge. I saw masses of people streaming north and east, away from the Financial District. As I listened to unfolding events, I learned that the South Tower had collapsed and wasn’t there anymore. Suddenly people began running onto the roadway where I was, running furiously away from a large, billowing white cloud rolling from Ground Zero towards me. I had to use my wipers to remove the ashes and dust that began to accumulate on my windshield. I put on my fog lights and headlights as my car and those people around me became enveloped in a thick dust cloud. We crept onto the bridge. Pedestrians clogged the center walkway, and I had seen probably thousands walking across the bridge to Brooklyn before my view was really obliterated. As I crept across, pedestrians hurried along the paved roadway, too, and at times they seemed to engage angrily with drivers ahead of me, but I was not aware of why. At one point, a car came at our queue head on, speeding the wrong way towards Manhattan, filled with men who looked like plain-clothed police.

When I got to the Brooklyn side of the East River, I stayed on surface streets and laboriously wended my way home. I parked my ash-covered car in my parking garage, and tried to find out about (my husband). His brother didn’t answer. I knew he was in the field, working the New York City primary election. I didn’t know which borough he had gone to, and I was worried. I called my mother to tell her I was okay. She had been beside herself with worry and had tried to call but all circuits had been busy, she said.

I finally got through to my husband’s boss who said he had heard from him and he was in Brooklyn. As we spoke, he came through the door to our apartment. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life. We have been together since, attending meetings and calling friends and family. He has been unable to reach anyone in his organization. I can’t get to my office because no one is permitted below 14th Street in Manhattan, and my office is between 12th and 13th Streets. I have called my patients. As far as I know, they are all okay.

Today I made arrangements to stay with my husband wherever I go, and to meet (a close friend) at a meeting. We’ll have lunch together. I also left my name and phone numbers with two local hospitals in the event that my services as a clinical psychologist are requested. I have heard that the volunteer response to this act of war has been incredible. (Our son) and I spoke last night. He has his own challenges now, but he was relieved to know we are safe here.

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September 11, 2015

Brooklyn, New York

Today I elected to pull a long-ignored journal from its place in my office armoire at home, thinking I would read what I wrote about my experiences on 9/11/2001. It’s interesting to me to read what I believe are discrepancies with what actually happened, but then perhaps those details that feel real and true now are the discrepancies from what actually occurred. For example, my recollection is that I looked up and saw a gaping hole in the North Tower with flames pouring out and sparking shards of glass, which we later learned were mostly papers floating out from the offices that had been blown open and were now on fire. For days afterward we found some of these papers, singed or intact, on our lawn in Brooklyn. My recollection now is of compulsively calling my mother while I was in the tunnel, but unable to get through. I believe I was in there over an hour listening to eyewitness accounts of what was going on above. I carried a cellphone and had for several years, but my husband did not, so I never tried to call him, not knowing where I’d find him that day.

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

Photo courtesy of Bay Ridge Phantom, 2006

A year or so later I published a professional paper, “Impact of the World Trade Center Disaster on a Manhattan Psychotherapy Practice” and gave my impressions of that day from my experience and from the perspectives of my patients. Reading it later I cringed at how patriotic it seemed, but such were those very overwhelming days. I don’t mean to suggest that loving one’s country is in any way undesirable. But in the months and years after 9/11/2001, love of country seemed often to be co-opted by some for political gain, or fearmongering, or whipping up war fever.

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We drove across the Brooklyn Bridge today, just blocks north of the memorial events downtown. The traffic was brutal what with closed streets to accommodate the dignitaries and the grieving survivors of that awful day. Our city now is vibrant and still ever on the build. Cranes abound as new skyscrapers arise, and parking spaces are harder and harder to come by in Park Slope.

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The best thing about the news today that I sampled on my iPhone as we traveled to the country for the weekend was the photo of a group of 14-year-olds on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, all born on September 11, 2001, wearing t-shirts reading Hope, and Unity, and Kindness. Life goes on, and that we must never forget, even though we eventually will die, as will all those we love, but this is as it should be. Impermanence is an oft denied reality of life as we know it. The shock of knowing it so starkly as we did that day knocked us sideways. I conclude this post with a version of the Buddhist Metta Sutta, adapted from that offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice (2011, Parallax Press):

May each of you be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.

May you safe and free from injury.

May you be free from anger, fear, afflictions and anxiety.

May you learn to look at yourselves with the eyes of understanding and love.

May you be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in yourselves.

May you learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in yourselves.

May you know how to nourish the seeds of joy in yourselves every day.

May you be able to live fresh, solid and free.

May you be free from attachment and aversion but not be indifferent.

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What If ?

Mark of Endless Light and Love shares this powerful and compelling sentiment. At a time of great human turmoil in Europe and the heartbreaking image of a drowned Syrian 3-year-old, retreating glaciers, droughts, fires and global financial uncertainty, it’s important to remember all that we do have, and do what we can for others. May all beings be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit.

Endless Light and Love

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I pray for that day, the day that everyone wakes up and has at least 1 full day of just being grateful for everything, I certainly think if we could have a ‘ I’m Grateful for Everything In My Life Day’ then we may just start to open our eyes to what we have in our lives instead of worrying about what we don’t have and what we think we need!

Food for thought my friends, food for thought!

Namaste with Love

Always

Mark

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Tears and Till Kingdom Come

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Yesterday was a day of pain and tears. Pain from inflammation in two nerves in my lower back. Pain from seeing the sadness and grief of a family all too accustomed to grief and loss burying their son, brother, father, husband, and uncle well before his three score and ten. He was 46. I began to weep seeing his stoic father, Vice-President Joe Biden walking towards the church behind the hearse with arms around his granddaughter.

image Seeing the family in their grief broke my heart. Most of my readers must know the story of young Joe losing his wife and infant daughter and nearly losing his two sons ages two and three in a car accident when he was just 30 years old. To bury the oldest of his sons has to be one of the most painful experiences anyone can undergo. My physical pain paled, and yet I found it hard to bear, unable to find even a halfway comfortable position.

 

Chris Martin of the group Coldplay, having learned that Beau Biden had liked their music, gave an acoustic rendition of “Til Kngdom Come” that reached into our hearts.

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Here is a video of Coldplay performing “Till Kingdom Come,” with the lyrics, which I found to be stirring, apt and entirely appropriate for this solemn occasion. I heard several reporters say they wept as they listened.

This music is evocative and poignant, the words ambiguous enough to fit any number of painful situations. Another in this genre that is very frank is “O Death” by Ralph Stanley whose haunting a capella performance I featured on this blog in the past.

My back pain is somewhat better today, as I hoped it would be. The Biden family’s pain is in its infancy, to be felt and honored and processed this whole next year, as Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas come without Beau. Eventually next year at this time the corner will be turned, only a little, but turned, and life will begin to open its doors of beauty and joy to the grieving again. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, it does get better. And yet, we never forget our ancestors and other loved ones who have gone on before us. How can we?

I will end this post with some words of Metta:

May all beings be free from suffering,

May all beings be at ease,

May all beings be happy,

May all beings have peace.

 

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Brief Review: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

 

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Captivated by an intriguing Buddhism Now review published last week http://buddhismnow.com/2015/05/21/the-princeton-dictionary-of-buddhism/#more-10775 detailing the new Dictionary of Buddhism, by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (2014, Princeton University Press, 1304 pages), I ordered the volume. I went to Amazon where I found it for nearly $20 less than the suggested retail price. I decided to order the hardback volume. I found it waiting for me today when I returned to the city after the long Memorial Day weekend.

It is a large, heavy volume and the print is small. Beyond its impressive physical characteristics, the book is an exhaustive, comprehensive reference volume that explains historical, regional, linguistic, and other distinctions among the terminologies of various types of Buddhist practice and their meanings. It includes a timeline, maps and diagrams. There are cross references to words in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai in the entries themselves, plus a lengthy appendix devoted to each language. Then there are the pages devoted to the enumeration so prominent in Buddhism: e.g., the Four Noble Truths, The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Eightfold Path, etc., and this “List of Lists” is vast indeed.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path

As a Buddhist who began by practicing alone and only later joined a sangha, I spent a very pleasurable and educational afternoon going from item to item as more words and phrases arose that I wanted to define or better understand. Thus far I am particularly impressed with the “List of Lists,” and explanations of the subtle differences among Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai terminologies.

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

 

Here are a few of the points I’ve taken from it just today:

  • The Mala (string of rosary-like beads, usually 108 beads for reciting the mantra) is held in the right hand. I was holding mine in both. It takes some dexterity to advance from one bead to the next with one hand. Another aid to keeping focused while sitting.
  • The Heart Sutra is one of the most widely recited of all the sutras.
    The mantra of the Heart Sutra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha, speaks to transcending both worldly limitations and sensual desires and as well as arriving at the sublime, free from rebirth. Repeating it is thought to enable those who recite it and those who hear it to transcend samsara, the cycle if birth, death and rebirth.
  • Buddhism spread from Himalayan India into all of Asia over a period over just a few centuries.
  • The word Dao was mistranslated as Tao by an English scholar.
  • Self-immolation is an ancient and continuing form of denial of the earthly self as well as a powerful form of protest, perhaps the most famous being that in 1963 of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. His heart remained after his body was reduced by fire to bone and ash, and the relic has been preserved. If you wish to see it, a video of his immolation can be seen online. A yoga teacher once urged me to view it. I did so and found it powerfully moving, albeit disturbing. David Halberstam’s eyewitness account is riveting: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm.

That is what I am able to retain well enough to share it with you. I have rarely enjoyed a newly acquired book as much.

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Neither Staying nor Leaving

These beautiful images offer us the opportunity to realize we “inter-are.” We share the cycle of life with all living things, plants, animals and people. I hope you’ll enjoy the exquisite poem the author shares here reminding us we are all leaves of the same tree.

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appearing separate appearing to be separate

Joyfully walking the ‘hood
bright eyes engaging
any people
or nature
that would.

Keeping heads up
leaves smiled back.
But many people would not,
Perhaps in a complex
they are caught.

As meditators capable of seeing deeply
into the nature of things,
we recognize that all is
manifest from star-dust and energy.
If asked,
even leaves reveal this.
Yet glimpsing of today’s news
reveals endless messages
of separateness.

We’ve experienced
how feeling inferior,
superior or the same
often causes pain
in ourselves and others.
That these complexes
create cunning barriers,
to brotherhood, sisterhood
& our true nature
of interbeing
with all
on this beautiful
spinning, spaceball.

How peaceful
and harmoniously
leaves flutter, then lie together.
Wonderful and beautiful teachers.

difference & sameness difference & sameness

We are all
the leaves of one tree.
The time has come
for all
to live as one.
We are all the leaves of one tree. ~Plum…

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

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Thanksgiving is one of those conduits through this life I’ve been living since 1951. No, I don’t remember each and every one of them, but I do remember many. Here are some of those:

  • The turkey dinners ordered from Zucky’s kosher deli with all the trimmings
  • Mom learning from Gracie how to stuff and truss a turkey, with needle and button thread
  • The lentil loaf we had one year instead of turkey when Mom was a vegetarian
  • Thanksgiving dinner with Granny at the Santa Ynez Inn
  • The year when Lucille put her turkey on the counter and our cat and hers dragged it onto the floor and gnawed on it
  • Making my first pumpkin pie in high school from canned pie filling and a store-bought crust
  • Learning to make pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin and scratch crust
  • Jumping up on down on a scratch crust that refused to turn out, and starting all over again
  • Finally making pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin and a frozen crust
  • Getting the Betty Crocker Cookbook and making the turkey and everything for the family
  • Discovering the ubiquitous green bean casserole with French fried onions on top
  • Spending Thanksgivings during boarding school with my aunt and uncle in New Jersey
  • Discovering the ease of the disposable foil roasting pan, learning to put a cookie sheet under it
  • Adding a roasting bag and making the whole thing so much easier
  • Wanting to go to Dysart’s (inspired by Tim Sample) but new friends insisted we join them
  • Spending more than one Thanksgiving serving turkey at a church covered dish supper
  • Realizing there are many different Jell-o salads and Ambrosias, all with lots of whipped topping
  • Becoming a vegetarian briefly and actually making a lentil loaf for our Thanksgiving one year
  • Going on Atkins and eating way more turkey than anyone else at the table, and not much else
  • Watching a Mercy for Animals video on factory farm cruelty to turkeys, cows and other beings
  • Becoming a vegetarian again and eventually going vegan and remaining so
  • Making my first vegan Tofurky Feast, lots of work but good, especially the stuffing and gravy
  • Enjoying the Gardein Holiday Roast, a tasty turkey substitute

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And that brings me to this Thanksgiving. It was supposed to snow all over the northeast but in New York it only rained yesterday, and Wednesday is a very bad day to try to drive from New York to Pennsylvania, a Gridlock Alert Day, because everyone wants to get out of town at once. So this morning we drove to PA and once we hit New Jersey it snowed the rest of the way. There was about a foot of snow on the back deck, and although our driveway had been plowed this morning, there was another inch or two of fresh snow on our walk and driveway. The house warmed up fast with the fireplace and heat pump working beautifully. I put on my apron and started cooking. I roasted a turkey leg for my husband according to a recipe with rave reviews (it was disappointing), and I made stuffing in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and a wonderful Field Roast Celebration Roast as my vegan main dish. We had a lovely loaf of cranberry bread, cranberry sauce and olives. I turned to Mary McDougall and the Happy Herbivore for my recipes. Last week I had made butternut squash soup in advance for today. Dessert was a three-berry crumb pie from Fairway, with decaf. Delish!

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The food was fine, but I am so thankful for my family, our health, my recovery from back pain, our cat, our friends, my Buddhist practice, our material blessings, my work, and so very much more. And this year, as my teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh lies in a hospital in France recovering from a severe brain hemorrhage, I am so thankful to have learned so many valuable lessons for my life from him. I hope and pray for his full recovery. I also understand that at 88 he may transition from this life before long.

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Namaste

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They are Everywhere

UPDATE: I just reread this post after more than two years. It merits sharing again, especially in this new, frightening climate of political extremism and the threat of diminishing entitlements for those who need them most. — Shielagh 2/23/17

They are everywhere. 

The Four Noble Truths: – The truth of suffering – The truth of the origin of suffering – The truth of the end of suffering – The truth of the path to the end of suffering

 

I cannot help but see how they suffer. I am not sure what the blessing is in suffering through homelessness and hopelessness. I see them on the subway, asking for money, food, Metrocards, help, hope. I see them sleeping in corners and in doorways, laid out awkwardly across subway platform benches that are uncomfortably partitioned for four. I see them at the end of subway cars, sleeping or pretending to sleep, surrounded by bulging bags of their things, some with a plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist. Flip flops in winter, dirty feet in slippers or worn-out shoes, sometimes in wooden surgical boots. Reddened, swollen ankles blotched and shiny with edema. Often and more now than before, I see well-groomed men sitting behind polite cardboard signs asking for compassion, for a hand up, bus fare home, a meal, as they read a book or magazine, avoiding eye contact. Groups of grimy kids sleeping on cardboard with dogs or cats, their cardboard signs asking for money for food or a hotel room before the next storm hits. I see the long, matted blond dreadlocks about begrimed, drawn faces of kids young enough to be my grandchildren, skateboards under arms and sleeping bags and backpacks weighing them down as they move from place to place, rousted by police or in search of something much needed right then. I see the African hair, wild and long, grizzled into shaggy beards framing dark, dusty faces. I’ve seen men and women, in couples and alone, sleeping against buildings in midmorning in mummy bags or bedrolls, their things in bags about them, the smell of old urine strong by the nearby broken payphone enclosure. Once I looked up from my own thoughts to see an old woman defecating into a plastic bag between the bike rack and the litter can by a busy intersection downtown. I didn’t want to see. I felt her suffering, a reality that seemed to say, there is nowhere else for me to go.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Homeless man on the F train

I see the bloody socks, the bandaged hands, the haunted faces, the vacant eyes. I see the plastic rosary beads around scrawny necks, the cigarettes, the brown-bagged cans and bottles, the battered paper coffee cups hopeful for change. I hear the  guitarist on the subway platform singing a Neil Young song as tenderly and tunefully as Neil himself. I watch as passersby waiting for their train or heading towards the stairs drop a dollar into the guitar case, or hurry by unaware of the fragile life of the man behind the instrument. I have seen him for at least ten years now. He no longer has teeth. I have given many dollar bills over those years. Once he stood near the stairs crying and asking if anyone could help him get new guitar strings before the music store closed, saying someone had damaged his guitar at the hospital. I gave him a five and told another woman who stopped, looking worried, that he sings as beautifully as Neil Young. He was too upset to respond and kept weeping. There is something very broken in him now, because between his haunting songs he sometime yells and screams at no one in particular about world injustices, thoughtless people, all the “motherfuckers” and “assholes,” whoever and wherever they may be. I am sure he suffers greatly.

I hear the crazy rants, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and see the dirt, the empty eyes, the pathos written all over the faces. I used to tell myself they were students in a sociology class, running experiments to see how others react to homelessness, poverty, need and hopelessness.  It’s been a very long time since I comforted myself with that fantasy. I know there are police patrols and pairs of homeless workers who travel these streets to see who needs help, but many withdraw from them and are not seen. When winter comes and rough weather prevails, vans traverse our streets with workers trying to get homeless men and women into shelters for the night. Places they’d rather die than go, mostly. Addictions, experiences being robbed, histories of abuse, compounded fear and layers of hopelessness scare them away from shelter and often from helping hands up and out of their despair. Such suffering.

I hear the pleas on the subway cars as we rattle between Manhattan and Brooklyn, from the tall man in fatigues asking, “Can you help a homeless Veteran?” From a small dark-eyed woman with a large child on her hip, both with doleful expressions, who stands in front of each passenger holding a sign that says, “I am deaf and mute. We need food. Can you help us?” And the young woman with several children in tow, repeating the length of the car, “My house burned down, we have nothing. My children and I are homeless, can you help?” Sometimes while the person is traversing the car, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker reminding us that it is against the law to solicit on the subway. “Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal,” it drones. Ignore the suffering, it suggests. Others will see to it.

I don’t always, but I’ve offered what I can, a Metrocard with a few trips left on it, a little money, a protein bar, a sandwich, dog or cat food for a homeless person’s animal companion. And when money or food or something else is offered, they nod and sometimes say, “Thank you.” “God bless you.” “You are very kind.” And when nothing is offered and they stand at the doors as the train comes to a stop, I’ve heard, “You folks have a good day now.” “Hope you never know how hard this is,” and “God bless you.”  And then there was the weather-beaten old woman I once offered a plastic container of holiday cookies that I’d planned to share at the office. She screamed at me incomprehensibly and batted away my offering with as much force and rage as if I’d pulled a knife.

They tear at my heartstrings, and their suffering fills me with fear from depths unknown, fear of destitution and homelessness, fear of extreme isolation and loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of untreated mental illness, fear of surrender to hopelessness, fear of losing faith in my ability to manage, fear of losing the belief I will be taken care of if ever I cannot take care of myself, fear of giving up and giving in to addiction, fear of illness and parasites and dirt. Fear of growing into very old age alone and defenseless, of outliving savings. And my practice has taught me that it is out of fear that aversion grows. Every day I aspire to be free from aversion, attachment and indifference. I am learning to see past fear and into fellow beings, beings whose lives are as transitory as my own, to see their suffering, to have compassion, and to remember that within each of them learning and growing and karma are also taking place.

So I read every single day, and recite aloud most days, the Buddhist text of the Metta Sutta. I often read it in the morning during my subway ride. My version says, “Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state,” to despise no beings–none, to have loving kindness for all, no matter how small or great, no matter the circumstances. To love each being, human and otherwise, “freed from hatred and ill-will,” to love them all dearly, as a mother loves her only child. How difficult this is to do, and yet how important it is to try.

And today this is my practice.

Namaste

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A Good Dose of Dhamma: For meditators when they are ill, by Upasika Kee Nanayon

Have you wondered as I how to contemplate illness when in the throes of it? We have learned to flee as best we can, to distract ourselves, or medicating ourselves to the hilt. The esteemed late Thai Buddhist laywoman Upasika Kee Nanayon sets us straight with this “Good Dose of Dhamma”:

Buddhism now

Jizo Bosatsu in Welcoming Descent Normally, illness is something we all have, but the type of illness where you can still do your work isn’t recognised as illness. It’s called the normal human condition all over the world. Yet really, when the body is in its normal state, it’s still ill. But people generally are unaware of this illness: the deterioration of physical and mental phenomena, continually, from moment to moment.

The way people get carried away with their thoughts and preoccupations while they’re still strong enough to work — that’s real complacency. They’re no match for people lying in bed ill. People lying in bed ill are lucky because they have the opportunity to do nothing but contemplate stress and pain. Their minds don’t take up anything else, don’t go anywhere else. They can contemplate pain at all times — and let go of pain at all times, too.

Don’t you see the difference?…

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The Heart Sutra

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can invite the right spiritual energy into our lives and our being by beginning each day with reading the Heart Sutra (formally called The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra) or by chanting the brief mantra associated with it. This sutra reminds us that all aspects of life as we live it now as mortal beings are transitory. Form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness are all emptiness. It means, as this Buddhist psychologist attempts to comprehend it, that we are free, if we are willing to exercise that freedom, to disregard and stop worrying about appearance, the ageing process, and death. Appearance will fade, ageing will occur, and death will come. To every living thing.

The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra*

When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita,
he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty,
and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness;
emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.
They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure;
and they neither increase nor diminish.
Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;
no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;
no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;
no field of the eyes up to and including no field of mind consciousness;
and no ignorance or ending of ignorance,
up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death.
There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way,
and no understanding and no attaining.

Because nothing is attained,
the Bodhisattva through reliance on Prajna Paramita is unimpeded in his mind.
Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid,
and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.
Ultimately Nirvana!
All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
through reliance on Prajna Paramita.
Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is a Great Spiritual Mantra,
a Great Bright Mantra, a Supreme Mantra, an Unequalled Mantra.
It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false.
That is why the Mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:

Gaté Gaté Paragaté Parasamgaté

Bodhi Svaha!

End of The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra

* translation attributed to the Buddhist Text Society, and available online here: http://www.dharmabliss.org/audio/heartsutra-engtext.htm

 

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If you would like to hear this sutra recited as it is done in some Buddhist sanghas, intoned rhythmically, the video below will provide it.  It is also helpful if you wish to know how to pronounce the mantra. As the esteemed Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has said, one translation of the mantra is,

Om

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond

Gone Completely Beyond

Awake, So Be It!

 

Reading or reciting the Heart Sutra daily can do wonders for our perspective on our lives. We can use it during our meditation or at any other time when we can take a moment to read or recite it. I put it into my iPhone as a PDF and read it from iBooks while riding the subway each morning, a wonderful way to jump-start a busy workday.  The Heart Sutra reminds us how fleeting are our characteristics of form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness, and this practice redirects our attention to more salient matters.

Namaste

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My Obsession

 

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Asked what occupies my head a great deal of the time , I have to admit it isn’t the dharma or my commitment to my vegan lifestyle, as much as I wish it were. No, it’s more often my physical being and what’s wrong with it. It’s health concerns and the aging process and weighing more vs. looking youthful, slim and enviable. Yes, thank goodness for my practice which gets me onto the meditation cushion two or three times a day, and I do contemplate the Buddha and the Noble Eightfold Path, and I practice Metta (loving kindness meditation) sincerely. But preparing for a vacation, I have been trying on colorful new clothing, as well as the summer things I’ve packed away since last fall, and feeling lumpy and uncomfortable trying to wear the size number I can accept. The reality is that I don’t look good in that number anymore. Acceptance of reality is optional, but denial and delusion are not okay with me.

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So what I have been obsessing over of late is how to look my best in two weeks despite midsection weight creep. Happily, having finished a session of meditation, I believe I know now how to handle this. The numbers, whether on the scale, on a tape measure, or on the tag of a garment, have no meaning other than to compare oneself to one’s former self, to one’s fellows, or to one’s ideal. I aspire daily in my Metta practice, “May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.”  And also, “May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself.” So the delusion that I must be thin–approximating an ideal, in order to be acceptable and worthy of my own understanding and love, once I see, can be shed. This is a sexist ideal, an ageist ideal, a socially promoted ideal, and for today I let it go.

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What also informed me were experiments where children were shown dolls or cards with images of children of varying complexion from pale to very dark. Whenever shown a pair where one child was light and another dark and asked which child or doll was smarter, nicer, more honest, etc., the child, regardless of his or her race, nearly always chose the lighter-complexioned one.

This got me thinking; if I were shown images of women, thin, slightly overweight and very overweight, and if asked who was smarter, nicer, richer, or more honest, I would probably select the thinner one. How sad. But knowledge is power, and as we learn to know ourselves, we become freed from prejudice, self-denigration, low self-esteem and delusion. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. And may we all learn to look at all our fellow beings with the eyes of understanding and love. May it be so.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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