sweet dharma

The pink arrow is pointing at our daughter, the intrepid adventurer, on her way to Cameroon with International Children’s Awareness Canada. I got home long enough last week to throw my still-damp toothbrush into my purse and take off with Frank and the Kid for the airport in Toronto.  Thankfully, Frank’s broken ankle was assessed as healed and he got to drive.  Had I known that would designate me as the the parent-in-charge-of-keeping-the-child-quiet, I likely would have broken it for him again and driven the entire way.  Not really.  There’s something sweet about being in a closed metal box hurtling down a highway at high speed, in the company of a young woman who is finally finding her true self and doing so while on her way to an adventure.

This isn’t the first time for Alex.  A few months after the 2004 tsunami in India, she left for the outskirts of Chennai where she worked in an orphanage for 10 weeks.  Then came a year-long trek through New Zealand and a realization that conquering all the mountain peaks in the world doesn’t change the nature of suffering although it can bring one close to the nature of deep personal dukkha.  When she got back from India, she was powerfully moved by the ways in which we can corrupt generosity and compassion.  When she got back from New Zealand, she was equally moved by the reality that progress doesn’t bring with it generosity and compassion.

These adventures result in long evenings with Frank, deep in discussions about the sociological-political-complexity-laden-entropic windings of the world.  Having no brain for such things, I tend to retreat into Facebook or my tumblr treating them as distractor video games so I don’t have to face my massive ignorance of how the world really works.  To give her credit, Alex does try to educate me but I have such a resistance to seeing the world writ large.  When she returned from New Zealand, she brought me Emma Larkin’s book, Everything is Broken: a tale of catastrophe in Burma.  It changed her life, she said, wanting me so much to be excited by it.

And I was.  Excited, that is, by the fact it had changed her life, giving her passion and direction to fit the steamroller attitude that often hides a deep compassion for others.  The book was bland in comparison;  it left me frustrated by circumambulating writing and a refusal to dig deep into the psychological-emotional power of the events of Cyclone Nargis.  Alex was unimpressed by my critique of Larkin.

I try.  Really.  But we speak vastly different languages and I try to explain that listening to her debate with her father is like listening to a symphony.  A delight to attend but hardly something I want to or am able to perform in.  She points out that she got her abilities from somewhere and, given her father’s haplessness, I have to bear the burden of that legacy.


So now it’s onto Cameroon and the possibility that it will give her more training in the upaya/skill-in-means of Bodhisattvas.  Charles Prebish in Destroying Mara Forever: Buddhist Ethics Essays in honor of Damien Keown notes that Keown called Mahayana’s emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal as a paradigm shift away from the ethical approach of the earlier Buddhists.  There’s more to this but what is important for me to hang on the wall until the Kid returns is what Keown calls normative ethics or upaya1, one of two aspects of skill-in-means:

Upaya1 does not enjoin laxity in moral practice but rather the greater recognition of the needs and interests of others.  One’s moral practice is now for the benefit of oneself and others by means of example.  Through its emphasis on karuna the Mahayana gave full recognition to the value of ethical perfection, making it explicit that ethics and insight were of equal importance for a bodhisattva.

If the righteous indignation of events in India and New Zealand have given rise to a determination to find a way to benefit others and if that benefits the Kid, I will call that sweet dharma, indeed.

Thank you for practising,


subtle lessons

Until last winter, we hadn’t been up in the woods since the Ice Storm of 1998 which had brought down many trees that blocked the trails.  Just behind these trees is a ravine that channels a stream south to the farm-house.  Beavers dammed the stream one year and Frank cleared the pond that winter so we could skate on it.  In the Summer, we popped the canoe into the pond and floated around wondering if there were any fish in its depths.  On the other side of the ravine is a clearing surrounded by birches.  We would sit there watching the shivering leaves and the splatters of sunlight that bounced to the ground.  We dreamed of a cabin in that clearing.  It would be filled with books and a cook stove fueled by wood.  When the dreams got silly, we built rope bridges across the ravine and trained horses to slide down one side and canter up the other like the ones in the movie Man from Snow River.  This refuge would become the beating heart of our lives, dedicated to helping all creatures – large to small, no-legged to multi-limbed.

Over the years, dogs and cats roamed the woods.  Horses thundered along the trails.  I bought Frank a horse actually named Snowy River.  It seemed a little psychotic when I had the vet check done in its home barn but I had faith in Frank’s ability to heal all creatures.  After all, look at what he’s accomplished with me.  When one ride ended up with him curled in a ball under Snowy River’s pounding hooves, we decided that perhaps some creatures were best left unchallenged in their constructed selves.

More and more, I’m learning that the Bodhisattva vow – with all due respect to Hakuin – requires more than a burning aspiration.  A dollop of good sense is helpful, as is a dash of respect for the creature’s desire to be just who it is.  After all, there is nothing in the Bodhisattva’s vow that says only I am to be the agent of change in someone’s unfolding story.

Thank you for practising,