Category Archives: Buddhism

Live on video: talkin’ about The Buddha & the Bitch

Video talk on The Buddha & the Bitch

Greetings from Gurgaon, India! With two days to prep for this Facebook Live talk (sponsored by Indic Book Club and Indic Academy), Rashma and I did it.
Saturday 26 May over 400 viewers watched/listened to our first presentation and video book launch.

I am so proud that we’ve come this far! The Buddha & the Bitch has been five years in the making, starting with Google chats across the world. Well, I won’t attempt to share the story here because our book tells it all. Do know that there’s a trip to South India involved–Pondicherry, Mahabalipurma, Auroville, and more. Our sub-title describes it more: 2 Women 2 Worlds 1 Practice. That practice is writing, a passion we share.

I am visiting greater New Delhi from Cincinnati, Ohio to help promote the newly released book with the co-author Rashma N. Kalsie. NOTE: If you live in or near New Delhi, we will be at Habitat Centre 4 June 7pm along with Prof. Bharat Gupt moderating. Come hear us!


Of beagles and goddesses

I’ve been crying a lot lately. Being of an analytical nature, I try to figure out why.

There are plenty of reasons if I really need one. I just saw the latest Beagle Freedom Project video, the #11 freeing of beagles from a laboratory in the Midwest. Now this is a happy occasion for these dogs are now free. Some have been most of their lives there, one for seven unimaginable years. I cry. Out of sadness, out of joy. But mostly because of the sickening actions of my fellow human beings. We are the most unnecessarily violent species on the planet. I know the Buddhist side of me is well acquainted with the concept of suffering. And this week, at least, after a long and terrible winter, I want no more of it, no more reminders of man’s inhumanity to animals or Afghanis or Iraqis or people homeless or poor in my own city.

And yet I’ve been reading Andrew Harvey’s Return of the Mother. Savoring it. This morning, I found myself crying as I read. It is exquisite: he works his way through many of the major religions and finds the Goddess, the Mother in them. She is my path and has been since the late 1970’s when some friends and I formed the Coven of the Waxing Crescent. We didn’t really know what we were “doing,” but we knew what we longed for. We were in search of our power and jubilant to discover Z. Budapest and a divinity Who was Female.

And so here I am, sitting on the couch in front of the Blue Kali, taking a journey through World Religions. Ones who appreciate a Goddess. This is almost inexpressible. But I’ll continue to try. After all, I’m the one who named this blog “The Goddess Babe.” Or did I?

Bowing . . . from the Centre of Gravity

Wow! I just discovered Centre of Gravity, a wonderful group and web presence. Based in Toronto, it also has audio dharma talks and an online presence. A post I just read on Bowing woke me to my missing of my zen roots. There is something about bowing, the simplicity and the reverence. Today I vow to bow . . . to Buddha, my partner, my companion animals. I vow to bow to those I distrust, dislike, don’t understand. I vow to bow to my dissatisfied & disassociated parts. I know–it’s a huge job. Yet it might also be simple…..if I just begin with bowing.

here’s the piece:

Spending the weekend with Pema Chodron

I shared her – with 4,999 others. For 2,000 of us, it was an online retreat. The retreat in California sold out after 3,000 registered. Someone had the idea to make it available worldwide through the power of technology.

It was different, sure. I could sit in my rainbow striped flannel pajamas and not get funny looks. I had no long lines to the bathroom. And I had a great seat, up close, on my computer screen.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. She speaks in a simple, clear manner. Her sense of humor can be startling at first. Pema tells the truth and helps you realize it as well.

This woman saved my sanity in 2004 with her book Start Where you Are (first sentence: “We already have everything we need”). I was going through a rough period with work, relationships and direction in life. When I spotted this title at a bookstore, it stopped my mind (as the Buddhists say). Of course! I thought. It really is as simple as this. Where else could one start? I remember reading half the book in one sitting. When a friend called, I said “I can’t talk long – I’m reading a great book and have to get back to it.”

Six years later seems like longer – so much has happened in my life. I’ve contined to be a fan of this wise spiritual teacher. So when I saw the ad on Facebook I was interested. I checked my calendar and decided to do the retreat.

Dogs can be distracting but, overall, mine were pretty cooperative over this special fall weekend. Since the retreat didn’t begin until 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, I had a leisurely Saturday morning and was able to take the dogs for a ride and walk Sunday morning. I relocated my laptop into my meditation room, lit candles, turned off the phone and email. My two ‘girls’ followed me and got some good dog karma for their efforts.

Pema looked frailer than I’d remembered. She is now in her mid 70s and spends most of her time at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She has been a Buddhist nun for more than thirty years. She has written several books and has had dvds made of her talks. This one would be available for sixty days so I can go back and take notes as I listen again.

The theme of the talks was “Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery.” Pema was interpreting a book by her former teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She applied its teachings to troubling situations in participants’ lives currently: “The only real choice is to embrace and befriend the uncertainty of these times.” We need to “open our hearts and extend to others . . . being vulnerable yet strong.”

I thought of times I had been brave. I believe I have taken many emotional risks in my life. Speaking the truth is important to me. Sometimes it has been scary but usually things have turned out alright; in fact, I have made some new friends by sticking my neck out. I have stretched myself as a human being.

There was that time my former employer decided to terminate all the assistant managers. I had only six months until I got my thirty years in for retirement. I recall my supervisor being more anxious about it than I. (She was likely projecting her own fear of providing for her family.) “How can you be so calm?” she asked me one day while Human Resources was working through the plan. “What can I do? I guess my zen training is coming in handy,” I answered. Circumstances worked out that assistant managers would be able to remain at their pay scale for a six month transition period no matter what job they may be able to transfer to in the library system. A few quit in anger, a few retired early, and some transferred to branches. As karma would have it, I was able to remain in the History Department for those remaining months – gaining my full pension as a result.

There was much talk from Pema about getting comfortable with “groundlessness.” There is no question that assistant managers experienced groundlessness the day when we came into work and discovered the new plan the Board had come up with. We were forced to deal with the fear of uncertainty for our future. Not knowing the name for it, I began work toward being a “spiritual warrior,” with confidence and joy.

Pema exhibited deep compassion as she interacted with participants’ questions, many of which dealt with diseases and dying, extremely autistic children, suffering of one kind or another. Always, she proved approachable, wise, and sometimes, witty. Watching her connect with others was a delight. Pema seemed so approachable as she blended harmoniously with the question and the person. She modeled the teachings.

The organizers scheduled stretch times interspersed with meditation periods and the talks so the afternoon went fast. I took a break from the flow of the retreat Saturday evening. Betsy Lippitt was performing on guitar and violin at College Hill Coffee Co. I joined some friends there. Although it was a bit jarring to hear so many voices after sitting alone at home all day, I was glad I went. Still, I noticed how unnecessary many of the conversations were. Some of the silliness and small talk were actually posturing, finding one’s place in the group. Betsy’s talent was more evident than usual; her appearances are rare. I knew I could return to the video on my computer and watch the part I missed.

Sunday afternoon and evening followed the same pattern. Morning was free, then I focused on the retreat via my computer screen. I felt as if I had camped out in my meditation room – which, after all, I had. I reflected on Pema’s presence as well as her words. Uncertainty, groundlessness, fearlessness. She had participants form dyads, two people taking turns listening to the other while one talked without interruption. “What do you fear?” Sitting alone at home, mine surfaced immediately for I have thought of it often: What if I keel over and die at home alone? How long before my absence would be noted? It is this sort of question a spiritual warrior must face.

today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday

April 9th. That date has stuck with me all my life for it was my mother’s birthday.

An Aries, she was assertive and friendly but knew who and what she liked or did not. She loved flowers and nature and breakfast at Frisch’s. Once, after my stepfather died, she joined me on a trip to the San Francisco Bay area. I still have the photo of us riding the boat to Alcatraz. I have many fond memories of that trip. But that’s another posting.

This morning I thought, what could I do to honor her birthday? I have kept an altar to her in my meditation room with some photos, candles, and flowers. I decided an arati (waving of a tray with flowers and candle in devoted honor to someone, usually a guru) would be appropriate. I thought, what tune, what chant or hymn? What spontaneously issued from my mouth was “Happy Birthday to You . . .” I had to smile; it was appropriate, after all, for it would always be her birthday even if her physical self and body were no longer here. Then I remembered a tune described as a zen Buddhist hidden message and sang “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.” I appreciate these reminders from time to time so as to not take my self so seriously and get on with the important things in my life.

One special gift the Universe has brought into my life lately is an accordion. Actually, I’ve had it since shortly after mom’s death. My sister Linda let me have it, after I expressed interest. Before I, her first born entered this world, Irene Shirley Drees played accordion with a group of young women (I have a picture to prove it!). Although this accordion is not that original one — I believe it to be one she picked up at a yard sale much later — still, there will always be this association of accordions with my mother. So it’s been sitting in my meditation room closet (ironically) and just a week or so ago, I remembered it and brought it out. I expected to hear wheezy sounds and dust and a dilapadated condition but, lo and behold, the accordion seemed pretty intact. She looked lovely, too, silvery blue with white (ivory?) keys. What a complicated instrument, truly.

Now I don’t know how to read music, really, but I seem to have had a past life talent musically that has manifested these past two years. At the meditation group I go to, Scott discovered I had a nice voice, then he invited me to learn harmonium. The live chants of kirtan I have participated in have added tremendously to my spiritual practice. I am bhakti through and through.

So how does the accordion fit into all this? Well, I took a chant I played on harmonium and messed around with the accordion keyboard. It’s a quite complicated instrument with bellows and another side of little black buttons for bass but oh so cool. Positively gypsy! And I discovered some free instructional videos on YouTube. This guy explains the parts of an accordion in plain English. I intend to have fun with this new challenge!

So, Mom, if you’re watching from somewhere — and listening — I’m sure I’ll make you smile as you hear your daughter’s trials and tribulations with the musical instrument of your choice. Happy Birthday, Mom!

when the Buddha’s head disappears

As I walked to feed the birds these past ten days, I noticed how everything looks in the snow. Today is the third snowstorm SW Ohio has had in a short period of time. Lucky me, I’m retired though an active retiree. The first part of 2010 has seen me with less structure than I’m accustomed to.

So I have time to look. Yesterday, I chanted in front of the fireplace; afterward, just sat watching the flames. In the winter, it’s not the creek that’s the focus but logs burning into nothingness. Recently the ice and snow have captured my attention.

I have a small Buddha statue in my side yard. For most of the years I’ve lived here, I had him under what I call my “leaning tree.” This is a small pine that is close enough to my side window that I can watch the natural activity from my desk. I’ve made a commitment each winter to feed the birds. Sometime last year, I felt it was time for the Buddha to have a new view. I decided he should face west so I moved him several yards from the tree to sit under that window. Now he can watch the birds instead of being knocked down by the squirrels.

The second snow storm in this series, I noticed he was up to his head in snow. In a moment of compassion, I brushed several inches of snow off so at least he could watch his birds. This morning, the Buddha was gone. Disappeared. He was in a snow drift of his own.

Isn’t this what it’s about, anyway? Losing your head isn’t such a bad thing. For me, it’s usually been a good idea. Although I’ve been considered smart all my life, my mind has been my biggest tormentor. That is who tells me negative things about myself, assaults me with shoulds, and too often keeps that general worry current going. When I get a message from a statue, I take it seriously. As I sloshed past that window, I acknowledged, “the Buddha’s head has disappeared.” This my snow koan of the season.

The Geography of Bliss

I recently finished reading Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss. The subtitle explains more: “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” Of course, the word ‘bliss’ caught my attention right away. His idea of traveling the world to discern what differences culture, religion, and expectations make intrigued me. After all, this NPR Correspondent would pay the plane fare and do the traveling for us!

He discovered geography does make a difference. Moldova and Qatar I couldn’t wait to get out of (those chapters, that is). Moldovans were, according to the World Database of Happiness, the unhappiest on the planet [yes, there really is such a database: Ruut Veenhoven in The Netherlands]. The people Weiner talked to in this former Soviet Republic claimed it was lack of money that made them unhappy. I couldn’t wait to get through reading that chapter, it brought me down so much. Money wasn’t the main factor at all: the Persian Gulf’s Qatar, where most are rich because their country sits on the world’s third largest reserve of natural gas, disproved that myth about money. Qataris, the author maintains, “possess a strange mix of arrogance and insecurity. What they crave, most of all, is validation.” Their position within the tribe matters more than money or education. Although tribes can be nurturing, it seemed in this “gilded sandbox” that in spite of all their money, Qataris were not happy.

Although I enjoyed being transported back to India (“where happiness and misery live side-by-side”), my favorite learnings were from Bhutan and Thailand. Weiner’s lesson from Thailand was mai pen lai which translates to “never mind.” This lighthearted “don’t worry be happy” encourages one to just let go rather than go insane holding on to an impossible situation. Bhutan’s culture of crazy wisdom, he says, made him lose his bearings “and when that happens a crack forms in your armor. A crack large enough, if you’re lucky, to let in a few shafts of light.” The author meets with a Buddhist Rinpoche who tells him we must be ready for the moment we “cease to exist.” Compassion is what really matters. After all, as the Rinpoche tells him, “You see, everything is a dream. Nothing is real. You will realize that one day.” Then the Rinpoche laughed and returned to his chanting. Weiner’s summary on Bhutan? “In America, few people are happy, but everyone talks about happiness constantly. In Bhutan, most people are happy, but no one talks about it.”

Back in 1973, Bhutan’s King Wangchuk created for his nation the concept of Gross National Happiness. A Bhutanese hotel owner described it this way: GNH means “knowing your limitations; knowing how much is enough.” With Gross National Happiness the official policy of the government of Bhutan, “every decision . . . is viewed through this prism. Will this action we’re about to take increase or decrease the overall happiness of the people?” The U.S. has its Gross Domestic Product, the sum of all goods and services a nation produces. Weiner wisely perceives that our GDP measures oil spills, prison population, the sale of assault rifles and prescription drugs — all these contribute to The Count regardless of merit. He quotes Robert Kennedy as acknowledging that the GDP doesn’t take into account “the beauty of our poetry . . . ,” measuring everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”

This book makes you think — deeply. Weeks later, I apply it to my life:

* Paying a mortgage by myself makes me unhappy. But when T lived here and shared the bills (this woman I supposedly loved), I wasn’t happy.
* I tire of driving a half hour each way to the east side of town. Lately, I fantasize about moving. But would my small scale change of geography make me happy?
* “Making” is not a part of happiness. It has to do with allowing, letting in, openness. No matter where I live.
* My delivering Meals on Wheels gives me perspective and a chance to practice compassion. Applied compassion. Although some mornings I grumble about leaving my house to deliver those meals, “my people” always give back more. Something less tangible than a bag of food. Appreciation, sincerity, love.
* Sporadically, I suffer from exhaustion. I literally wear myself out. What a sad phrase that is! Do I forget that “doing” never trumps “being”? One of the main lessons of Landmark Education’s intensive workshop, The Landmark Forum, I learn this over and over again. I am still learning.

It seems that bliss can capture you anywhere: you only need to be awake enough to notice, still enough to be aware, and wise enough to follow it.