Category Archives: Friends

Dharma Digest, Vol. 1, No. 3

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Some items recently posted to the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/dharmabegin.

Love Thine Enemy

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

I’d like to pass along one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received: If you are angry at someone, if you think of them as your enemy, pray for them. You cannot remain angry at someone you pray for; someone you pray for… cannot long be considered your enemy. my own experience has borne this out.

Somewhere along the line I learned to practice putting myself in the shoes of those who would hurt me or make me their enemy. I usually need to let the hurt subside first, but when it has I can ask, “Why would they do this thing to me? What suffering must they be enduring that leads them to act in this manner?” Then I remember that everyone wishes to be free of suffering, friends and foes alike, and I pray that they will be free of suffering.

Sometimes I can manage to say those prayers with the sincerity of someone praying for a loved one or dear friend. Other times it takes a little more time, a little more distance from the pain. But once I pray sincerely for them, the hurt and anger melt away, and all that’s left is compassion.

How Do People Perceive Me?

“I don’t really care how I am remembered as long as I bring happiness and joy to people.” ~ Eddie Albert

I can be really hung up on how people view me now, as well what kind of mark on will leave on the world when I inevitably pass from this life. It amazes me that I still sometimes hesitate to do what is right because of thoughts about what “people” will think. Family, friends, coworkers, people… I wouldn’t know if I tripped over them – dear lord, what will they think? [insert dramatic shudder here]

In retrospect, it makes me laugh. There really should be some LOLs here. It seems so silly. Why should I care what it says on my tombstone? I’ll be dead. But in that moment, it still brings me up short. I think it’s right to take seriously what kind of world I leave behind, but not because of how I’ll be remembered for it. Because I believe it is my responsibility to leave behind as much love as I found when I entered it, and hopefully more.

Some Things I Hope We Can Agree On

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.” – Thomas Jefferson

God, deity, higher power, energy, universal interconnectedness, angels, protectors, anti-gremlins (okay, I made that one up) – it doesn’t matter to me what you call it. Or if you don’t call it anything. Or if you don’t even believe in “it.” I don’t care, because I believe we don’t need any particular religion to connect and to agree on a few things:

1. We respect and care for others and ourselves
2. We show love and compassion to all
3. We seek to be happy, free from suffering
4. We are committed to growing ethically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.

I’m certain the list could be longer. But if you and I can agree on just one of those, that’s a great place to start building a friendship. I’d like to think that I could build such a friendship with each and every one of you.

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I Didn’t Seek It, But I’ll Take It

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About a year ago I began this blog as one way to actively think about the path I was walking. For over 40 years I had walked a spiritually fulfilling path as a Christian, until realizing a couple of years ago that, somewhere along the line, I had stopped being a Christian and had become a Buddhist. Now I was walking an even more spiritually fulfilling path, though one far less familiar to me.

A lot of questions presented themselves to me and it seemed at times like I was feeling my way around in the dark. So I started blogging as part of my attempt to seek answers. It also occurred to me that I was probably not the only person seeking to answer those same questions. There might be a few people out there who would benefit from reading what I’m thinking, and it would be great to connect with those people and walk the path together.

Not long afterwards, I decided to create a page on Facebook with the same name, Dharma Beginner, as an extension of the blog and, primarily, to publicize its availability. My intention had been to post notices when new material was available on the blog, and perhaps the occasional quotation or link to a relevant online article. What happened next was wholly unexpected.

As of today, the Dharma Beginner page has 18,592 likes. That’s roughly 18,500 more likes that I would have predicted. So, an error of just 20109 percent, or slightly better than the accuracy of my NCAA basketball bracket.

This was not what I bargained for. This page has taken on a life of its own. In fact, I have been blogging only about once a month on average, but I am posting just about every day on the Facebook page. The regular visitors to the page seem to enjoy my blog but are obviously returning for other reasons given the infrequency of my blogging.

The regular visitors formed a beautiful little community right under my nose and without me noticing at first. Our virtual sangha, as I like to call it, has the same cast of characters as any in-person community. There are the gurus, as I think of them, the really experienced and knowledgeable people who can always be counted on to offer the perfectly apt quotation or to answer a baffling question. Thank goodness someone at the page knows something, because it’s not me!

There are the wallflowers who keep coming back but lurk in the corners, soaking up the experience while they shyly remain silent except for the occasional peep. Keep coming guys and gals and don’t feel pressured to speak up if you don’t want to. Just be there, because I love knowing that the page feeds you.

There are the hurt, those whose past experiences with organized religion have left them scarred and hypersensitive. My heart breaks for them and my compassion kicks into overdrive. I hope that they find some solace when they visit the page and are helped to recognize that happiness is within their grasp.

There are the debaters, ready to pounce on a point and beat it to a bloody pulp. I don’t know what I’d do without them, because they remind me that mine is not the only point of view and, quite often, their knowledge and passion puts me back in my place.

What there are, more than anything, are myriad people grateful for what they find at the page—which is amazing to me because I feel grateful for their presence. I am enriched by their many different voices and their common search for peace and happiness. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them.

And this brought me up short recently. It began to dawn on me that I had a responsibility to the visitors to the page. I had been continuing my very low-key, minimally-responsible approach, posting the occasional quotation or article. But what happens when I go away, or simply am too busy to post? It doesn’t go unnoticed. People get worried about me. More importantly, people come looking for inspiration, a good word or two, encouragement, and see nothing new. I have given them a reason to expect such things, and sometimes I don’t deliver. Maybe they go away disappointed and never come back. Gosh, I hope not.

It occurs to me that, even though I can’t see the members of this community, it is a community nonetheless. One that I created and, therefore, am responsible for and to. If taking the Bodhisattva vows means that I have dedicated my life to aiding others in their search for enlightenment (and it does), then this is clearly one of the ways I have chosen to do so. Do I feel like I am upholding my vow in this regard? Not so much.

The issue has to do with much more than providing for new posts while I’m away on business or vacation, though. It has to do with taking risks, putting myself out there, and opening myself up to whatever may come. Just posting quotations and links to articles incurs very little risk. (Though, every time I refer to Chogyam Trungpa or Mother Theresa I set off a maelstrom! Can you say “polarizing individuals”?). My approach has been quite safe from criticism, quite safe from someone disagreeing or saying that I’m flat out wrong, quite safe from steering someone wrong and living with the consequences.

But more and more I find people reaching out for help publicly on the page and directly to me in private. Am I not responsible for helping them find an answer? I believe that, as the creator and maintainer of the page, I am. It is not a responsibility I sought, but I find that I am grateful for it and willing to embrace it.

I once heard one of my personal heroes and mentors, Bishop Walter Dennis, address a group of layreaders—people who read the Bible lessons to the congregation during church services. He emphasized the importance of preparation and taking the task of the layreader seriously by saying, “When you read the lessons, it may be the first time that someone has ever heard the scriptures, or it may be the last time they ever hear them because they will enter heaven before attending church again.” What an awesome responsibility! When it comes to this Facebook page, is it really any different? It could be the first time a visitor has ever read the Dharma or it could be the last time. Do I not owe it to them to provide something worthy of such occasions? I believe I do.

The denizens of Dharma Beginner may have noticed recently that my offering of quotations has come with some additional thoughts attached. That is me putting myself out there, expressing what the quotation says to me. That is me taking a little risk by exposing what I know and—more often—what I don’t know, opening myself up to disagreement, to the possibility that I will offend, to the chance that someone will read what I wrote and “unlike” the page, never to return. That would pain me indescribably, but I believe the potential gain, for the visitors and for me, to be far greater.

For a time now, I have been talking with my therapist about feeling called to do something different with my life, to set aside what I do now professionally in order to pursue a career helping other people spiritually. It’s a scary proposition: I’m very good at what I do now (as a researcher and author on government finance), I’m respected and well-known nationally within my particular industry, and I make a decent living. I have no idea if I’d be any good at being an author and speaker on spiritual matters, or whether I could support myself and my family doing so. So I’ve decided to take a small step in that direction, a toe dipped in the water, and the Dharma Beginner page is the base of operations from which I’m going to start doing that. I’ve been using the Twitter account associated with the page (@dharmabeginner) more often. I’m thinking about writing some things to submit to other web pages and magazines. I hope you’ll stick with me and continue to lend me your thoughts and opinions and support and friendship. Because it means so very much to me, and because I am so very grateful for it. Thank you.

For a Dear Departed Friend

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I lost a very dear friend recently. He was a tremendous comfort to me in a time of deep sorrow. His companionship, willingness to show and receive affection, warmth, and mischievously twinkling eyes buoyed my spirits innumerable times. I will miss him terribly. This blog post his about him.

I first met him at the Elmsford Animal Shelter in 2008. My daughter asked if I would take her to play with the cats. Just a month before, I had had to put down my cat, Dakota, after a prolonged illness. I received Dakota when she was just 6 weeks old and had lived with her for over 17 years. At the end, I held Dakota in my arms while the vet administered the dosage that relieved her pain and suffering and concluded this lifetime for her. Left alone with Dakota, I literally wailed and howled with my own pain and hurt. When I finally departed, carrying my heart-breakingly light pet carrier, the waiting room was packed with humans and their animal companions. Who knows what they thought my wailing and howling was—some poor, distressed animal, scared out of its mind, probably. Indeed, it was. I was.

I was not interested in getting a new cat, not for a long time anyway, and I told my daughter this. But I agreed to bring her, because I thought it was darling that she wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon showing affection to these poor animals in the shelter. We spent about two hours at the shelter, peering into cages, reading biographical statements about the adoptable critters, and occasionally asking for one to be removed so we could hold it. Among the darling animals we cuddled that day was a middle-aged blind cat, absolutely adorable and affectionate. Another was a juvenile tabby mix with splayed legs, sweetness personified. So like my daughter to be drawn to shower love on cats with physical problems (she’s very much like her mom in that regard).

As I was beginning to feel the urge to leave, I stopped before a large cage with three cats inside. As I read the laminated feline bios hanging from the cage door, an orange tabby paw stretched out between the bars and knocked all but one of the laminated cards out of my hand. The remaining card was for a cat the shelter had named Angel Buff. I looked up into the eyes of the owner of the offending paw, and what eyes they were. Golden. Not yellow. Golden. I’d never seen eyes that color before. I looked down at the card, and back at the cat, and once again at the card. It had been Angel Buff’s paw. I stared at him, he stared at me. Neither of us said a word until I asked a shelter volunteer to take him out of the cage.

To paraphrase J.K. Rowling, “The cat chooses the human.” This cat literally reached out and grabbed me. I accepted him from the volunteer and he immediately curled up in my arms, against my chest, purring like a jackhammer, closing his eyes. I didn’t know then that this would become a routine, this curling up on my chest, this immediate contentedness, this going to sleep almost uncomfortably close to my neck. But I knew I liked it. A lot. I didn’t want to let him go, even when I needed my hands to complete the paperwork.

Cat, medical and adoption forms, carrying box, food samples—everything came home with us, except the name. Cats deserve a good name, one with personality, one they can wear proudly. Angel Buff became Deuteronomy. But, like every pet I’ve ever had, he was never called by his full name. We called our new companion Dude, for short, and it fit him like a glove. “Dude, get off the dining room table.” “Dude, what have you been doing all day?” “Dude, stop clawing the carpet.” “Are you hungry, Dude?”

Dude was a mix of Siamese and domestic shorthair. He had the coloring of an orange tabby, but his body and head were pure Siamese. Small round head with overlarge ears and big round eyes. His whiskers protruded at odd angles, a bit like Salvador Dali’s moustache. Large, powerful hind legs and a short, thick tail. When he tried to saunter, as felines will do, he waddled instead. It was endearing.

Dude loved affection, craved having his ears rubbed, and eventually learned to enjoy exposing his belly for a prolonged scratching. He was curious, mischievous, naughty, adorable, hilarious, sensitive, and devoted nearly to the point of dog-hood (a point of embarrassment in the feline community, I’m sure).

Dude healed the raw place in my heart left behind by Dakota’s passing. Unsought, unbidden, he pawed his way into my life and took over. He insinuated himself into my heart, much the way he would insinuate himself between me and my body pillow every night at bedtime.

He was with us for too short a time, by a wide margin. He was but 9 years old when he passed from this life. I don’t know how or why he died, but he was peaceful and unruffled when I found him, so much so that I thought he was merely asleep at first. We shared a home for just three-and-a-half years, during which we shared a lifetime of love.

I am sad with loss at his death, but the memory of his life fills me with happiness and gratitude, turning tears of pain into tears of joy. He was a good boy, a good friend, a good being.

In this brief life, he amassed a wealth of positive karma as he tended to me and my family. I believe that a precious human birth and the possibility of enlightenment await him in his next life. I hope I get to meet him again soon.

Hey, Dude. See ya later. I love you.