Monday, April 21, 2008

Lessons from a New Car

Last summer, when our 1995 Lexus developed an unhealthy affection for the repair shop, I started looking for something nice to replace it with. We finally got our new (to us) car at the end of last month. I had assumed that we would be in for the usual dharmic reminders that such major purchases provide: that an actual car never lives up to the anticipated dream-car; that what is new, fresh, and exciting, rapidly becomes a source of dukkha because of overlooked drawbacks and defects; that with the first scratch, impermanence would be rearing its ugly little head.

I had not counted on receiving a completely different type of teaching. It had been a really busy period when the car was delivered, and I barely had a chance to drive it around town. A week later, my wife Wendy and I headed out in the new car to Boston, New York, and Albany for two weeks of teaching, and visits with family and friends. After a couple of hours on the road, an intermittent squeaking sound from the heater fan became too obvious to ignore.

Wendy and I discussed whether to take the car into a dealership in Boston or New York, or wait until we got back to Halifax to get it repaired. I checked the Canadian warranty to try to figure out if the repair would be covered in the States. As we drove through New Brunswick worrying about what to do, Wendy observed that the irritating noise sounded like a bird chirping. For some reason, I said we should give the bird a name. Wendy said let’s call it Henry.

Soon we were talking about “Henry taking a nap,” when the sound disappeared; “Henry worrying about getting lost,” when we got off the highway and weren’t sure which way to go; “Leaving Henry at the motel parking lot,” when we started off the next morning with a quiet fan. Finally, we worried about getting the car repaired and hurting Henry!

It is amazing how changing our thoughts about a sound can completely change our experience of it. This is the principle behind the Vajrayana practice of visualizing oneself as a deity, and the environment as the deity’s palace: if we can get into the spirit of the game, we can transform our experience of samsara into the experience of a pure realm.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Today is April 4th, 2008, the twenty-first anniversary of the parinirvana of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Twenty-one is the age when we are definitely considered to be adults in Western society, but have we students of Trungpa Rinpoche reached adulthood yet? I wonder.

I always imagined that there would be some clear experience of having arrived at spiritual maturity, a Buddhist bar mitzvah, or some sort of collective birthday party. Now I’m not so sure. I feel strongly connected with my gurus and the lineage, and surrounded by sangha, family, and friends, but I also feel very much alone, floating in space, with no planet in sight, and no umbilical cord to attach me to the mother ship.

Maybe twenty-one is the time to give up dreams of getting somewhere and just be. Maybe this is it.