Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Happy Dhamma Day!

Today’s the day Buddhists remember when the Buddha began his teaching journey: the full moon of the 8th lunar month (usually July).

Also known as Asalha Puja Day, with this first teaching the Buddha moved one of his first five followers to enlightenment. This is the beginning not only of the Buddha’s teachings, but also of Buddhist community ~ the first sangha.

I like to think of the Buddha as a teacher. I like to think of him outside, on a day perhaps as hot as this one in Oklahoma, sitting beneath a tree, talking to five guys. Talking to the point that one ‘gets it.’ Because I’ve always thought that’s what enlightenment is — just getting it. Of course, there’s the whole mystery of what ‘it’ is…:)

What Buddhists in Thailand do on this day — known there as Asanha Puja — is make offerings at their local temples, and listen to sermons. Go to church, in other words :). What most religions do on holy days (from which our term ‘holiday’ comes).

Me? I”m going to go out into the yard, set the garden to rights, and remember that the first Buddhist lesson was given outside. And that Kondanna still managed to get it.

 

fruit salad & gratitude ~

Elsewhere I’ve written about gratitude journals. They help me see how many things happen every day to be grateful for. And also? Just how many tangible material pleasures I take for granted.

Today, for instance, I made fruit salad. Normally, I’m a big fan of farmer’s markets, and local food. Especially in the summer, when there are blackberries & peaches & melons & more. This weekend I bought enough fresh tomatoes (three kinds!) to stock a small roadside stand…

But today I was hungry, I guess, for childhood. So I made the kind of fruit salad only really possible in a country with great refrigeration, enough wealth to support imports, and a wide array of tastes. I made tropical fruit salad.

Mango, kiwi, pineapple, & bananas. None of which grow in Oklahoma. And peaches, strawberries, & basil. Each of which does. And apples, for good measure. It was what’s for dinner :). Hot summer, cool fruit salad.

Fruit salad isn’t earth-shaking. It certainly has no religious or spiritual significance. I’m not going to draw some artificial connection to anything else. But gratitude? Let’s just say that the evening’s entry in my journal includes a list of what cushions my life from want: refrigeration, enough national wealth to support imports, enough personal comfort to afford them, and a safe home in which to enjoy it all. And those are pretty small in Maslow’s hierarchy.

So here’s the point w/ the whole fruit salad thing: If we do like Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests, and live in each ordinary moment, the ordinary becomes luminous. Like the red glow of ripe strawberries, the vivid orange of mango, the sweet blue of berries. And I’m very grateful for that ~

 

dragons & Buddhists & magic ~ oh my!

I’m crazy about dragons.  It’s at least partly because I was born in the year of the dragon (a very auspicious year, just in case you were wondering). And it’s also because I was raised in Southeast Asia, where dragons have a far richer and better-known mythology.

When I was little, not many kids talked about dragons. Me? I had the little kids’ version of the dragon dance set, complete w/ vivid dragon head. Other little girls played house. By the time I was 9 I was creating one-act plays that involved dragons. Sometimes I was the dragon, rarely the dragon killer. Usually, as I recall, I sent the dragon packing — not wanting, even as a child, to kill it. Now, many years later, I have dragons scattered through the house: a small stuffed toy here, a hand-puppet there, a music box elsewhere. A teapot,  a silver pendant. The drawing for a tattoo  I want to get this fall.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon is fearless. A leader, articulate, and — when endowed with five toes instead of three — royal. There is a saying (another possible tattoo :)): humans once were dragons. I thought that as a child, and the non-rational shadows of my East-meets-West brain still believe it may be true. Once I realised I was a Dragon child, I was content: nothing would harm me :).

Which leads me to legends, and mythology, and how important it is. As a child, I read every bit of mythology I could find. Our amah — the lovely Chị Bốn — would take us to the Việtnamese American Association library, and I would check out books on Eastern myths & legends, books on Greco-Roman myths & legends, books on whatever I could find about magical creatures & stories and cultures. To me, they were the best possible reading.

I like to think, now, that my reading about dragons, and the ghosts under the bed (they had sharp, hungry teeth, I was told by Chị Ba, the baby amah ~ it would be years before I got up at night w/out thinking about those ghosts…), prepared me to better accept the Buddhist/ Taoist/ Confucian cosmologies they lived in. Dragons were as real to me as dinosaurs, perhaps more so. In the East, pictures of dragons adorn everything — they are lucky. When’s the last time you saw a dinosaur on multiple business logos?

So for me, dragons remain a possibility. No more unlikely than a velociraptor, I’m just waiting for a skeleton to be discovered. And I’m okay with that particular wrinkle in my brain. After all ~ what’s life w/out some magic? The kind that dragons bring. On fiery breath, and even (at least in some versions) on wings…

 

 

life dogs ~

I bought Mayuree as a puppy from a woman in Bangkok. She was a South African-bred Afghan hound, as sweet-tempered as honey. Her name meant ‘female peacock’ in Thai. But she was never much of a preener. Always more of a curl-her-long-legs-in-your-lap-and-nest kind of girl.

Each year, books are published about life dogs: dogs you remember forever, dogs who change your life. Summer’s a great time to curl up with a writer’s stories of such a dog. Stories of a dog that becomes the internal image for ‘dog’ in your head. The picture your brain (& heart) call up when you think ‘dog.’ Some of us are lucky enough to have more than one such dog. And some of  us share a life dog w/ the others in our family. My family’s life dog was Mayuree.

When I first bought her, I was visiting my family in Bangkok, taking a break from college and a life that had no real goals. Mayuree became my passion. I bought books on Afghans. Checked them out of the library. Read up on Afghans and their history (they hunted in pairs & packs — hare, wolf, jackal, even snow leopards!). Brushed Mayuree and walked her and generally loved her. She had been raised in a one-story house, so our open stairway literally made her shake. Since my bedroom was on the 2nd floor, I had to carry her upstairs & downstairs to feed her, walk her, take her outside. Everything.  All 40 leggy pounds of her.

Then I went back to Oklahoma to go to school, and left her w/ my mother & sisters. She became my mother’s dog, but was always a family dog at heart. I missed her as only a homesick kid — even one of 20 — can miss her dog. But I had a tiny shotgun apartment in my great-grandmother’s house, too poor to even own a phone, and I couldn’t take her with me. From then on, she lived w/ my mother, father, & sisters.

My mother even managed to graduate Mayuree from obedience class.  A word here to Afghan novices: Afghans are more like large cats than dogs. They don’t care about pleasing you. Rumour from people who don’t know is that they’re stupid. Nope. Just absolutely secure. They can be bribed, or made curious enough to do something. Or competitive enough. But they know you love them, and most aren’t people pleasers. For my mother to get Mayuree through obedience school was no small thing for either of them. :)

Mayuree taught me so many things. She was the first dog I met who loved everyone in her family. She wasn’t a one-person dog, but that never made any of us feel ‘lesser.’ She had a heart big enough for everyone. She was good with children, and only ran off when bored. A 6′ fence was a gentle leap to her, and she could run like coursing hounds are famous for: fast and faster. Which meant we’d hear from folks miles away who became one of her rest spots. Two miles was nothing. The people at the clinic where we took her — the vet number on her tag — soon knew us by name. ‘Mayuree’s family.’ Even the people at Animal Aid — another popular phone call for lost animals — knew her, at one point. She loved to run almost as much as she loved us.

Love isn’t a non-renewable resource. If anything, we should be studying it as totally self-generated energy. Mayuree could love anything that loved her back. You didn’t even have to start the cycle ~ she assumed you loved her until proved otherwise. Or until she figured out you were a cat… (at which point you became prey…)

I know it’s a hokey pop culture meme, but I want to be as good as Mayuree. I want to love first, not wait for folks to like me. I want them to feel as welcome as a dog dead for many years once made me feel: important, special, necessary. Because intellectually, I believe this. I do think we’re all important, special, & necessary. But when it comes to living it? That life dog of ours could teach me a few things. Maybe now I’m ready to learn…

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