Another dharma adventure


Tonight, my band of merry NKT outcasts and I drove out to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin County for a teaching by Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist teacher and author, and co-founder of Spirit Rock.  It’s funny, most everyone who has even a passing interest in Buddhism in the Bay Area has been to Spirit Rock at some point in their spiritual quest.  But, this was my first time.  In my mind Spirit Rock was for those who wanted Buddhism to make them feel all warm and fuzzy.  In other words, not for serious practitioners like myself (yes, I’ve made such progress in reducing the ego, eh?) 

There were probably about 300-350 or so people comfortably crowded into an unremarkable, low-ceilinged room.  While everyone was getting seated, Sylvia sat in front and smiled like the beneficent grandmother we all wish we had had.  Such a soft and lovely presence, with eyes filled with mirth and kindness.  Even though it felt like it took for ever for people to get settled,  she showed no sign of impatience or annoyance.   The crowd, like most I’ve encountered at Buddhist events, was overwhelmingly white and mostly middle-aged, though this group did have its share of younger people. 

Her dharma talk was filled with personal stories which illustrate how the dharma shows up in our lives daily and in every moment.  It felt like she threw a lot out there in terms of analogies and anecdotes, so almost everyone could grab a piece and take it home with them.  For my friends Steve and Rae, they loved the analogy of the big screen TV with the picture within a picture.  For most of us, we are always looking at our own lives projected in the big picture, and the rest of the world is tiny and in the corner.  If we wish to be happy we need to reverse that view.  Me, I liked the saying “Life is difficult.  How can we not be kind?”  It was the kind of dharma talk that didn’t necessarily challenge you, but rather left you feeling inspired and yes, warm and fuzzy – and wanting to adopt Sylvia as your mom or grandma or neighbor.

As my friend Deborah and I drove home we noted that lack of a real structure or detail in her talk. I felt inspired – yes!  I want develop this mind of loving-kindness, it sounds awesome!  I want to put others in the big picture!  But how we are to accomplish that wasn’t really addressed. 

So, for myself and my friends, the quest continues.  Geshe-la’s presentation of the dharma is very clear as to method, but what it lacked in the teachings was often the humanity and inspiration.  Teachings such as tonight were all about the humanity and inspiration.  I’m still looking for the middle way in presenting the Middle Way.


10 responses »

  1. I haven’t been to Spirit Rock either. I’ve been looking for a carpool from Berkeley – you think that would easy enough …

    I like dharma talks with personal stories. I think it’s through our own experiences and stories that we learn about life, about each other, and ourselves, and where we/I need to tweak things (as opposed to where ‘you’ need to tweak things).

    I like that television analogy – at least tv is good for something 🙂

  2. Thanks for this column lazy buddhist. I just stumbled upon a few days ago. I’m a grouchy NKT FP’er (working on 3 years in FP now) who would like to ban the words ‘beautiful’, ‘lovely’ and ‘wonderful’ from ever coming out of someone’s mouth more than twice in any single conversation at the center.

  3. It’s funny that as i was reading this post and got to the last paragraph I thought (actually just before reading the last sentence), “maybe she could find a middle way to finding the middle way.” : ) great minds, right.

    Well, I face the same problem at my UU church. We’re lay led and often times I’m left feeling like i had just attended a lecture instead of something inspirational or have been given a bunch of resources listed off a bibliography page.

    One time a few years ago though, we had a Buddhist nun speak at our church. She told the story of the teacher and the student who were crossing the river in a boat. The teacher held the hand of woman to give her comfort as they crossed because it was a somewhat turbulent ride and the student was perplexed because he had been told he was never to touch a woman. About 30 minutes or so after getting on the other side the student finally had to question his master about it and the master said (i’m sure you’ve heard this story) “let it go. i let it go 30 minutes ago.”

    It was wonderful the way she presented it. It was extremely inspiring because she asked the question, “what things have you not let go of that are eating at you.” Her sermon lasted about five or so minutes.

    sorry for the long comment. ~jules

  4. Hi Cranky – Yes, I enjoy dharma talks with personal stories too. It’s always great to laugh about our shared humanity and foibles. But, I also want to like to have something practical to take home that I can incorporate into my practice/life.

    They have a ride share board on the Spirit Rock web site – have you tried that?

    Welcome Jenny – “Wonderful”, indeed. And don’t forget “fortunate” and “auspicious”.

    My friend Jules with whom I am developing a weird mind meld – I’m starting to realize how rare it is to find a teacher that is both inspiring, yet practical. What a wonderful story. And no need to apologize for your comments. I welcome them long or short.

  5. Ha! I am exactly the kind of person who is looking for warm and fuzzy Buddhism. I loooove the real-lifeness of Sylvia Boorstein and am going to go to my first all day talk with her at Spirit Rock this weekend. I’m not looking for hardcore enlightenment (ha), just a way to be a little happier and kinder in my day to day life. Lazy Buddhist, I am so glad you popped in to my blog because your blog is a real treasure trove for me…. I have many comments and questions but no time now. Thank you for your blog.

  6. Yes, I’ve tried the ride board in the past … not recently though … I even went as far as to ask a neighbor if she ever went over there for the Monday Night talks and she poo-poo-ed me and told me to get a real teacher!

    I like teachings of all kinds. I’ve been to hardcore dharma teachings and new-agey seminars. I’m getting crankier as I get older though, so the warm and fuzzy stuff is starting to get on my nerves 😉

  7. Enjoyed your quest for the middle way to the middle way very much. All the more so in that there is little chance to stay in one place — if nothing else the path moves on around you!
    *big smile*

  8. Welcome Susan – I feel fortunate to have happened upon your website also. Enjoy Sylvia this weekend. She’s really quite wonderful. I was thinking of going, but as it turns out I’ll probably be out there the next couple of weekends.

    Cranky – or shall I call you CB? There is no poo-poo’ing in Buddhism. People need to find their own way and for some it leads to a teacher, and others try and work it out for themselves. And next time I head out there for a teaching, I’ll give you a heads up and see if you are interested and need a ride.

    Ombudsben – yup, the path is never quite what is seems. Sometimes it feels like it is like a walk through a cathedral of redwoods – beautiful, awe-inspring and spiritual. Other times, it feels slippery and precarious and ready to dump me on my ass. And other days it feels as pedestrian and normal as a trip to Trader Joe’s.

  9. Trader Joes?! You’re doing better than I am. Faced with that lineup of counters and not the usual queues, I freeze & end up channeling The Clash:

    I’m all lost in the supermarket
    I can no longer shop happily
    Came in for the special offer
    Guaranteed per-son-al-ity …

  10. It always seems that the people who poo-poo me for not having a teacher are usually folks who have given their power over to their own … I’ve got a recent blog post going on about that, kind of …

    You can call me anything you want 🙂

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