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Being Held by the Dharma

When I lead meditation, I start by asking people to feel the floor under them, to notice where their

hard places come into contact with the building's hardness -- to feel the strength and stability of that solidness, and to think about how the building connects to the earth. It's easiest to notice where hard places come in contact -- it's one of the first places we notice discomfort.

And feeling the evidence of that connection to the building and its connection to the earth, I ask them to trust that, to relax into it, to let it hold them. There's a relaxation that comes with being held by something or someone you trust.

I thought of that recently when I heard a teacher use the phrase "being held by the dharma." It struck me and stuck with me, so I contemplated it.

Being held by the dharma is like relaxing into the ground -- you can let go completely, trusting that it will be big enough and strong enough to hold whatever weight you carry. You are not too heavy for the earth and nothing is too big for the dharma, which is limitless.

I think this is the quality -- this trust, this safety -- that Stacey D'Ersamo is referencing in  her New York Times essay, Is God Just Not That into Me? The essay is about her relationship with the man she lives with, who is a Zen Buddhist priest.

She's jealous of his trust in buddhanature, in the ultimate OK-ness of reality, which she compares to falling in love with God. "How come he got access to all that divine unconditional love? What am I to the universe? What do I have to do to get the good stuff?" she writes. Her monk, as she calls him, reads this. “You already have it,” he said. “You are it.” He paused. “By the way, we need coffee.”

How come he got access to all that divine unconditional love? What am I to the universe? What do I have to do to get the good stuff?

You have to work at it. Maybe some people are born with that. Most question, test, examine. And when they find the thing that can hold them, they relax into it.

The Buddha lists Wise Effort as a step on the Eightfold Path, and exertion as one of the paramitas, or perfections of the heart (ie practices we can do to cultivate perfect heart). There's no switch that turns on enlightenment. You move toward it with your effort. It's an effort that might be unrecognizable to those who think "effort" mean trying hard. You have to try soft -- to be curious and open to whatever it is that results. Effort doesn't mean gritting your teeth and pushing through to the other side; it means sitting where you're stuck and not running away.

It means being present and lifting the mucky veils to see clearly -- which means, Ms. D'Erasmo, understanding and using appropriate words, not ones that amuse you. Your Zen priest, who is not a monk, gets access to "unconditional stuff" because he's worked at seeing causes and conditions that cloud the mind and block access to buddhanature.

Being held by the dharma isn't a passive stance. Relaxing and trusting isn't easy. It takes effort not to tighten up, to expect certain results, to demand that an outcome be as anticipated. You can't grab the dharma and shake it until you get what you want.

You can't hold onto the dharma and be held by it. You have to let go. And then it will be there.

"Give up the mind that wants to meditate and calm down. Focus on nothing at all. Disturbing thoughts and lazy indifference are not liberation. Remain unstained by thoughts and circumstances. Rest relaxed in the uncontrived nature of mind, free of elaboration or alteration. For the benefit of one and all, simply preserve peerless awareness."

~ Wisdom Dakini Sukhasiddhi


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