These words come from a collection of writing Susan did with Kidder Smith, amanuensis. Once Kidder was Susan’s teacher. And then he threw her out. But like a bounced check, she left and stayed at the same time. And then she found another teacher, who showed her the door out of confusion. This time she landed on all sentient beings. She landed on you. —Kidder Smith
Samsara comes in different sizes, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, unpredictably. Samsara is the garden, and nirvana is the weeds. You may think it’s just the opposite. But samsara really is the garden (because you have to cultivate it), and nirvana really is the weeds (because they take over without any effort and bloom no matter what). Remember, where did every flower in the garden come from? They were weeds somewhere; their original nature is weeds, has to be. They were weeds that were adapted and cultivated until they became just so very presentable.
You know the song:
It’s only a paper moon
Hanging over a cardboard sea,
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me.
The reason this is so important is that samsara is the flat, opaque quality of the world. And nirvana is the play of light that brings it alive. This light comes from your own eyes.
The realest thing is love. That’s the light that comes from your own eyes and makes the world glow with perfection. Just like in Doris Day movies. That gal really knew about the glowy aspect of guru yoga. The human faculties we have that allow us to see the absolute or nirvana are (A-number-one) love, and a secondary one, appreciating beauty. This is so profound because it’s still make-believe whatever we believe it to be, but feeling loved brings us alive. If you believed in me, I’d become a three-dimensional person. But who cares about that? It’s what love does to your awareness. Everyone understands the shift from the paper moon to the real moon. The same shift happens from samsara to nirvana. That mirrors a large shift. So can you imagine the shift from the real moon to the Real?
We’ll do it with shopping. Catalogs in the mail. Suffering is “they got it and I don’t.” The truth of suffering is that you have to pay for it. And then after you pay for it, you have to pay to keep it up. If it’s a real something, you have to pay to insure it. And it stops being special over time, or it gets consumed, or it comes out in a better color. So another part of the truth of suffering is alarm systems, dry cleaners and safe-deposit boxes. All of a sudden there’s a part of your mind that feels like dead weight. That’s called your bank balance.
Then there’s sex: The truth of suffering is not that she’s beautiful, and not that you’re inspired by her. The suffering comes from hanging on, as with the alarm system and the dry cleaner. She inspires you to understand perfection at another level. She is evidence for the existence of God. But the sneaky truth is that she’s evidence for the existence of God in you, because you’re the one who noticed.
The cause of suffering is ownership. Either wanting to own or already owning. And if someone else owns it, you want to hit them because you think it should be yours. You think that desire or wanting is the problem, but that’s just appreciation. Like if people want to have kids—no problem, there are kids all over the place, many kids and parents to be appreciated; but what people want is to own kids, to have kids of their own.
Ownership, that’s the trap. Because from the perspective of realization, all the things in the store and all the people are just cute and beautiful and wonderful, and it’s all just a lovely display, and isn’t it cute that people thought so much about what colors to make things and how to display them? It’s as if there’s a god somewhere thinking of all of your needs. The great compassion of the marketeers. You could think of the store as an altar to your needs. Like an offering.
It’s possible to recognize your divine nature even in the greedy little weaselly world of jealousy. And you might say especially in such a world. It’s easier to recognize it there than in the happy “I won” or “We just closed on the house.” Why is that? Usually, if you’ve just gotten the man you want, or a house, or a baby, those things are totally absorbing of your attention. You get stupid in the face of them and don’t inquire about them. You stop looking and glaze over.
The path is just as empty as everything else, so let’s not get too serious about this, folks. Here’s the big trick: don’t work with what you don’t have, don’t develop new skills. There are so many doors and so many openings, so there’s one that’s sized right for who you are right now. What do you need in this moment to know that you really are perfect? The answer to that question is the path.
Enlightened teachers are introducing fruition all the time. The gradual path is the practitioner’s own disbelief. That’s okay! The gradual path in the teaching is whatever is news to you, it’s growing used to the startling truth that what they’re saying is true. The dharma is more real and true than you are. It’s not even hard to understand. The gradual path is listening and listening and listening and opening and opening and opening until it’s all so self-evident that you don’t need to be there anymore. And all that you’re listening to or opening to is your own thoughts, which is the voice of the buddha you’ve been silencing all those years. You just choose a teacher who sounds a lot like the buddha you already are, whose voice you recognize at a distance. Only you’re a big idiot, because it’s the voice that’s coming out of your own chest. You know how all these years people have been telling you you look like your mother? Well, you look more like your mother than you know.
Instead of avoiding Christmas, Buddhists could celebrate Christmas. Holidays are a way that a religion validates shared meaning. Let’s do that. Buddhists are refugees from the homeland of ego. So let’s be polite guests in samsara, and do what samsarans do. Christmas is the birth of Christ, the birth of our own awareness, coming into our potential as humans. Christ needs us. He needs fellow teachers, lovers of all beings. So we could celebrate union.
When I was in fifth grade, Sister Marie Emile said that Jesus Christ could have been a kid in our class. It was the truest thing I had ever heard. Some idiot asked if he could have been a girl, and she said he could. Jesus just wanted other kids to play with him. And I knew that he and I were the same. I knew that we could play together. I knew that he was more ordinary than everybody said, and I knew that I was more extraordinary than anybody said. (This is true of all of us.) I liked what he said about love. I knew that I was here to love everyone, same as him, same as everyone. We’ve been having fun together ever since.
So I guess it makes sense that I would find a Jewish lama whose birthday is celebrated in December!
Halloween is a serious Buddhist holiday. It’s a chance to play with your solidity. It’s a yidam practice, wherein you manifest as, or at least impersonate, the deities of the American mandala. And, as my sweet lama says, why limit yourself? Add on body parts you don’t have, or might want more of.
When you see other yidams, you get to enjoy the deity dance party of the many manifestations of appearance-emptiness. It feels like a dream, it tastes like a dream, it looks like a dream, and guess what, you can fly.
Valentine’s Day is the great bodhisattva holiday, where you can luxuriate in attempts to delight others with your professions of love and find out how delighted you are yourself. But in order for this to be a Buddhist holiday, you must do it anonymously, and to beings you don’t know, like at the fire department or the public library. One way to do this is to put an ad in the local newspaper declaring your love of all the peaceful and wrathful deities who make the world more predictable.
On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody gets to say “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” and this is a reminder of one-taste. Corned beef, cabbage, green beer and hideous green clothes. It reminds us that we’re all in the same ethnic group, except that some of us look better in green than others.
The Fourth of July is so great because it all takes place at night in the sky with exploding lights. That is, in the sambhogakaya. Lie on the ground, feed the bugs, lie very still, and pretend that you’re dead. Then you’ll see what you’re going to see when you die: loud noises, big colors, and it’s all over so quickly. As Lama Palden said, “This is as dead as you’re ever going to be.”
In the end there are no nouns. They all have to go. “I have only a tiny little noun, so abstract and tiny, can’t I keep it?” But the fat woman in the prison-guard uniform says, “Hand over your nouns, I know you’ve got one in that bag.” “But the bag is empty.” “No, it has emptiness in it. Gimme the goddamn bag.” From the perspective of nouns, the dharmakaya is a prison. “I have a noun, but it flies. Can I keep it? It’s called ‘space.’” The fat lady says, “I know it’s going to land at some point, and its poop is going to make a mess. Drop it onto the ground.”
It’s why yogis who are realized can walk through walls. Their bags aren’t empty; they don’t have them. People think that because their own bag is empty, they can keep it. And they look at us, and they see we’ve got tons of stuff, and they say, “Hey, you’ve got all that stuff.” But there’s nothing holding it together, no bag. We can blow at it, and it all disappears. That’s a siddhi. That’s where the stuff is an ornament, and there’s no need for a bag. It’s like in the end you find out you can have jewels that last forever. Only the secret is that you won’t. The secret is that there’s no one wearing them.
It’s your worst nightmare. A fat dharmakaya policewoman with attitude in a uniform. She hasn’t had sex in twenty years and she’s on a diet. I’d hand over the bag if I were you.
Some people might like to take refuge in the historical Buddha, the Hindu prince who started the whole shebang. But he’s been dead a long time. So it’s good to find a living buddha, and honey, there are fountains of ’em; don’t believe that crap about this being the Degenerate Era. And who cares anyway? Let’s be real, it’s the golden era, you can go to any continent (or even any incontinent) and find enlightened teachers. You may not even have to move out of your neighborhood.
How to spot a buddha: Traditionally there are thirty-seven marks. And they don’t amount to a hill of beans. They have things like white teeth and straight hair and webbed fingers. It won’t help you at all. Because the only mark of a buddha that matters is the big bell that goes off in your head, what you notice in your own experience when you’re in their presence. Does it feel that you’re out in the vastness of sky? Is there a qualitative shift? Sense of opening? Do you feel that you’re being sucked into some great peace? Then sign up, Charlie, and you don’t need to ask anyone else.
Ordinariness is essential. It’s like the bathroom, and Buddhists are humans, and all the buddhas are humans, and all of them use the bathroom. That’s the reminder of ordinariness. Barbra Streisand uses the bathroom. The Dalai Lama uses the bathroom. So does everyone’s root guru. (The dead ones don’t and the imaginary ones don’t, although they should.) The bathroom is a reminder of our Buddha-nature. It’s universal, it’s always there, sometimes it stinks, sometimes it shines. That’s the ordinariness. That ordinariness is the most profound thing about the natural state.