ask Auntie Suvanna

Seeking love in the wrong place

strictly ballroomWhat do you do when your heart says “yes” to someone who’s determined to break it? Auntie Suvanna’s wisdom and compassion manifest in advising a woman who’s looking for love in the wrong place.

Dear Auntie,

I have been practicing Buddhism for several years. However, I keep getting caught in the Shempa with this particular man. I am 60 years old and divorced for 8 years. I met this man 3 years ago when I started dancing. He was attentive and pursued me for a short time (I won’t go into details) and then dumped me in pursuit of a 31 year old (30 years his junior) who had emotional problems and confided in him. He told me at first that she was only a friend who saw him as a father figure, but I later found out that they had a sexual encounter. I did not speak to him for about a year but did see him all the time at the dances. But, it goes on.

Because we both love dancing and there is no other place to go, we see each other almost every week. After some time, and given the fact that the girl has moved to California, my rapport with him has been better. Recently, I have seen him a few times under the guise of him wanting to “practice” dance. This has led to a few for lack of better words (since he is now 65) sexual encounters, after which he is very pleasant and then goes his merry way. He calls me his “friend” and best dancing partner he has ever had, and then of course, goes on to take another woman to the dance the next week. I have not been with anyone else, although there have been a few opportunities.

I am ashamed that I can’t keep away from him and always seem pleasant and friendly towards him. I know it has to do with not feeling loved by my father and there are thoughts in my head that if I just am…pretty enough, good enough…then…all of this I know intellectually…I have sent myself Loving Kindness, but, still I am left with this shame that I can let myself be treated so poorly. Because he edges himself into my life as my friend…and because I feel I have no rights since he makes no commitment and I go along with it, I am trapped by my feelings. He is now pursuing someone else at the dance and I see the same MO taking place. I feel that he really wants her and a relationship with her. This of course only makes me feel like chopped liver. I do not want to give up dancing, but seeing them together breaks my heart. I need practices to help me with this. Please!

Seeking love in the wrong place


Dear Seeking Love:

Several years ago Auntie had the idea to write a humorous Buddhist advice column. Since then, the sad relationship questions have been pouring in…well, trickling. So, again, duty calls, and humor will have to wait!

Anyway thanks for all the detail – that is helpful.

Unfortunately the answer for anything that we want to run away from seems to always be to go more into it. There are several angles we could choose. One is how the man feels about other women. Another is how he feels about you. Another is how you feel about him. And finally, how you feel about yourself. Maybe you can guess which one Auntie is going to pursue.

You described how you feel about yourself in terms of shame, I have no rights, I am not pretty enough, and I am chopped liver. What is shameful about loving someone or being fond of someone who does not give you what you want? We are addicted and we chase after sources of suffering. This is being human. There is the idea in Buddhism that the cup is already broken. This applies to the heart as well. Your father maybe helped break it. It was maybe half broken when you were born. Other people probably chipped in. Seeing this and being creative with this is our work. Some level of satisfaction may be achieved when we can lean this far into craving and despair.

You know yourself pretty well and perhaps already know this. This man is not the cause but the occasion of your pain. Yes, many men your age like younger women. And many women much younger than you like older men. But beyond all that, beyond all conceptions of who is a victim and who is not, and who has the power and who does not – seeing for a moment through the veil of craving – it looks like this man is helping you see the vulnerability and tenderness of your own heart. And you don’t want to see that, and none of us do, and yet it is part of our life.

To the degree that you’re acting like you’re ok with the situation, you are participating in it, you are helping create it. Perhaps he doesn’t want what you want. He thinks of you as an FWB (Friend With Benefits). There’s nothing wrong with what he wants, and there’s nothing wrong with what you want – on the other hand he doesn’t know what you want. You are withholding information, trying to protect yourself, but this only makes it more lonely and painful. You cannot protect yourself from the truth, from how you feel, from desire. If you feel bad about yourself, the best thing you can do is be honest.

In terms of more formal practices…Are you familiar with tonglen? Especially what Pema Chodron calls ‘Tonglen on the spot’ — for chopped liver-ness and shame. Just don’t count on it getting rid of the pain. Don’t use getting rid of the pain as the motivation. Let your motivation be that you want to more deeply understand and appreciate your life.

I also suggest not just practicing formal loving kindness meditation, but actively putting more work into deepening friendships and expressing more love in your life. Really being kinder to yourself and to others. For some of us, this might mean going into therapy and/or talking about issues with good friends.

Auntie’s friend Paramananda suggests chanting the Green Tara mantra.

It also could be useful to reflect on the third precept:

I undertake to abstain from harming [even myself] because of sexuality.
With stillness, simplicity and contentment [and straightforwardness], I purify my body.

I haven’t actually read either of these books but perhaps they could help: Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire and Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance.

I hope this has been of some use. If you feel like giving an update later, please do! Love Auntie

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Auntie Suvanna: When love hurts

Heart surrounded by barbed wireA young man in a troubled relationship seeks advice for Wildmind’s resident advice columnist, Auntie Suvanna. What’s the best path when you’re hooked up to someone who sees you as being the source of all her problems?

Dear Auntie,

I stumbled upon you while searching for Buddhist relationship advice, and I hope you can help me. It is a rather long story, but you did say in the post I read that you need details so here goes…

First, I have not been studying Buddhism for very long now, only a few months, and not very consistently at that. But a lot of it matches my own feelings already.

I have been in a relationship that has been going slowly (or quickly?) down hill for a couple years. The woman I am with (or not with now technically) is the one and only person I have ever had a relationship with, basically at least, but more on that later. We met online when we were both 19, and after only about 8 months she ended up pregnant. She moved two hours to live with me when she was about 6 months pregnant, something she really wanted to do at the time. We had had a few problems before, but I never thought anything of it because I had nothing to base it on so I just took it to be normal though they were probably signs of worse to come. I have always known she had it rough all her life, and for a slightly less time known she suffered from some depression, though it wasn’t until recently I found out just how bad. I always felt like it was my duty to save her and sacrifice some of my happiness to make her happy. I would do almost anything she asked me too and besides school and work she basically has controlled when and where I can go or what I can do for a long time.

She has deep, deep depression and a long history of abuse by both parents, and she is a bit bipolar. She is also deathly afraid of doctors, and is completely against seeking any kind of treatment for it. I have always hoped I could cure her, but I think all I did was give her something to cling to and base her happiness on. I thought that a lot of her emotional instability was due to being pregnant, or hormone imbalance right after, but it never stopped and only got worse. I am not an argumentative person, and though there are many things that have always bothered me, I tend to forget about them rather quickly until they happen again. She likes to start arguments all the time about simple things and then escalate them into larger things like me not appreciating her, or her hating her life and how it is my fault. And she has never been able to accept fault for anything. If there is a problem in our relationship it is never a matter of compromise but of it being all my fault.

But in May I did something I am not proud of and started talking to another girl. Well my fiance found out I was talking to her and was obviously upset and I said I would stop talking to the other girl, but I did something I am even less proud of by continuing and eventually near the end of May had sexual relations with her. Ironically my fiance found out the next day and that of course lead me to where I am today. I know I was wrong in what I did and let my desires bring me and others suffering, and it was a firm lesson to me on that matter. For some reason I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong, and I guess I just wanted to feel like I was loved again, and felt trapped in my then current situation. And I have never been much of a liar except for that period of time. Well we made up at first but things have been rocky ever since. And only seem to get worse. She of course doesn’t trust me at all and so now she spies on everything I do online or any calls or texts I send, and she will call me at random times to try to catch me . And she becomes more and more suspicious as time goes on. I guess it is from all the other relationships where similar things have happened. I’m NOT doing anything bad anymore, but in addition to making me feel even more distant, she is even more controlling so I get even less freedom.

She has decided that she can’t be with me anymore and is certain she wants to move back home. I really want to be with my son, but I know that we are two very different people. I am rather passive, she is aggressive. I believe in forgiveness and non violence, she holds grudges for a very long time and feels that violence should be used against those that wrong her. I don’t care what other people think, she cares a lot about what others think and is embarrassed by me sometimes. I don’t care about marriage, she cares a great deal about it. I don’t care about the standards society has imposed for life, she wants most of that. My views on relationships are very different from hers. We have little in common as far as interests go either. I am ore about living in the present, and she focuses on the past and the future. And my Buddhist views are completely different from her religious beliefs. There is a lot more so just take my word for it.

I desperately want her to be happy, and to get rid of her depression and learn to love herself. How should I manage this situation so that I can show her compassion but not lead her to stay with me only to continue the same old cycle as before? Am I wrong to want to seek happiness myself, or should I teach myself not to desire anything more than what I have now? I am so confused…

I am sorry that is very long and you probably didn’t need that much detail, but I have a problem with going into too much detail.

Whatever your reply, thank you,
Anonymous


Hi Anonymous,

Ask Auntie Suvanna is a humorous column (or tries to be anyway!), and Auntie thinks your situation sounds rather more serious than what she would usually publish. Perhaps this time Auntie’s advice will be a tad more sober than usual.

Childhood habits of interpreting and responding are deeply ingrained; the deeper and more unconscious they are, the less able we are to see them and work with them. We can’t see how our habits are creating further suffering for ourselves (and usually others). I wonder if loving is what challenges those patterns the most, which is why relationships are often so horribly painful.

Even if you don’t want to be in the relationship anymore, going to counseling might facilitate some healing between you, and for each of you individually. It may be hard to get this going, especially since you say you are more passive than she is and she is very resistant. If this isn’t possible, you could get some individual counseling and work on the parts of the dynamic that are coming from you. For example, perhaps thinking of yourself as someone who can save other people, get rid of their depression for them, is something you could look into.

We often think in relationships that the problem is the other person. The way Buddhism sees such things is that the primary cause of any experience is what we have made of our own mind, and that no matter what we consider to be the reason we are responsible for what we do. Which isn’t to say that we should stay in situations that are obviously unhealthy, or espouse a philosophy of ‘everything is my fault.’ I guess it’s something other than, on the one hand, blaming everything on externals (which of course we ourselves chose at one point), or blaming everything on ourselves, saying if we just fix our mind (for example by not wanting anything) everything will be fine. Some different way of looking at what is causing suffering is needed, all the while cultivating kindness toward this difficult situation (life) we find ourselves trying to navigate.

I hope this is helpful at least in some small way.

Lots of love,
Auntie Suvanna

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Auntie Suvanna: Breaking up — the Buddhist way

Break-up posterDear Auntie,

I only recently decided to become a Buddhist, so I’m still trying to work out how best to apply it to some situations in my life. I was especially wondering if there is a good way to break up with someone in a Buddhist manner. I am currently in a relationship that just isn’t working out, but I can’t think of what to say to end it without causing a negative situation. I really don’t want the person to be hurt, or for there to be bad feelings between us. Break ups most often do seem to end that way, but I was hoping that by taking a new approach this time, in keeping with the Buddhist tradition, it could work out better for both of us. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you very much!

Signed,
Concerned Beginner

Dear Concerned Beginner,

Your question is not an easy one. You might as well have asked, What is the best way to separate someone from what they desire?

Traditional Buddhism has had little to say about relationships. Part of the reason is that Buddhist texts were preserved by celibate monks who spent their days memorizing suttas and doing formal practices such as the Recollecting the Loathsomeness of the Body. So you probably wouldn’t want romantic advice from these people (or perhaps Auntie underestimates them?)

At any rate, Buddhist practice generally focuses on the cultivation of impartial love, friendliness and awareness. How can you apply this in your situation? What might it mean to break up with someone “in a Buddhist manner”? Might it mean, for example, leaving in the middle of the night while they’re asleep? That’s what the future Buddha did before his awakening. This really pisses people off. Turns out, this story is apocryphal; the Buddha probably was never even married. Ha Ha!

Considering the celibates and the accounts of the deadbeat Buddha-dad, not to mention the various Buddhist abominations to good taste (at least in titles) such as ‘If the Buddha Dated,’ we don’t have much to go on here. Perhaps Auntie may be excused in turning now to a non-Buddhist source, such as Richard Nixon, for guidance.

Here’s what he said at the White House after he resigned:

Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.

Not that your former girlfriend or boyfriend will necessarily hate you, but they might. And even though you seem pretty mellow at the moment, you could start hating him/her later. (And all this in response to the person we gazed at with doe’s eyes perhaps only days before — tragic!) And even though of course in many ways he was an unethical person, take the good advice from Tricky Dick and try not to get swept away by aversion. Set an intention for yourself to speak in a way that you can be proud of later – or at least in a way you will not regret.

Beyond this it’s hard to make specific suggestions about how to approach this without knowing the particular personalities. [Dear readers, when you ask for Auntie’s advice PLEASE give her more detail!] Moving into the future, examine your mistakes as much as possible and resolve not to repeat them or, at worst, resolve to bring more awareness to them next time around. Try not to base choices in your life on what is essentially a pheromone fog. This will reduce suffering for all.

Love, Auntie Suvanna


Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: On eating vegetarian monkey brains

ChimpDear Auntie,
Can I still consider myself compassionate if I like to eat vegetarian monkey’s brains? A local vegan restaurant serves it, and it is delicious.
Signed, Ethical Eater

Dear Ethical,
It’s clear that when it comes to vegetable-based meat substitutes, emotions run high. Many people, both vegetarians and omnivores, feel that it is completely stupid to eat fake meat. Others say, well if you like the taste of meat, but don’t want to cause harm in that way, why not? The practice can be attacked and defended in various ways. In addition, some meat eaters seem to get a bit touchy around vegetarians, as if vegetarianism were invented as a direct attack on their lifestyle, just to make things inconvenient. And then there are the vegangelicals…

Why are we so righteous about food? Why do people care so much about what other people, even complete strangers, eat? Is the biggest issue in your world today whether your vegetarian acquaintance likes Tofurkey sandwiches? And this happening in a country with the most unhealthy people in an industrialized nation. But it just occurred to me that I am supposed to be answering questions, not asking them.

Your vegetarian monkey’s brain is probably made of wheat gluten, also known as seitan, pronounced similar to – but otherwise having nothing in common with – “Satan,” unless Satan is a vegetarian, which seems unlikely. Seitan has been used by northern Asian vegetarian monastics for hundreds of years as a protein-rich alternative to meat. The monk who came up with the famous unanswerable question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” had perhaps eaten a seitan monkey’s brain that day, which would explain a lot.

Overall, I would say that if you currently consider yourself compassionate, and you are, you may continue to do so while chewing wheat gluten, even if said wheat gluten has a remarkably brain-like texture. The only reservation I might have would depend on whether or not the vegans actually screw the head-shaped wheat ball into the table and saw off the top of it. If so, you may have in fact gone over to the dark side, where there is no compassion.


Auntie SuvannaEver despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up.

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: Enlightenment and “The Matrix”

the matrixMy Dear Auntie,

My daughter is seven, and the other night I rented The Matrix and we watched it together. She loved it, and wants to see Matrix Reloaded with me too. So I was wondering: Am I a bad father? The other thing is, I recognize many Buddhist principles, such as the four noble truths, but I don’t want to be a vegetarian, and meditating is no fun. Can I call myself a Buddhist?

Thanks in advance, Conrad

Dear Conrad,

Firstly be warned that your daughter may have a very hard time following the dialogue in The Matrix Reloaded. Not that it matters.

And I’ll let you in on a secret: meditation is great fun! Often we forget to tell people this. To prove it, I will recount an experience I had. Once after many days of meditating in silence, I walked into the bathroom and saw that the wall was covered with ants. (It was hot — spring in the Sierra.) The ants were moving in fascinating patterns. I was riveted — and stood there like a zombie, contemplating various implications, staring at them for a long time. Now doesn’t that sound like fun? Plus, it was free.

But let me venture a guess here a minute: instead of the above-documented fun of sitting for hours and hours and hours in silence, you prefer to spend those hours with your daughter watching violent special effects, right? Tell me Conrad, how long do you think it’ll take you to get enlightened that way? On the other hand if you stick to The Matrix (original) you can still be a Buddhist — just focus your attention on what Morpheus says and watch your breath.

Love, Auntie Suvanna

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: Connection before correction

Freaks movie posterDear Auntie,

I am a Buddhist working in rehab, which is a very Christian environment, so I was happy to discover a co-worker sporting Buddhist memorabilia at her work site. I wanted to have a friendship with this woman because I believed we might have a lot in common, at least spiritually. However, all my attempts to get to know more about her have been thwarted.

When I ask her about herself she changes the subject or says let’s talk about that sometime… then we never do. She never reveals anything. Most of my co-workers don’t like her and the patients complain about her. They say she doesn’t listen and is not empathetic. One day she misinterpreted an innocent comment I made about her being new and inexperienced. She mentioned it to a coworker, completely distorting what I said. When I confronted her she wouldn’t answer me and just stopped talking. I’m starting to think she’s a bit of a freak and I don’t know if I should pursue this. Have any ideas?

Desperately Seeking Sanity

Dear Desperately,

  …rather than being concerned with being right (or with showing how wrong the other person is) we shift the priority to finding a deeper understanding of the situation   

In order firstly to determine whether or not this woman is a freak, I watched the definitive 1932 film “Freaks,” in which a gorgeous trapeze artist called Cleopatra becomes the lover of the strongman Hercules, but pretends to love the rich German midget Hans, who is in love with her. When The Living Torso, The Pinhead, and another German midget ask Cleopatra to spare Hans from the deception, the fact that Hans is an heir of a great fortune is leaked… But I won’t reveal any more. Apparently the bearded lady hated the film and ended up regretting her participation. I regret that the lady lived long before the appearance of my column on body hair. At any rate it’s clear at this point that your ersatz Buddhist friend at work is not a freak.

Still, you could rethink your approach. Consider the fact that almost all of us want to be seen as competent and can find it painful when we feel we are not. Many people will react badly to being referred to as new and inexperienced even if — perhaps especially if — they are. One of the slogans I like from Nonviolent Communication is “Connection before Correction.” This means that rather than being concerned with being right (or with showing how wrong the other person is) we shift the priority to finding a deeper understanding of the situation. Specifically, trying to see what is behind the words. Certainly she was upset by your comment. So rather than confronting her, you could see that she was upset and respond to that, or just tell her what you meant.

But that particular situation has already passed. At the end of the day she may not want to be your friend; you may not want her as a friend. But you can try being kind and see what happens.

Love, Auntie Suvanna

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: the Buddhist approach to excess body hair

Auntie SuvannaEver despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up. Why not write to her and tell her your troubles?

Dear Auntie,
I can’t stand my boyfriend’s ear hair anymore. He has little pointy gray hairs growing out of the tops of his ears. He isn’t concerned about it, he says he’s had it since he was in his 20’s. I wonder if one day he will look like a werewolf. Or maybe one day the hair will cover not only the top of his ears but the back and bottom as well and they will grow into convenient but gross natural ear muffs. Should I try to get used to the pointy hairs? Should I make him trim it? Should I seek a bald-eared partner? He doesn’t even know it bothers me. Am I petty? This is serious.
Sincerely Grossed Out

Dear Grossed Out,

  American culture is engaged in an ongoing skirmish with body hair.   

Dictionary.com defines petty as “of little or no importance or consequence.” In spite of her good manners, Auntie has to say she is finding it hard to envisage ear hair as important and consequential. On the other hand, irritation is at least consequential, so let’s see if we can tackle that. Otherwise you might get more and more pent up, until one day you will blow like Krakatoa, spewing burning rubble all over your boyfriend’s unsuspecting and relatively innocent hairy ears.

American culture is engaged in an ongoing skirmish with body hair. Women, especially, shave, wax, pluck, trim, or laser almost every patch of visible hair on the body. Perhaps deep down we are all Creationists worried about looking like apes… At any rate for overcoming this collective aversion, Auntie suggests doing various kinds of research. Get your facts! I know you would prefer to forget all about ear hair, but you can’t. It’s part of life. It’s part of your life. It arose in dependence on conditions, the conditions of the human form. Fact is, as men age, their hair seems to move more and more from their head to their ears and nose. That’s just the way it is. As the great Buddhist sage Shantideva said, it’s like getting angry at the sky because there is a cloud in it.

  You must face — we all must face — right now, the inescapable truth of ear hair.   

Though your boyfriend’s visible ear hair is dead, like all hair it is still very much a part of his body. Made up of long chains of amino acids (proteins), it (or at least the root) contains all his genetic information. His ethnic origin, what he has smoked, and what he has eaten – all this information resides in just one shaft of his ear hair. It is but one ground force unit within the battalion of hair that covers his entire body, with the exception of soles of his feet, the palms of his hands, and his lips. It grows at the same rate as other hair, about 1 cm per month, and lasts at least three years. You must face — we all must face — right now, the inescapable truth of ear hair. And as always, however things are, they can always be worse.

Another more drastic and probably more effective type of research would be to spend a great deal of time contemplating in detail the nature of your own body, part by part. Investigate it. See what’s what. Divide it into categories such as solid and liquid, and reflect on each component. In addition to ubiquitous hair you will discover nails, skin, flesh, teeth, veins, nerves, tendons, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, lungs, stomach, intestines, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, saliva, mucus, and urine. You will find what everyone’s body is composed of, and you will deeply understand ear hair. (Warning: This contemplation may cause nausea, loss of libido, and understated fashions such as coveralls.)

Finally, on a practical note, if it still bugs, kindly ask your boyfriend if he would allow you to trim it. If he agrees, invest in some clippers and have at it. Using scissors around ears is more dangerous than werewolves!

Love, Auntie Suvanna

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna: On loving Dick Cheney

Auntie SuvannaEver despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up. Why not write to her and tell her your troubles? They don’t have to be Buddhist troubles – any kind will do!

Dear Auntie,

Although I don’t (or haven’t yet), a number of people who know I am working on cultivating lovingkindness ask me how to do so for Dick Cheney and his ilk. Actually, their question is more like “How can you? He’s so evil.” I would sure love to hear your response!
Signed, A Canadian Trying to Love a Bad American

Dear Canadian,

I have noticed that it is sometimes easier for Canadians, such as Jim Carrey and Nelly Furtado, to cultivate lovingkindness. However even for them, some Americans can be challenging, eh? In general, my readers are a kind and noble people who have struggled throughout history to cultivate lovingkindness for the likes of John Ashcroft, Genghis Kahn, Paris Hilton, and finally, Vice President “Shoot First and Ask Questions Later” Cheney.

 The Buddha’s position was clear: He encouraged us to cultivate love for all beings as if each were our only child.   

Before we delve into the question of loving Mr. Cheney, let us explore the alternative, which is, of course, to hate him. Suppose we wish for him, say, four heart attacks, and several painful operations including a coronary artery bypass, stenting, and balloon angioplasty. We could also wish that his popularity would plummet, that he would get drunk and accidentally shoot a friend, and that his daughter would not only come out as a lesbian but decide to write a memoir. Of course, all these things have already come to pass. His suffering may have greatly benefitted various late-night talk show hosts in terms of providing material, but has it done the rest of us any good?

If not, perhaps it is because the ills we wished upon him were too minor. Even a peace-loving Canadian might argue that what would really help us is for Mr. Cheney to…die. We will find out no doubt in the not too distant future. But what to do in the meantime?

The Buddha’s position was clear: He encouraged us to cultivate love for all beings as if each were our only child. My advice to you then, is this: Firstly, firmly establish in your mind the image of Richard sound asleep in giraffe pajamas. Richard is the name you gave him. You also gave him the pajamas. Notice the device inside his chest, poised to deliver a shock to restore the beat of his worn out, sad and violent heart.

Tell your friends that even though he has made many terrible mistakes, you can’t help but love him. Tell them you are always honest with him and encouraging him to do the right thing. Perhaps in the future they will think twice before they speak, knowing they are talking about your beloved son.

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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Ask Auntie Suvanna

Auntie SuvannaEver despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up. Why not write to her and tell her your troubles?

Dear Auntie,
I’m concerned that all the images I’ve seen of female Bodhisattvas are well endowed with decidedly non-sagging, bodacious breasts. I realize these are images of “ideal” women who are only 16 (so the sagging hasn’t set in yet). But, as a less well-endowed woman, I’m wondering if there is any kind of breast-size requirement to become a Bodhisattva. Seems like it.
Sincerely, Breast Envy

Kuan Yin, B-cup BodhisattvaDear Breast,
Come, Breast, hold my hand, fly with me over North America and Europe. Now we are over the Indian subcontinent … heading north and up, up and up, getting a little chilly, crossing a huge mountain range, over Tibet, just a little further… and now… who’s that down there? It is a kind-looking woman holding a vase. Oops, she seems to be spilling something … do you see her? She is being worshiped by a billion people. This is Kwan-Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion. I don’t think she could be anything larger than a B-cup. She seems a bit older, too. So you see, she has done just fine.

Until one has become a Bodhisattva, it’s probably better not to extrapolate too much about the breasts and other anatomical wonders in Tibetan and Indian Buddhist iconography, not to mention Victoria’s Secret catalogs. But, you may ask, what if I get Enlightened on the way to the plastic surgeon? There is always the possibility, however small … just remember that you can be a Bodhisattva: all you need is the avid wish, and a human body of any shape.

Dear Auntie,
Is it possible to become Enlightened while taking anti-depressants, or does it just feel more possible?
Yours, Ms Informed

Dear Ms,
Perhaps you are referring to what has been called “psychopharmacological nirvana,” an effect that can be produced by some anti-depressant cocktails. Here we find yet another case of the august Sanskrit word “nirvana” being reduced by common usage to meaning nothing more than “lots o’ fun.” You perhaps know that Enlightenment is the English word for nirvana, meaning not what Jean-Jacques Rousseau achieved in 1752, but what Siddhartha Gautama achieved even longer ago — that is, the perfection of Compassion and Wisdom, which at least suggests knowledge of the benefit of Selective Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitors.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can turn to some of the questions asked – usually silently or using bells – within the Rinzai Zen community. Does a person with deficient serotonin have Buddha Nature? Does a person who addresses this lack by virtue of anti-depressant drugs have Buddha Nature? Are anti-depressants intoxicating? Is karma pharmaceutical? Could a pig ever fly?

So let’s see. What was your question again? Oh yes, it’s hard to say exactly what makes E. more possible, Ms, or seem more possible, but Auntie Suvanna thinks you’re highly likely to be on the right track.

Dear Auntie,
If your ex-partner phones you to say that the cat you’d jointly adopted is ill and could you put her (the cat, that is) in your “prayers and meditation”; and if I asked if I could also put her (the ex) in my meditation and she says “yes, if you want,” do you think that means there’s a chance of some, er, healing? Or is it just another way to humiliate me and I should simply concentrate on the cat?
Signed, A Confused Male Buddhist

Dear Confused,
You probably realize that “concentrating on the cat” is an ancient practice wherein monks who are distracted by thoughts of romance imagine themselves being torn limb from limb by either a tiger or an aggressive salesperson. However, I cannot in good faith recommend this practice to you, as it seems that said partner has already exhausted quite a few ways of tearing you up and, as you suggest, may be looking for more. Concentrate on healing yourself, Confused — your letter made Auntie Suvanna sad. Dunk that torch you’re carrying in the sweet waters of loving-kindness. Only after a year of this should you then begin to focus on the cat.

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I’ve Got Cancer.

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