Sunday, July 5, 2009

On Dalai Grandmothers

Last night I had a good long sleep, with many dreams, and today I find myself questioning my purpose here. Not why blog at all? but What does it mean to call yourself The Dalai Grandma? Or, what is this blog about?

It vastly amused me that my daughter made up this name for me, and I chose it for the blog on impulse one evening. But beyond the humor of it, I wonder what it means. I am chronically uncomfortable with the fact that it implies some special knowledge, some Buddhist attainment. Me, a role model?

There are many men who are lamas, meaning Teachers, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and a few women these days, but no sect headed by a highest and most precious Grandmother. No religious sect that values most highly home and home-making, the ongoing tender love for children and grandchildren, the care of the sick and dying - women's work, the ordinary feminine. In our own rapacious masculine culture all the old are undervalued, old women more so, because women are valued for their apparent sexual desirability. All this deserves many more words, and they have been written. I have no idea how to change this value system. Maybe I'm a little unusual in being chronically aware of it.

Dalai Lama means, in Tibetan, "ocean teacher," meaning one whose spiritual understanding is limitless and deep. What would Dalai Grandma mean? A grandmother is not usually seen as a teacher, but as one who loves, values, and accepts. We think of laps, aprons, homemade cookies, smiles. I've read that most "successful" members of minority groups (including women) were strongly supported by a grandmother who believed in them.

There is the phrase that appears in the Zen tradition, and perhaps elsewhere, "Grandmother's heart." This seems to me to sum up what a grandmother ideally has to offer: an oceanic heart, an encompassing love. Many women can tell you how we felt awakened by the birth of a grandchild. Even writing that sentence, I feel that altogether new Love stirring in me. And from the moment I knew my daughter was pregnant, I also loved babies and children in a new way. Wherever I was I related instantly to babies, and to women with children. I felt connection to the great web of life down through time.

From a religious standpoint I guess we should aspire to open our hearts to everyone in that way, but that does sound abstract to me. What I do see in my own life is the need, the desire to have an open, nurturing heart here, for those around me - not just my daughter and grandson and son-in-law, not just Tom's parents, but my neighbors and friends. I see that my practice has come to include thinking of the people in my life and asking, What does she need right now? or, What could I do to ease this person a bit?

There is a masculine way that is intellectual, demanding, oriented toward building towers and, unfortunately, flying planes into them. It has given us what comfort and safety we have in civilization. But a feminine way is badly needed, a way of love and respect for all others, and for the life of this planet. This way is exemplified for us in Mother Teresa, who said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

And for me, it is exemplified by the Jesus I was introduced to as a child, with his flowing brown hair, tenderly holding a lamb in his arms. Something a grandmother would do.

1 comment:

  1. I've been pondering similar things lately that came up when I first read this poem by Stephen Levine. I've been reading it in my yoga classes and it always makes my eyes tear up...every time. I'll blog on it myself but I wanted to share the poem with you.

    Mother-of-us-all prays to free us
    from our image of perfection
    to which so much suffering clings.

    When in the shadowy mind
    we imagine ourselves imperfectly,
    praying to be freed from gravity
    by enlightenment, she refines our prayers.

    Putting her arms around us
    she bids us rest our head on her shoulder
    whispering, Don’t you know
    with all your fear and anger
    all you are fit for is love.