Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Everything is dharma: Irish edition

Once Buddhist philosophy starts to get under your skin, everything becomes dharma -- books, movies, plays, news. I saw Chris Rock in "The Motherfucker with the Hat" on the Saturday night of an urban weekend retreat, and all I could think was, boy, these people are suffering; if only they meditated, there'd be a lot less drama.

That's not bad, necessarily. Open hearts are more easily touched.

I bring this up because today is St. Patrick's Day(Lá Fhéile Pádraig), a day of debauchery in the U.S., descended from a solemn religious holiday on the old sod.

While the Irish, with their strong religious heritage, aren't the most likely candidates to be explicitly Buddhist, they are so very good at being human.

In Buddhism, we practice sitting with our emotions, staying with painful feelings, and being present with whatever comes up. Well, who does that better than the Irish? They sit -- through books, memoirs, poetry, and song -- with intense emotions (even if they're sitting in a pub with a pint in front of them, to throw in a potentially offensive but not groundless stereotype). And they share. And they offer support. And do it in powerful, poetic language.

So today I bring you two bodhisattavas, courtesy of Sebastian Barry:

In "The Pride of Parnell Street," a play, Janet is describing the aftermath of a bombing on a Dublin street:

And Patty Duffy, the greatest woman that ever kept a shop, I tell you, the pride a' Parnell Street herself, a lovely big comfortable round woman, kneeling beside this poor man, like a fella in a war film, his legs blown completely off oh yeh he was, and Patty kneeling beside him, and whispering, yeh, yeh, and stroking his hand, like a mother. Oh Patty Duffy, you were a saint that day ...

I call Patty Duffy the pride of Parnell Street because it was people like her put the pride back into the place after the desolation. In the months after, people could look back and remember how all the human feeling rose up in Patty and in themselves, and that they looked after the wounded and the dying and the dead, and cried for them and stroked their suffering hands.

In "On Canaan's Side," Lily Bere, the daughter of a Dublin police officer after the first World War, moves to the United States because Republican politics create problems for her. She gets a job in the house of a wealthy Irish-American woman:

How I feared when I first worked for Mrs. Wolohan's mother that she would cast me out if she discovered who I came from. Of course like her daughter she was an Irish-American, who loved Ireland, and the idea of Irish freedom, which for her was heroic and inspiring. As it was indeed, I am sure, unless you are on the wrong side of it. And I did feel obliged to touch on that a little, because I did not want her to think me something other than I was. ...

But she showed no great surprise, no disapproval. She was
interested in it. ... Her whole being lit up with interest, the hallmark of her personality. This is a person truly democratic in her thoughts. That is a merciful person. Because she knew who I was, I gradually came to see myself better. When a criminal gets out of prison, he looks for work, but must be upfront about his prison term. Whoever takes that man knows all about him, and if he is lucky enough to find such a person, he might well find a strange and unexpected happiness working for them. ... Not so much on probation as given a new lease, a new term among the living and the just. And she did that it seemed to me with her whole heart.

May all beings be happy
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be safe
May all beings know peace

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