Rev. Sarika Dharma
week somebody asked, "What do Buddhists do on Christmas?"
This is it. We meditate. Some of us are doing an all-day
meditation retreat. It's nice and quiet and peaceful here
today, unlike some of the Christmas days in my life.
about giving a talk on Christmas day brought up a lot of
memories of Christmas as a child, and all the expectations
that went along with it. This day is perhaps the biggest
day for expectations in the year.
born into a Jewish family. My parents were of the generation
that came of age during the depression, and they wanted
their children to have a different experience, to make sure
we weren't deprived of anything they could give us. So we
celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas both.
of course, was the most exciting because you went to sleep
at night and then things appeared. If you're little and
stay asleep, then you don't know where these things come
from. But from very early on, you know that they're going
to appear, and some of them will be for you. So morning
comes and you wake up and go out into the front room and
there're all these packages wrapped up in colorful paper
with fancy bows. At least that's how it was in my house.
real excited. Parents to see the surprise and pleasure on
their children's faces and children to tear apart the packages
and others to join in the fun. We all plan for a wonderful
day. But maybe it's not so wonderful in reality. The family
all gets together, maybe lots of people in and out of the
house. And maybe Uncle Joe drinks a bit too much and has
to throw up in the back yard. And Aunt Fanny makes a pass
at her sister's husband, and the sister gets mad at both
of them and pouts all day. The teenagers may be smoking
dope where they think nobody can see them and acting accordingly.
And the little kids are fighting over whose toy is whose.
all sorts of expectations. But expectations can lead to
disappointments. Next week, we'll expect that things will
change because we are beginning a new year. On our birthdays,
we expect that being one year older will change us, we'll
automatically be more mature, we'll finally get our lives
together. But all of that is just notions in our heads.
It has very little to do with our true understanding that
comes from our bellies.
more example. My mom, who was a real sweetheart, also had
some funny ideas, not her ideas alone, but those of her
generation and the culture in which she grew up. I remember
one time--spring vacation was coming up and I was teaching
school so would have a week off--I asked her to come with
me and the kids and we'd go some place different for the
got excited as we planned to go to Northern California to
visit friends. But when we called them to confirm, it turned
out that they had a houseful of guests and had no room for
us. So I suggested we go camping instead; I did that with
the kids a couple of times a year anyhow.
this was not a very realistic expectation for me to have
of my mom. She was a city girl who grew up in Chicago, and
even though we now lived in the suburbs of Southern California,
she rarely went out in the backyard, much less to uncivilized
places with outhouses and bugs and animals. But I had the
strange idea that she might enjoy this experience.
was very disappointed about not going where we had planned
originally. But she kept her teeth clenched and pretended
she was happy anyhow. We went out to the desert, to Joshua
Tree, and put up our tent. The wind was blowing constantly,
and it was chilly. Every morning, she woke up, put on her
deodorant and make-up and swept in front of the tent. After
a couple of days, I could no longer stand to watch her suffer
and drove her home.
problem with Mom wasn't that she couldn't enjoy different
things, nor even that she couldn't deal with disappointment.
It was that she couldn't let go of her expectations. She
wanted things to be the way she wanted, but pretty much
didn't expect them to work out anyhow. As I was growing
up, I remember her often saying, "Don't get your hopes up,
or you'll just get disappointed." We can say that, but we
can only avoid disappointment if we let go of our attachments
to our expectations.
fill our minds, and we take them very seriously as though
they are the truth revealed to us by some higher power.
Expectations are just more thoughts--the sensory impressions
of the working of our minds. They don't have much to do
with the real world. They distract us from our precious
moments of here and nowness and get in the way of our seeing
clearly. If we understand this, we have a better chance
of letting go of our thoughts. For that is all we need to
do, see them and let them go, just as we see a butterfly,
appreciate its beauty, and turn our attention to the next
prevent us from seeing ourselves and what exists in our
world with clarity. For example, our relationship, marriage,
partnership may break up. We may say that it was all the
other person's fault because they did this and they did
that and they did a very long list of transgressions that
don't fit into our expectations. We may not understand that
relationships are interactions and depend on both parties'
efforts in order to be tenable. If it's somebody else's
fault all the time, we don't have to take the "blame," but
we also don't get any credit. It's up to us to do the best
we can in order to be happy.
we allow ourselves to open up enough to see what went wrong,
we may have better luck with our next relationship. Otherwise,
we may push other people away out of fear of failure or
continue to have relationships that never quite work out.
our expectations become self-fulfilling prophesies. We expect
something of the world or of ourselves or of another person.
Because we have those expectations, we behave as though
they are reality. If someone announced that there was going
to be a riot at Hollywood and Vine tomorrow night, a lot
of people would go there to see it. And if there wasn't
a riot, they might create one to satisfy their expectations.
spoke to a friend of mine who lives in Utah. She told me
that people in that state have a big concern about the millennium,
that is, the year 2000, because they believe that the world
will end at that time. If that's true, we only have a few
years left. We can never tell how long we will be alive,
anyhow. But apparently a lot of people are preparing for
this time by buying weapons so they can protect themselves
when this disaster occurs.
understand why one might need a weapon if the entire world
is going to end, but the important point is that they are
building their lives around an idea. There is no way to
know what will happen in the future and no way to know when
and how we will die. A good reason for us to do the best
we can in every moment.
ourselves to be perfect, important, significant, advanced,
and more. When we are not those things, we become judgemental
and disappointed. This happens to a lot of people as they
continue their meditation practice; it can be a sticking
point. Our minds settle, and we see more clearly. We see
who we are and what we do and are not always pleased with
ourselves. We may say to ourselves, "I am no good, I've
failed. I can't do any better than this, and it's not good
enough." So we reject ourselves, have no compassion for
ourselves, because we haven't yet attained the wisdom that
allows us to accept ourselves without passing judgement.
We are human beings, and that includes our imperfections.
we expect to do something in a certain way and then we find
that doesn't work, a conflict is created inside of our minds.
That conflict distracts us from our real work. We need to
become mindful and see this process without expectations.
Changing our habits is very difficult and can't be accomplished
with sheer will power and gritted teeth. Most of us expect
that we should be able to do it, and then we are disappointed
with ourselves. We try all the ways others suggest, and
we feel like failures if we can't do what's expected. Until
we can relax, open up, be clear, we can't do it.
I first met my teacher, he smoked. He preferred a pipe,
but I also saw him smoke cigarettes. After a few years,
he decided to stop. He said, "A lot of my students are giving
up smoking; I should also give up smoking." We didn't even
realize how unhealthy a habit it was back then. But he decided,
and he stopped. He never went around picking up other's
cigarette packs, or borrowing cigarettes, or even sitting
next to someone while they were smoking so he could inhale
the smoke, although I've certainly seen such behavior in
others who were trying to break the habit. Suto was very
Zen. He didn't think about it; he just did it. Make a decision
and do it. Don't wobble.
have expectations of himself, as far as I could tell. He
just saw that he didn't need to do that anymore, so he stopped
doing it. But he was very advanced in his practice. He was
open and easy and relaxed.
just mention the posture of meditation, because I notice
that some people sit tensely. Posture is very important
in practice. If you have the position and posture down,
it's much easier to reach a state of samadhi. When you sit
tense and tight, you're using a lot of muscle power to hold
yourself up. When you relax and sit as though you are hanging
by a wire from the ceiling to the top of your head, your
body is in line. Then energy flows smoothly through your
chakras. Put your mind in your belly.
would happen to us if we dropped our expectations? Would
we ever achieve anything? Could we ever have an impact on
dropped their expectations, we would all live peacefully.
We would be living in the moment instead of our gray matter.
Saying things based on the reality of here and now rather
than on our intellectualization.
the point of view of anyone who is following a monk's path,
expectations are very important. This way of living is more
intense in terms of practice than we can manage while living
as a householder. Not everyone wants it nor is cut out for
it. One of the hardest parts is that non-monks have expectations
of monks in addition to the expectations we have of ourselves.
People may think that, because someone wears robes, they
have attained enlightenment. Of course, it's not true. But
when they see a monk acting in a way that they consider
"unmonkly" they are disappointed.
also feel this way about their parents when they are children.
We only begin to realize they are simply human beings when
we are adults. Our teachers. Our government officials. All
the people we expect to be beyond human foibles. No one
is. We all have Buddha nature, but we can't all manifest
all the time yet.
to take things lightly. Yes, the world is a serious place,
but maybe not so serious as we take it. We make little things
into big deals because of expectations. We take our interrelationships
more seriously than need be, because we are always projecting
into the future. We say, "Okay, now I've found this person,
and I'm going to be with this person forever." So when you're
with the person, you are being with that idea of forever,
imagining what it will be like. But you're missing out being
with that person now. Because we have expectations about
the relationship, each time the person says something that
might indicate they don't plan to stay with us forever,
we get real nervous. And we miss being together. Being aware.
Being fully in the moment.
morning in the L.A. Times comic section, Calvin and Hobbes
is very incisive. Calvin says, "I'm getting disillusioned
with these New Years. They don't seem very new at all. Each
new year is just like the old year. Here another year has
gone by and everything's still the same. There's still pollution
and war and stupidity and greed. Things haven't changed.
I say what kind of future is this? I thought things were
supposed to improve. I thought the future was supposed to
replies, "The problem with the future is that it keeps turning
into the present."
we talk a lot about this moment. Attain this moment. We
don't need to attain fame and fortune. Fantasies of such
a life are more appealing than the reality from what I can
see. We may think we'd like it, but when we see how it affects
people who do attain such things, we may prefer to keep
our lives simple. Our Buddha nature is clouded over by our
greed and our anger and our ignorance of how the world really
works. But to attain the moment is to have it all. And more
and more. Moment after moment.
are you doing now? Just do that. Just be here and now. Let
your expectations flow through, along with your feeling/thoughts,
dreams, opinions, attachments. Feel them fully. Watch them
clearly. But don't grasp on. You don't need to clutch onto
any one of them; more will come when each one leaves.
into this world empty-handed. We leave this world empty-handed.
If we live empty-handed, we can be in the now and experience
it all fully. Without expectations of ourselves that separate
us from reality. Without expectations of others.
I don't have answers for you. Each one of us must find our
own answers. When I speak on a topic, I share my own explorations
and encourage you to pursue it. Expectations is a good topic
for meditation; take it as a koan. Look at who is doing
the expecting. If no expectations, then what?
moment. Only that.