Monday, October 19, 2009

Fire Puja & The Afflictive Emotions

Yesterday the art gallery monks did a fire puja. A monk from a local temple explained that it was a ceremony to purify our afflictive emotions such as greed, hate and delusion. In the ceremony we burn up these difficult emotions and they are carried away on the smoke. We each got a pinch of barley flour to throw into the air and imagine the release of these troubling emotions.

It was a beautiful warm day with no wind and no rain, amazing in that the previous day saw 50 ish mm of rain fall here. A small fire was built and while the monks chanted, a helper added juniper branches and incense and barley flour to create a thick opaque smoke that wafted politely upward without smothering onlookers.

Our weekend was mostly filled with peaceful, mindful activities with kindred spirits. Qi gong, a potluck with some Buddhist friends where we watched a documentary on Bhutan made by a woman from Quebec. The film was about Bhutan's (GNH) Gross National Happiness Project, a purposeful program where the government takes happiness in to account when making decisions as opposed to using the GNP that fuels the Western world. Inspiring little film about a mostly inspiring little country. And on Sunday we wrapped up the weekend with a little tai chi and the fire puja, washed down with a little latte at the Mocha House and a stroll through the "Dick & Jane" like streets of Fairfield.

Now goodness knows we needed that fire puja because this morning our real estate deal began it's unravelling and the afflictive emotions made a debut appearance. I got to watch a little brush fire of anger explode in the outback, or is that out in the inback? One minute you're walking along in the sunshine, then someone does something that seems "unethical" and you've got your own little fire ceremony going on. And there's nothing purifying about it. It has to do with pushing the boundaries of contracts, wanting more, not being available and twists and turns that make you wonder if the person you're dancing with isn't trying to break your foot.

And there you are left with it sitting in your lap. So where is the Dharma in it all, you ask after you've had a little rant, vented a little spleen. You listen to your own righteous indignation. And if I know anything, I know not to make any decision when I'm mad. So we give it a few hours and cool, to get some perspective, some distance, some sanity from the crazy making. It never ceases to amaze how quickly the story starts to spin, how quick a neutral face can become a demon. And so much mind chatter. But between my partner and I we manage to talk each other off the ledge a few times.

The truth is someone is behaving badly. We could let the contract expire, we could walk away. We have to choose a response. I see the inclination for payback and decide that Payback is not a destination we care to buy a ticket to. But in truth a large seed of doubt has been planted that this person will complete the transaction in good faith. I can ask myself "what do I know for sure?" And it's not that much. Lot's of assumptions, some uncomfortable signs in hindsight and our inclination to accommodate rather than take a hard line.

So we've had an opportunity to watch our afflictive emotions (apparently they were not completely purified at the puja!). We've hung out with doubt; doubt about the deal, about our actions. And I wished I had more equanimity to just ride it through, to shrug and not care. But there it is. Life with all it's warts. It's not a big deal really. No one will die or get injured. And we got to see how easy it is to get all stirred up. We can see where our work is. We can see how difficult it is to not take offense. Can we bear insult (real or imagined) with equanimity? We can see how not being attached to the outcome of things is truly freedom. We get to see as our qi gong teacher points out, that we should sit more each day, that there is always time, no matter how busy you are. I can see how this does build equanimity, how as Pema Chodron puts it, makes you a bigger container.

And we thank the real estate demons for the teaching! with bows to the mls.


  1. Carole,

    I could use a fire puja about now. Your post hits me where it counts, as I sit in a stew of work-related muck right now. Good luck with the real estate deal, whatever decision you end up making.


  2. Ah there is something very comforting about your comment. Just to hear that other Dharma buddies get mired in the muck too, somehow makes a difference. ...That we are all traveling this path together and get hung up in similar spots on the road offers some sense of we're all in the same boat in our human-ness. Maybe that's the problem we're on the road in a boat! Thanks for this, Nathan.

  3. What exquisite timing of this post! Unconsciousness has run amuck in my household at the moment. Drama has come for a visit... It was delightful to read this! Gives me better insight. Thank you.

  4. Ah thank-you, more Sangha sharing of just how difficult it is when these "afflictive emotions" arise, more confirmation of how we really want to work at taming these unruly states that cause us such internal suffering. good practice to us all!