Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Painful Buddhist Lesson Learned! Lost Ring!

Buddhist monks at the Temple at Sarnath, India
  For the past 10 or 15 years I have been attending a weekly Spirit Mind Body Group which meets once a week for meditation and to study spirituality of all persuasions. We take turns reading or presenting something of spiritual interest or leading a discussion in the spiritual field. There is a strong Buddhist bent to this group both because several members are Buddhist and have studied Buddhist philosophy extensively and because we meet at and are often led by the local President of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Milwaukee. I have been keeping a blog of our weekly meetings of Spirit Mind Body Group. Through all of these avenues I have learned a little about Buddhist thought.  Though it is difficult if not impossible to contain Buddhist theory in a nutshell, let me at least try to give you an idea of how a recent occurrence in my life has clarified and strengthened these ideas for me. Then I will tell you about the occurrence and how I have so far survived it.
     The Four Noble Truths as put forth by the Buddha are as follows: 1) Life here on earth involves suffering. There is pain, illness, losses of things and people and finally of our own life. 2) The source of this suffering is due to clinging and attachment to things and ideas that are impermanent and are only in our lives for a short while and do not carry on into future lives. We must not become attached emotionally to impermanence. 3) There is a way to overcome and relieve this suffering. 4) The Eightfold path if practiced and perfected will enable the practitioner to learn the truth of existence and will allow the sufferer to attain nirvana and relief from the karmic cycle of existence and suffering. The Eightfold path includes the practice of wisdom described as Right View and Right Intention. It includes the practice of ethical conduct described in Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Thirdly the path includes direction for mental development in the Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. In our Spirit Mind Body Group we have discussed this attachment to things and ideas as being very hard to let go of. Indeed it is human to have these attachments to things, to our lives, to our homes, to our cars, to our ideas, to our personalities, to our individual selves. These must be let go of to realize the truth of existence and to reach nirvana.

Hit Read on to find out what happened to me.

       Well, here's what happened to me. My husband and I traveled to our son's home last week to babysit our grandchildren while my son and daughter in law took a much needed few days away in New York City. Everything went very well; we had a good but tiring time taking care of the two little grandsons. When we were packing up to come home, I found some of my jewelry in the bedside nightstand drawer in our guest room. I found that my fingers were a little swollen so I decided to not wear my wedding ring and engagement ring, and a necklace and my watch that were lying there. I had a small ziplock plastic bag and I put the jewelry in the bag and I thought I put it in my luggage. I recall holding the bag and thinking: "Where should I put this? Would it be better in my bag, or in my purse?" I thought my bag was a little disorganized for the return home, but I thought that I had zipped the plastic bag into the bag loosely. The bags were just carried downstairs, placed by the back door for an hour and then we carried them to the car and we started home. We only stopped once to have some brunch at a small diner along the way. My purse was never unattended. I do have insulin to take and I did get into my purse to get out my vial of insulin and a syringe as the food came in the restaurant. When I got home I was very tired and took a long nap, and went to bed early that night. The next day I unpacked some of my smaller bags, such as one in which I carry my insulin and a few magazines. I started to unpack my large luggage bag but did not complete that unpacking until yesterday afternoon. NO PLASTIC BAG OF JEWELRY! I have looked everywhere. All the bags, my own bedroom, the bed linens, under the bed, the car insides, the trunk, the garage, the kitchen, my clothes and all my pockets, where I sit in the great room -- you name it anywhere I could think of. I have searched and searched. This morning when I knew my son's family would be up, I called them to see if they had seen it and ask them to look around. So far I have not heard back from them, but I don't think they have found it or they would have called right back. I am so distraught. I have traveled all over the world and never lost anything. Granted I don't take these jewelry on world trips but I certainly thought I could keep track of it between here and Indiana.
     My attachment to this particular jewelry is of course very strong. In 1967 when my husband and I decided we were going to get married, I had to inform this Israeli man that it was customary in the United States to give your intended wife a diamond engagement ring. He didn't think about this custom at the time. But he certainly acted swiftly once he knew that he had better do this. He contacted his father in Israel where at the time (and I think still) there was a large diamond cutting business. Soon a ring came by special delivery with a very nice high clarity diamond in it. We had wedding bands fashioned to match it. The metal  that original ring was made from at one point broke off a piece so I later had this diamond reset with two very nice sapphires that we purchased from an Indian coworker of my husband's who dealt in gemstones. These were the two rings that were in this collection from the bedside table drawer. During a recent trip to India I had purchased a peridot and I had a friend who is a goldsmith fashion a necklace pendant for this stone. That necklace was in the bag. Also my watch and another less meaningful ring. Needless to say the emotional attachment to these items is extreme. Such attachment is human. It is especially womanly. It is exceedingly traumatic.
          Well, I still don't know if we are going to find this bag of jewelry, but I have been trying to think about the whole event. Of course, I realize that this emotional attachment is exactly what Buddhism means in the Second Noble Truth. This ring, not the diamond itself, but the use of it in this ring is a temporary event. It is  an event that is characteristic of this temporal world. Just think of it -- many people are buried with their rings. That is pretty temporal.  Mixed in with these more elegant spiritual thoughts, I am still trying to retrace my actions to try to recall where I could have put that plastic ziplock bag. I envisioned it perhaps falling out of my purse when I reached in to get my insulin in the restaurant -- the only place we stopped on the way home where I got out of the car with my purse. Did someone find it on the floor there? Then I envision that person. Would this bag of value help this person out in a time of need? Would their good fortune relieve some suffering on their part that is totally unknown to me? It is somewhat comforting to think that. At any rate, the lesson that attachment to "our things" of which I am particularly guilty, does indeed cause suffering is obvious.  I have been experiencing this suffering all day today. But the way out of this suffering is to remember the impermanence of everything!  We in Western philosophy would say we have to put everything in perspective.  A lost engagement ring is unfortunate but we still have so much else in our lives.
      I finally told my husband what had happened and what I was distraught about. I thought he would be angry at me and that he would blame me and be very critical. I couldn't face his anger on top of my own emotions. But sometimes this husband of 44 years surprises. He first did the practical thing -- where were you in the house after you came home?  Let's check the bags again.? Let's rewalk your steps. You know -- Men are from Mars -- the practical Mr. Fix It who tries valiantly to remedy the negative situation.  Then he actually expressed some sympathy. Later, he saw me brooding and he said, "Come on! There is nothing you can do about it! It is a thing, only a thing!" I had no idea that this Israeli Jew is actually a little Buddhist.
      I have actually been comforted by the knowledge that what is important is what is occurring in the present. This ring was a temporary thing from the past. While visiting my son's family with mindfulness, I encountered more momentary diamonds from those two grandsons than I could ever have achieved in the  form of a stone of hard pressed carbon.

     For those who wish to delve into Buddhist thought a little further, the following are some other principles touted to be primary in Buddhist thought. In the above situation, I can also take comfort from Anicca, from Dukkha, and from Anatta (as described below).

      -- Dependent origination: the mind creates suffering as a natural product of a complex process.
      -- Rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture: Teachings should not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and are praised by the wise.
      -- Anicca:  That all things that come to be have an end.
      -- Dukkha:  That nothing which comes to be is ultimately satisfying.
      -- Anatta:  That nothing in the realm of experience can really be said to be "I" or "mine".
      -- Nabbana: It is possible for sentient beings to realize a dimension of awareness which is totally unconstructed and peaceful, and end all suffering due to the mind's interaction with the conditioned world.

     Indeed, that ring that was in my possession for a time has as far as I am concerned come to an end. And I will feel better if I can feel that it really was only on loan to me. It was not really "mine."

     To accent my simple attempt at a lesson in Buddhism, I have posted some photos from Sarnath, which is the deer park at Isipatana, a short distance from Veranasi,(Benares) India.  About 5 weeks after the 36 year old Siddhartha Gautama became the enlightened Buddha in about 527 BC sitting under a holy Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, he traveled across the Ganges River (reportedly through the air because he did not have money for the ferryman) to Isipatana where he had left his small group of monk followers. He stayed here at this small monastery for the next rainy season and preached his first Dharma lesson to his small group of friends, where he explained what he had learned about the meaning of existence. He decided to teach here first because he felt that his followers would be able to understand his teachings the best. In addition to the Four Noble Truths, there were several other basic teachings (sutras) that were first preached here. Later a larger monastery was built here, and stupas were built at the site of this first preaching of the Dharma, and at other important sites commemorating the Buddha's activities here. Also there is a Jain temple here celebrating the life of one of their holy men. Many of the structures were destroyed by the Islamic rulers and as recently as the 1800s some sites were ransacked for building materials. Some relics were found here and were reportedly cast into the Ganges. This site is one of the 4 holiest sites for worldwide Buddhists to attend.

Ruins of the ancient Monastery at Sarnath - above and below.

Dhamek Stupa marking the "seat of the Holy  Buddha" as he preached his first Dharma lesson. It was built by the great Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC). People circumambulate  this stupa while meditating. To the right is a Jain temple that celebrates the life of one of that religion's holy men.
Inside the Mulagandhakuti Vihara,, a Sri Lankan monastery built at Sarnath in the 1930s.
Close up of the Buddha at Mulagandhakuti Vihara

Mural of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama painted on a wall at Mulagandhakuti Vihara

Buddha's death in a mural at Mulagandhakuti Vihara at Sarnath, India. It is said that Buddha may have died of food poisoning because he ate a meal of pork and soon lay down and died. Others say he was already a vegetarian and ate mushrooms that might have poisoned him. 

A representation of the Buddha's first teaching under a Bodhi tree that grew from a cutting taken from the tree at Bodh Gaya where the Buddha received his Enlightenment.

Close up of the printed first lesson. To the right is the English which enumerates and explains the Four Noble Truths.
The Ashoka Pillar. The Emperor Ashok (3rd century BD) built this pillar and many others throughout his kingdom in the 3rd century BC. This fragment base still stands where it was originally at Sarnath. The capitol however was knocked off and the pillar broken by some of the Islamic invasions. The 4 lion capitol rests in the Sarnath Museum and its image has been adopted as the National Symbol of India. 

Originally Isipatana was a deer park maintained to provide hunting opportunities for  the royalty of the time. There are still deer maintained here to symbolically keep the name Isipatana Deer Park.


  1. Hi,

    Nice to see you at the party last night! We are all guilty of being too attached to our material goods. I find that taking a trip to the mountains each year helps me realize that survival requires very little. In fact, I only need about 40 pounds on my back for a week in the wilderness. A tent, clothing and food, that's it. Life doesn't weigh much.
    Non-attachment does have its benefits.


  2. Thank you Steve, for the support. I will get over this loss. And maybe I can use it to learn: 1) to take better care of my things with less neglect and 2)to be less attached to "things". I also did so enjoy last night's get together.