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carlton m davis

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Bathed in Ginger Ale, I Danced in Sticky Lotus Feet
By carlton m davis
Last edited: Saturday, April 04, 2009
Posted: Saturday, April 04, 2009

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• The Barnes Foundation - The Art
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Essay about attending a buddhist healing ceremony


           Dancer of innate compassion within the spacious expanse of nature
            You manifest as one who holds awareness of profound meanings
            Endowed with a vast range of flawless and holy qualities
            Glorious lama may your lotus feet stand firmly.
                                                Longevity Prayer – Namkha Drimed Rinpoche
I attended a purification and healing ceremony conducted by the Tibetan Buddhist healer, Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. One hundred twenty or so people attended, and many were mentioned who had severe illnesses from terminal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Hodgkin’s Disease, depression, mental illness, and other infirmities. Several people mentioned were deceased. How they could be healed I do not know. All who attended, including me, were purified. If I was purified of past Karma or present day poisons, I don’t know.
The Rinpoche, a skin-headed brown man wrapped in brilliant yellow and deep red robes with a wide gentle smile and gapped front teeth, did not speak long. His mumbles, which resonated for me like the sounds I remember of Native American chanting, were translated into short descriptions by a long haired American seated below the Rinpoche’s raised dais. I did not understand all of what was translated, but the fundamental drift seems consistent with what little I know of the tenets of Buddhism. Our flaws cause our infirmities.
The three great poisons of life - ignorance, aversion, and attachment - manifest themselves as physical imbalances in our bodies through three metaphorical substances: air, phlegm, and bile. I am not sure how this works. These metaphorical imbalances, which are a combination of the three poisons, can be carried over from past lives into our present life. Thus if I were a murderer in a past life, I might be paying for it today in the misery of my present suffering. I have Bipolar Disorder. I imagined this as payback for my past sexual indiscretions as a 16th Century Courtesan in the French King’s Court. This I believe is what the Tibetans call Karma. I am not sure I believe in this concept, but I had fun with my moment of fantasy.  However what we do in this our present life influences our imbalances and thus our physical well being. I have accumulated plenty of life’s poisons through stupidity, avoidance, and desire. My Bipolar Disorder has been aggravated because of it.  
Living correctly in the here and now according to Buddhist precepts improves our health. Being without avarice, without avoidance of problems and without ignorance of our effect in the world is a healthy way to live. I believe the way to look at this is-- what is the way to reduce our stress? For desire (attachment), flight (aversion), and fear (ignorance) increase our stress. Thus the goal is to let go of these three poisons, and when we do our health improves. I did not hear the Rinpoche say this exactly because his speech was short, wrapped in the flowery language and images of an alien culture, and 120-plus people were there to be purified. The crowd was gathered to partake in the symbolism of possibility.
We all lined up and passed before the Rinpoche, where he poured some yellowish liquid into our hands. I thought it looked like ginger ale. We put the liquid from our hands into our mouths, swished it around, and spit it out into a big aluminum bowl. Was this purification of the phlegm? While we bent over to spit, the Rinpoche poured more of the liquid over our heads from a small jug that had a trapezoidal plume of peacock feathers on top.  Was this purification of the air?  We rubbed the liquid into our hair, looked up, and the smiling Rinpoche poured more liquid into our hands to drink. Was the purification of the bile? The Rinpoche nodded, and we moved away to an assistant with a towel, with which we could rub our heads dry. I was reminded of the Christian baptism. We were anointed to follow in the way of the Buddha.
Did I feel purified? I felt sticky.  I do know that the ceremony reminded me that when I followed the path of Buddhism rigorously some ten years ago, my own mental illness went into remission. I was a serious meditator. I sat an hour or more every day. I attended weekend retreats and several yearly retreats of a week or more. The method of meditation I followed was called Vipassana, which roots out the three poisons of avarice, aversion, and ignorance through a technique of body scanning. The effect on me was great. I was even warned that this method of meditation, which passes awareness down through the body in a slow steady sweep is dangerous to people with mental problems. I did it anyway.
My body would shake and vibrate in gross reaction to the technique in the first hours or minutes of meditation. As time passed the vibration would diminish to a fine oscillation, and energy would flow easily through my body. Blockages to the flow of energy would be broken up and fade away when I would concentrate my awareness on the points where I found these impediments. Often the points of impediment were points of pain. Sitting with my awareness on a location of pain in the body could be excruciating. Sometimes the pain was so bad; I would have to stop the meditation. Sometimes after I concentrated on the pain, it would begin to move and I could push this pain through my body and out through a limb or the head. Sometimes the blockage, which could also be an area where I had no sense of sensation, would just disappear. When the state where awareness (or psychic energy you could call it), flowed easily through out the body, I could sit for hours without distress. In this state I would feel a certain sense of purity, as if internally cleansed. In a way I think this is true because everyday life is different, clearer and more in focus, after going through this ceremony of doing nothing and yet achieving everything.
In the years that I followed this path, I was not perfect, but I did give up drugs. I was generally without the cycles of extreme high and low,  that afflict us who have Bipolar Disorder. I had a few manic attacks, but they were fewer and less severe than before and as I look back far less severe than what followed after. You may well ask, “What happened?” Like so many others who believe they are cured I forget in the rush of life what helped them. I became busy with a career and a new marriage and gradually fell away from the path that had led me to a partial healing. Stress grew, and I finally buckled. I regressed into drugs and all sorts of manic behavior. I now know I was not fully cured, nor will I ever be. Maybe I was a maniac in a past life, and I am paying for it now.
Now I am a medicated man, and I am better. I am fairly normal, except I still have a strong predilection for those strange Eastern rites where lamas wave peacock feather wands over big aluminum bowls of spittle mumbling Tibetan prayers. The wind of the wand blows away the poisons of life. I like the imagery.  I tell myself each day I shall return to my meditation, but I haven’t consistently done so yet. Thus I like feeling that I could be purified after baptism in ginger ale, and I could be energized to sit again daily. Something good always happens to me when I follow this Buddhist path. Something good happened to me after I left the purification ceremony. I felt supremely happy. I danced my way to my automobile and wasn’t troubled at all when I stepped in a big wad of bubble gum.



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