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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 21 |winter 2006 we trust, we are more likely to be in good hands when things break down. Those holding the “higher ground” can be a ref- uge and remind us of who we really are. Perhaps with an immense depth in the practice, it is possible to experience life from a deeper place, even if the brain breaks down before death. Nisargadatta Maharaj, a great Hindu teacher who lived in India, implied that he observed himself becoming senile and was not at all both- ered by it because he knew so clearly that he was neither his body nor his mind. ZenKei Blanche harTman: I don’t know of any explicit teaching on practicing with dementia, except perhaps this mention from Judith Lief in her book Making Friends with Death: I remember hearing the renowned Tibetan teacher His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche talk about getting older. He was in his late seventies at the time. He said that as you get older, you go to extremes, and fundamentally you have only two choices: extremely vast mind or extremely petty mind. There is less and less room in the middle, so you have to make a choice; you can only go one way or the other. Khyentse Rinpoche’s own choice was clear: he con- tinuously radiated that vastness of mind. I am grateful that I have not yet per- sonally had the experience of dementia, except for occasional short-term memory lapses (I am currently eighty). However, my uncertainty about the very question you have asked is an inspiration for me to practice diligently – now, while I can. I have had occasion to observe some practitioners who are practicing with dementia. One is a student who prac- ticed quite sincerely with me in the past but whom I had not seen for a while. She told me that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wished to work with me while she could. I suggested that we study precepts together and sew a rakusu (a small dharma robe worn by lay practitioners who have taken refuge and received the sixteen bodhisattva precepts in the Soto Zen tradition) in preparation for jukai (a ceremony for receiving pre- cepts). Her sister has very kindly brought her to the center to study and sew with me regularly. What I am noticing is that her sincere intention is clear in the midst of her confusion with details, and her disposition brims with gratitude and sweetness.