Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Losing Buddha, finding true Buddha
For the second time ever, today we welcome a guest blogger, Ji Hyang Padma.
When I met her, she was Ji Hyang Sunim, a monastic in the Kwan Um School of Zen. She was my boss when I worked at Cambridge Zen Center as Director (she was the Abbot) in 2000 and 2001. We practiced together as dharma siblings there and, later, when we both ended up in California. When she formally left the monastic order, she maintained a similar commitment to formal practice, a demanding schedule, and she did not even change her appearance much: a little more variety in her wardrobe these days, but the hairstyle is the same. And she adopted "Padma" in place of Sunim.
She's got a book out. And she blogs.
One of the subjects that interested us both is interfaith work, and that's her topic today. So I yield the screen to J. Pa! (She will not like that nickname.) I added some hyperlinks to her post, hope you enjoy.
The beginning of my interfaith work: 1993. Working as the office manager of an acupuncture clinic for people with AIDS had intensified my great question.
I had just ordained as a nun in a Zen temple in Korea, and returned to the Boston area, offering pastoral support and meditation classes to AIDS patients through the Boston Living Center. In the course of this work, I met Jeannette Normandin, a Catholic nun who was also working the front lines of the AIDS crisis. She was dividing her time between Boston Living Center and Ruah House, which she’d just founded as a housing option for women with AIDS. With a quick appraisal of that situation, you may have guessed rightly that she was both deeply revered across Boston and courageously risking it all within her community.
She invited me to attend the Boston Clergy and Religious Leaders’ Group, a gathering formed to promote fellowship among downtown congregations. It had originally been an ecumenical Christian group, and was still warming to the presence of people of other faiths. It took me some time to break in, to build connections. People asked me about Swami Prabhupada, the leader of the Hare Krishnas (after all, aren’t all these Eastern religions alike?). They reserved certain social action petitions for those of Judeo-Christian ethics. This ice-breaking period tested my own commitment to the work: like many meditation teachers, I am not extroverted by nature. So, that experience of finding my seat and making connections brought me against the razor's edge of my own practice.
In that same time span, I regularly visited Carlos, an eclectic campy long- time dharma practitioner with AIDS who used art as a way of connecting with Buddha nature. Carlos was ordained in the Jodo Shu Pure Land tradition, but had been a Cambridge Zen Center community member in its early days, and still felt a connection with our sangha. He created large drawings of Amita Buddha, done with incredible precision using magic markers, so that his entire apartment became a Pure Realm. On the door to his apartment he hung a poster of Jean-Claude Van Damme, who served as the temple guardian. All of this served as my perfect teacher, mirroring back the ways in which I had unconsciously equated Zen aesthetic with realization. That taught me something about practice. It wasn’t based upon my aesthetic but upon one pointed try mind—just-do-it— and compassion. Even our ideas of correct practice, the temple Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are gold dust. To quote a great teacher, although gold dust is precious, when it gets in the eyes it hinders the vision.
When we release the quest for perfection we find Buddha nature everywhere. To quote my mentor, Maha Ghosananda, “The heart is our temple.”
Maha Ghosananda served as a member of the Peace Council, a diverse group of religious leaders, well respected in their countries, who came together regularly to support each other’s active work of making peace, wherever this support was most urgently needed. He knew from his own society how necessary it was to step outside the temple gates and practice in the “temples of human experience”. I recognized the opportunity to walk with him as my own initiation into a path of crossing borders.
It is valuable and necessary that those of us practicing meditation do engage with world. While we may not consider ourselves religious, it is a simple truth that people like Sister Jeannette Normandin are integrating realization and upaya in a way that our Buddhist communities can learn from. Also, in past generations, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other great teachers were in their countries, in the deep mountains. This is the era in which the environment and other social crises require a Bodhissatva path of engagement.
To truly attain sangha, we need to extend that sense of intimacy to Muslim women, to let the threads of her hijab be woven into our kesa and see the true breadth of that cloth. We need to bear witness with people “of faith” in a way that is true to our dharma.
When we release our grasp on Buddhism, we discover the Buddha everywhere.