Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Blog

Thank you, Steve, for inviting my experience. I parsed your suggestions into reflections on the Three Jewels--

On the Buddha:
I have been ‘officially’ practicing now for almost 3 and a half years, though my awareness of Buddhism started eleven years ago. I was living in Spain at the time, and a friend had invited me to sit in on a practice night. I also had a chance to see the Dalai Lama speak that year. But like all good things that take incubation before illumination, I left the experience generally unmoved, but astounded by the simple statement, “When the pupil is ready, the guru appears.”

And so, many years later I have had many teachers and continue to grow from my own experiences, learning to understand myself deeper and deeper over time. My relationship to the Buddha has changed as I have played with different understandings of the world and my place here. I remember when I was in San Francisco (at the beginning of my regular visits to the then FWBO), I struggled with the idea of bowing to the Buddha. I’ve never related much to the idea of Buddha as a man who lived, whose achievement could be inspirational. But, I grew to like the idea of Buddha-nature; of the idea that I was already enlightened; and that slowly over time I am merely working to lift the self-imposed veils from my experience.

At first that, too, was problematic—thinking, “If I am enlightened, why would I not just experience enlightenment with effort of will alone?”, “How did I get started on the wheel of suffering, if I started as an enlightened being?” But, over time, my understanding of this, too, has changed. I read a translation of the Dao De Jing by Ames and Hall that blew my mind wide open. Later, combining ideas from this book with those in Conversations with God by Walsch, I came to appreciate my participation in samsara as ‘expressed curiosity in knowing myself as Creator.’

Today, I am content with the understanding that my experience is exercise, and that my nature is rest. Perhaps if I become fully mindful, I may participate in a way unmotivated by greed, hatred or delusion. This is what I understand as Buddha-nature.

On the Dharma:
Not exactly my strong point! I can’t get myself to read too many books—especially the classics. Ugh! But I enjoy Sangharakshita’s writings a lot. And I have read some by Chöki Nyima Rinpoche that blew my mind. Actually—maybe I have done more reading than I thought… wow, now I’m kind of touched. Here I had been flogging myself [mindfully ;)] earlier this month, and now I realize my situation’s actually not that
bad. I suppose it’s important to me that I read what speaks to me, and moves me further along the path. Even if they’re not the books I think I “should” be reading, that doesn’t necessarily make them books I “shouldn’t” be reading. So, my top picks:

(1) The Essential Sangharakshita, by Sangharakshita

I really enjoy this book for its ability to capture nuggets of insight, and deliver them as tasty morsels. Good for food-for-thought—not too overwhelming, just right. Sangharakshita is playful in his delivery of important points for clarity in practice.

(2) A Few Words of Heart-to-Heart Advice, by Chöki Nyima Rinpoche
What a way with words! I feel like Chöki Nyima Rinpoche is able to pierce straight to the point with delicate words that both softly and directly communicate powerful truths. I feel like there is a precision with his words that is invaluable.

(3) Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book might have been my first introduction to true metta. He describes at one point treating one’s anger like an infant--holding it, caring for it. I remember the first time I read that I just cried and cried. I couldn’t imagine holding my pain with that much loving-kindness. Just introducing the very awareness of the possibility of deep, connective loving-kindness in a time of intense pain was transformative. It took me years to read that book—every 20 pages I’d start bawling my eyes out. Lol!! You can imagine—I wasn’t very motivated to finish!!! Nonetheless, it was a very good start to something integral to practice.

On the Sangha:
This is where I really feel my heart warm and my chest soften. Triratna has been an incredible resource when it comes to establishing and nurturing the spiritual community. I was first introduced to the then FWBO in San Francisco when a friend invited me to sangha night. I had been practicing qi gong and reiki for a few years by that point, and thought it was a natural progression to try proper meditation. There was a lot on my mind at the time, as I had just taken my national boards after graduation from Chinese medicine school. So, while waiting for my results, I started going to sangha night.

The joke is, I think ‘what initially brought me there was blah blah blah, but what kept me there was sangha [said with a very stern and sure face, like ‘another car sold!’]. But the truth is, isn’t what brought me there… sangha? It was a spiritual friend, inviting me to explore and accept the spiritual friendship of others, and to give the same of myself to others. The trouble was even after living on the West coast for four years, the New York attitude was still in my veins—I had no idea what community was!! Lol!! I used to pride myself in the ability to do everything by myself—to buy single serve anything in a city that served millions of single people doing whatever served their individual purpose in a given minute. It’s true! So, discovering community, like it were a new continent—I was unsure, but felt I was onto something….

Three Triratna centers later, I can say for sure, I was onto something!—something really, really good!! Each had their particular personalities, but the same feeling: warmth, interest and kindness. San Francisco in a lot of ways was like a beacon of information. I loved the dharma talks and all the handing off of the baton from one member to the next. With each discussion and introduction, was a new perspective on
the same truths. Spending time with the sangha was like discovering the many facets of a gem. Each beautiful, and a completely different approach from the other. I will always think fondly on the San Francisco community.

Next, I lived in NY and had the pleasure of practicing under Vajramati’s tireless effort. The NY sangha taught me much of moving the ‘idea’ of sangha into practice. While in SF I saw myself as having a place in the sangha (i.e. feeling I ‘belonged’), in NY I started forging a relationship to the individuals within the community. It was no longer a relationship of me to the whole, but me to that which makes up the whole—seeing the value and relationship of the members of the spiritual community as integral to the practice. I recognized I needed them as much as they needed me. That’s the spiritual community: Equanimity. A tremendous learning that resulted in my asking to become a mitra.

Today, I practice with the Seattle sangha. I miss the people in NY, but their dedication inspires me. The Seattle sangha is two to three times as large; and I appreciate being back with such a fullness in the room. Though we have only one ordained member as well [compared to NY], we get quite a few visitors from San Francisco and Vancouver. It also makes a huge difference that we have a place to our own here. It feels so good to have a space dedicated to learning and to practice. We have a small library and ‘book store,’ as well as a place for tea and treats. Somehow I feel Aryaloka seemed closer to NY than our closest retreat center here; but that may also be due to Danakamala’s welcoming invitation to forge stronger ties between the East coast communities. Nonetheless, I miss that sense of active connection to other communities—the reminder that though we are apart, we work towards the same goals, taking the same steps one at a time.

I feel fortunate and grateful for this opportunity to explore my relationship to the spiritual community. I’m not sure anything less than all the big-picture, close-up, absent, and knee-high experiences could have woken me out of my stupor. The reminder that we are participating, that we are seen and heard is integral to choosing how we want to participate. And watching how others participate is integral to learning how we want to participate. The sangha is this—the mirror and the reflection, an invaluable resource for the cultivation of loving kindness and our much-needed support towards enlightenment.

Thank you, to my teachers and to my friends.

--Melissa Dana
May all beings be well; may all being be happy.

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