Monday, April 28, 2014

Lay Contemplatives Living Almost as Monastics in the Middle of Active Urban Life

Tuere Sala

Left to right: Ruby Phillips, Devin Berry, Joan Lohman and Jenn Biehn

In traditional Buddhism, a “contemplative” is someone who leaves lay life to become a monastic. They are wanderers who leave the householder’s life[i] to take up a homeless spiritual life[ii]. The monastic community lives noticeably different from the lay community, and yet there is such a symbiotic relationship between the two that one could not survive without the other.

In the West, however, Theravadin Buddhism remains primarily a lay-oriented practice, primarily operating out of storefront dharma centers and short/long-term retreat centers[iii].

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mindful Eating, One Mouthful at a Time

Judith Toy

Photo by Jamain
It takes some practice. Mindful eating feels forced at first, although you have to admit that the food tastes better than it ever has, as you lay your fork aside and chew each mouthful thirty times or so, or until the food is “mooshy,” thinking of what you are chewing, naming it—say, green beans.

You imagine the bean as once a seed buried in warm soil, then the coiling stem and leaves, then a tiny, four-fingered orchid-like flower, or a five-star white-petaled bloom with a yellow center, depending on the variety of bean. You summon up a mental image of the sun shining on the flower, how it turns its small face to the light, peeks from out of its own lush greenery. Then the slow and miraculous transformation from flower to a tiny white legume that turns green as it swells and grows in the warm sunlight and quenching rain. In this bean, the cosmos.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Encountering the Nuns of Zanskar

Dominique Butet
Photography by Olivier Adam
To view the original French version of this article (with photos) click here.

Zanskar, situated at the extreme northwest of India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is an isolated valley above 13,000 feet. It’s one of the most elevated areas to be populated in the Himalayas. There, in the heat of the summer on paths of wind and dust, it is not unusual to come across lively undulations of red fabric, capped by orange hats of felt—so go the nuns! Many nunneries have been established there, perched high over the valley.

Today, Zanskar has ten nunneries, nine of which belong to the Gelugpa order. Some, such as Karsha and Dorje Dzong, are close to Padum, the capital, while others such as Pishu are much more isolated. Some house up to twenty nuns, while others house barely seven or eight. Some have a school, others do not—or not yet. In the winter, when all pipelines freeze, the nuns have to travel far down to the river to fetch water, breaking the ice and then ascending again quickly to find refuge in rooms where the ceilings have so little insulation that snow and cold seep in. But it’s the profound isolation that one needs to survive, an isolation that only long rituals can transcend. Nonetheless, all have the uncompromising will to exist and flourish, mingling religious fervor with an incredible sense of collective life where all ages cohabit, from nine to over eighty-four!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Terror Within

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

As a girl of ten years, satin ribbons in my hair, and wearing a freshly starched dress, I had a special seat in church each Sunday next to my father, Lawrence Manuel Jr. With my younger sister and mother on the other side, I sat close to him, appreciating our special relationship around the word of God. On Saturday evenings, in the rush of Los Angeles where I was born and raised, I would read my father his weekly Sunday school lesson. As I read, he would make symbols of his own in the margins that represented the sounds of the words. He did this because he was illiterate. A sharecropper's son born in 1898 in Opelousas, Louisiana, he spoke mostly Creole, making his English difficult to understand. Even though he couldn’t read, he didn’t let that get in the way of his participation in Sunday school. With the symbols he had developed, he would “read” a portion of each lesson out loud to a class of older black men. I would never have been brave enough to pull off such a thing. But my father was a talented and courageous man; raised in the backwoods, he learned to do whatever was necessary to survive. He was what I called “fearless,” and, as I sat next to him at church, I prayed to be fearless just like him.