Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reflections of an (Almost) Buddhist Lay Minister

Tomorrow morning, I‘ll be inducted as a Buddhist Lay Minister in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism

 Given the weight of what’s about to happen it seems appropriate to reflect on how I got to this point. Perhaps these reflections will give me some guidance in how best to move forward in the upcoming chapter of my life. 

I began my formal Buddhist training in 2014 as a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen. I practiced at the Indianapolis Zen Center with JDPSN Linc Rhodes. Linc studied directly with Zen Master Seugn Sahn, the founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen, and he assisted in the creation of numerous Zen centers all over the world before settling down in Indianapolis. 

One of the requirements to take the precepts in the Kwan Um School of Zen is that one must sit a minimum of 4 one-day meditation retreats in the span of a single year along with being active in the center. Once that’s completed, you can petition to take part in the ceremony. I remember completing my 4th retreat, and then approaching Linc while he was working in the kitchen to ask if I could take the precepts. 

When I broached the subject, his usually smiling face became very stern. He said, “You can discuss that with one of the senior students, and they can walk you through the process,” then he walked away without another word. 

Needless to say, that wasn’t the response that I was expecting. But now that I’m several years removed from that conversation I understand why it happened. People choose to take the precepts for lots of reasons. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. Taking the precepts because you want to get a pat on the head from your teacher falls firmly in the “not so good’ category. 

By leaving me alone in the kitchen Linc was also leaving me alone with my decision, and forcing me to ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” I found out later that he was more than happy to let me participate in the precepts ceremony. But he had to make sure it was my decision; not something I was doing to gain his approval. 

He was always doing things like that; teaching me not just through formal lectures, but also through his example. I learned about kindness through the meals he prepared for me after work practice, I learned about patience through the way he persevered when squirrels ate vegetables out of the garden, and I learned about altruism when he told me stories about his work with Habitat for Humanity. 

On the day of the ceremony, I sat in the upstairs library with the other students who were going to take precepts that day. We were happy and just a bit anxious as we discussed what was about to happen. Eventually, one of the senior Dharma students came in and walked us through the ceremony. 

One part of the proceedings that I thought was really cool is each student had the option to get branded upon receiving their Dharma name. If they chose to do that part of the ceremony, three small incense sticks representing the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha would be held together, lit, and pressed into the students left forearm to show that they’d taken the 5 precepts. 

The senior Dharma teacher told us at least 12 times that we DID NOT have to do that part of the ceremony if we didn’t want too, but in the back of my head all I kept thinking was, “BURN ME!” 

The ceremony itself went very smoothly with everyone bowing, chanting, and taking vows in the correct places. On that day, I received the Dharma name Chong Do, which translates to “Clear Path” in Korean along with an incense burn to mark the occasion. 

Fast forward 4 years, and I find myself preparing to take vows and receive a Dharma name once again. When the ceremony is completed I’ll be an authorized teacher in the tradition of Rev. Koyo Kubose, founder of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. I’ve been working towards this day for a long time, and I’m excited by the opportunity to assist others who want to practice the Dharma, but I find myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” 

Frankly, Buddhism is the only thing in my life that makes any sense, and I’d like to help it grow. When I first read the 4 Noble Truths, it was like fireworks going off in my brain. For the first time, I had a reasonable explanation as to why bad things were happening in the world, and I had a potential solution. 

The Dharma brought order to my existence during a time when everything was in chaos. It’s not a stretch to say that Buddhism saved my life, so a feeling of gratitude would be one reason that I want to teach. 

That being said, I wasn’t that focused on the teaching aspect when I applied to Bright Dawn’s lay ministry program. I just wanted to study with Rev. Koyo. I liked the Everyday Dharma approach that he and his father expounded; turning daily life into Buddhist practice. 

Those teachings were a huge help to me as I tried to integrate the Dharma with my conventional experience of work, bills, laundry, etc. 

The more I learned, the more I felt compelled to learn more. It was the same compulsion that caused me to walk into the Indianapolis Zen Center 4 years ago and ask to take the precepts. I hesitate to describe this compulsion as a calling but becoming a Buddhist Lay Minister just feels right; like it’s something I’m supposed to do. And I’m humbled that Rev. Koyo thinks I’m ready. 

In the future, I’d like to continue his work of emphasizing non-sectarianism, the oneness of spirituality and everyday life, and making the Dharma more available to people who can’t travel to Buddhist centers. I’d especially like to work with veteran and homeless populations. 

So, tomorrow I’ll don my robes, and receive the gold okesa of a Buddhist teacher. Out of gratitude to all of the Buddhist patriarchs and matriarchs I’ll strive to wear it with honor and teach the Dharma in a way that benefits all sentient beings.

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Reflections of an (Almost) Buddhist Lay Minister