Skip to main content

The Buddhist Pureland and Living Under Curfew

In Pureland Buddhism, we're taught that the world is both a land of suffering and a wish-fulfilling jewel.  Through the grace of Amida Buddha, and teachings like those found in the Meditation Sutra we're able to see beauty in the midst of our pain.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we no longer experience suffering.  Rather, it means that our relationship to suffering changes.  We see every hardship as a teaching, and we learn to appreciate the many gifts (healthy food, clean water, indoor plumbing, etc.) that we experience every day.

For example, until recently I didn't realize what a blessing it is to go outside; to leave my apartment and just stand in the sun for a while.  But that changed when my city was placed under curfew.  We had a large protest for George Floyd recently, and the entire area is on lockdown.

Checkpoints are set up on all of the streets leading out, and no one can come in unless they can prove residency.  Police officers on horseback and motorcycles do regular patrols.

The hardest part of curfew is the rules keep changing.  One minute we're told things will only be this way for a day, the next minute we receive a text saying the lockdown will last all week.  People are told that curfew starts at one time, and then they're told another.  Everyone is confused, and no one can get a straight answer.

I'm feeling tense, and I decide to go for a walk and take pictures.  I recently took up photography as a hobby.  And I find the act of framing the perfect 'shot' to be meditative.  So, I grab my backpack, filling it with a couple of granola bars and some bottled water, and leave my apartment.

I walk around the city, taking in the strange mix of destruction and repair that's infected it like a disease.  I take pictures of trees and busted out windows; pigeons and broken glass in the street.  The sun feels good on my skin. and the tension that I've been carrying for several days starts to subside.

Then I turn a corner and run into approximately ten police officers.  Four of them are standing in front of a humvee.  They're wearing camo and tactical gear similar to what I wore when I served in the Marines.  Riot shields and helmets are leaned up against a nearby building.  The other six are spread out between three police cruisers; lined up one behind the other.

I nod at them and attempt to cross the street, but one of the cruisers pulls up to block my path.  "Where are you going, son," a police officer with a mustache says from the passenger seat.  I tell him the apartment complex where I live.  "Is that for work or for home," he asks.  As he says this, a second cruiser swings around to block me in from the right side.

My pulse quickens as I recognize what's happening.  We practiced this exact maneuver when I trained for my deployment to Iraq.  By creating an L-formation with their vehicles with the detainee (me) at the center, the officers are providing cover for themselves for when they disembark their vehicles.  Also, they've set up excellent lines of fire.  In this position, if they decide to shoot me, they can do so without risk of hitting each other.

My brain freezes for a moment as I try to bring myself back to reality, "Work and home," I mutter.  I try to explain that I've been working from home for the last three months due to Covid-19, but it's too late.  The four officers get out of their vehicles. 

"Do you mind if I search your bag, one of them asks.  My mind flashes to all of the "know your rights" videos that I've watched on YouTube.  I picture libertarians explaining how I should always ask, "Am I being detained," during an interaction with a cop; reminding me that I don't have to give them permission to search my things.

Then I think about George Floyd lying facedown on the cement with an officer's knee pressed into his neck.  I give them my bag without saying a word.

"You know we're on a curfew now," an officer standing to the right of me asks.  "No," I respond, "I thought that didn't start until 7 pm."  "Nope, he said, "It's all day now."  I take a moment to process what he just said.  "So, we're not allowed outside,"  I ask.  He shrugs his shoulders in response.

"This is your warning," the mustached officer says as he hands me my bag, "Don't let us catch you out here again,"  Anger wells up in my chest.  The last time someone talked to me that way I was a 9-year old boy, and my grandfather was scolding me for trampling his tomatoes.

Now I'm a grown man... still be scolded like a child.  Buddhist training keeps me alive in this moment.  Instinctively, I begin taking meditative breaths.  Focusing on the feeling of air in my chest helps the anger subside.  I picture Tamir Rice.  I picture Breonna Taylor.  I take another breath.

"Don't worry," I say quietly, "you won't."  I make a bee-line for my apartment when the officers drive away.  I don't take pictures.  I don't see the birds.  I don't feel the sun on my skin.  When I get inside, I stand next to the window and look out at the trees and the clouds.  I put my hand on the window that separates me from them.

The window is thin, frail, I could break it without much effort. One piece of glass separates me from the outside world, but it feels like a million miles.

For all my training, I didn't realize that "outside" is a gift.  I didn't realize how precious walking in the sun could be until an officer told me I couldn't.  As I look up at the clouds, I promise to never make that mistake again.

Several hours later, I look out the window and see a woman power-walking down the street.  She doesn't have a care in the world as the sun reflects off her glittery yoga pants.  "Doesn't she know we're on curfew," I wonder.

Two officers on horseback approach her going in the opposite direction.  She smiles and waves without breaking stride.  The police don't give her a second glance.

Namu Amida Butsu


If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!




The Buddhist Pureland and Living Under Curfew


Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. Namo Amida Bu 🙏🏻

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just seen a post elsewhere about how 'Thanks for sharing' is inevitably read as sarcastic so I'll have to attend to my vocabulary. I knew as I was writing that it didn't express my depth of feeling but it felt important to say something. Anyway, take care, in gratitude, Kaspa

      Delete
  2. Sensei, I found myself moved by this article. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Please know that I continue to hold you and all in these unjust situations in my thoughts and prayers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Alex, this is infuriating. I'm so sorry. Do you mind if I share this?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Powerful. Stay strong sensei Alex. I appreciate this post very much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am so sorry this happened to you. I felt angry just reading about what happened to you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I too am very sorry this happened to you and I also felt anger and pain while reading this. Why were you singled out and why was the woman in yoga pants allowed to continue on her walk if the mandatory curfew was in place?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Today when I take my walk in the sun in my suburban California neighborhood, I'll reflect on your story, and on how much work we have to do as a society and individuals. Thank you and may you walk in the sun soon.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for sharing. I have shared this story with others as a must read. I am from the Twin Cities as well. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Namu Amida Butsu!

    Thank you for this "snapshot"!
    In appreciation, I have done a few simple things that I could: passed it on to others who need to know this, bought your book and intensified the chanting.
    You were very alone then, but you are not alone, and you are all of us NOW.
    Thank you, Sensei Alex 🙏🏼


    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Buddha in the Garden of Eden

One of the first bible stories that I learned involved Adam, Eve, and the garden of Eden.  As the story goes, Adam was the first man, created by God from the dust of the earth.  And Eve was his wife, created from Adam's rib in order to serve as his helpmeet. The garden of Eden was a paradise, designed by God to provide for their every need.  Adam and Eve were charged with caring for the garden.  They named the animals, they cared for the plants, and they enjoyed each other's company. There was only one rule.  God proclaimed that they could eat the fruit of every tree.  However, they must never eat fruit from the tree of life, which grew in the center of the garden.  God warned Adam and Eve that if they broke this rule, they would die. The couple lived in harmony until one day a serpent entered the garden and spoke to Eve, telling here that if she broke God's commandment and ate from the tree of life, she would not die.  Instead, she would gain knowledge of good and evil. Ev

Magic Mushrooms and the Buddha Dharma

You meet all kinds of people on the road.  Some of them are clearly running from something; a past trauma or an action they regret. Others are clearly looking for something; a tribe of like-minded people or a safe place to call home. This results in a strange mix of people ending up in strange places and sharing their lives for any where from a few weeks to a few months.   You part ways knowing that you'll never see each other again despite your endless promises to keep in touch.  But you always remember the people you meet on the road, and your life is usually better for having met them. Case in point, I met a guy named "Fred" when I was farming in Indiana who'd lived an insanely cool life.  He did corporate America for a while, and decided it wasn't for him.  So, he high-tailed it to Vietnam and taught English for several years before deciding that he wanted to become a shaman.  After that, he made his way to Brazil where he wandered fo

3 Universal Truths that Buddha Taught

Philosophers have wrestled with the concept of universal truth for centuries. But no one has been able to figure out exactly what it is, or even if it truly exists. In fact, the existentialist philosopher, Nietzsche famously threw up his hands and stated, " God is dead ," while contemplating the question. Of course, he wasn't claiming that a literal super natural deity had died. Rather, he was expressing the fact that human conceptual thought around things like happiness, goodness, truth, etc. is inherently flawed. As a result, universal truth as represented by God cannot exist. In Nietzsche's view, the best we can hope for is to live as individuals, constantly striving against one another to impose our will to power upon the world. The Buddhist view, however, is different. While Buddha would agree that humanity's conceptual view of the world is limited, he observed three experiences that all living beings share. These are often referre