A Buddhist Christmas
So what does a middle-aged Buddhist with no family, few friends, indifferent health, ridiculous income, and a fire-eating political blog do for Christmas? Buddhist things, of course. The holiday fell on a Sunday and a certain number of our Sangha had family obligations. But our Lama, Kathy Wesley, who is commited to the Dharma 24/7 [that's part of what being a lama is all about], made the offer to teach if there were enough people to do the subsidiary chores for our normal 10 o'clock sitting meditation, 11:30 teaching, and 12:30 chanting practice.
Of course I volunteered. What did I have better to do than to practice my own religion as well as I could? What do I ever have better to do? And with no family to share the holiday, what will I ever have better to do?
So we opened up the Dharma Center, as usual, with ever the prospect, of course, that we the volunteers would be the entire crew for the day. That's not quite true. Whenever we practice we cultivate the aspiration to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of everybody, and, in a sense, this very act includes everybody imaginable even in the most solitary of personal retreats, as well as the most crowded Sundays at the Center.
When we do these things on a volunteer basis, rather than as regularly assigned chores, it's catch-as-catch-can what job you end up doing. Since I got there earliest, opening up the building and turning off the burglar alarm, I became the default chopon or shrine keeper. The shrine itself is actually three separate shrines, as you can see in the photo, each with its own offering water bowls and votive candle lamps.
In addition, there are also large numbers of personal lamps dedicated to the good health of others, if alive, or their fortunate rebirth, if dead. These are usually on a large bench on the red carpeted area in front of the main shrine.
It takes about three gallons of water to carefully fill all of the bowls up and being chopon involves a great deal of running up and down stairs in our building. For the rules are that you never leave empty water bottles for the next chopon. The shrine prep is the most complicated thing we do and a chopon needs every second prior to the practice or the teaching to get everything in order. This is not my favorite duty. Too much stair climbing is now difficult for me, and the chopon needs both hands free, so I cannot use my cane.
In addition to our Lama, our good friend Jampa came as well. Jampa is the fine Tibetan wife and mother in a family which emigrated to Columbus several years ago. Their teachers are of the same tradition as the Dalai Lama, which is different than ours, so she does not meditate with us, but she is ever our friend, and on holidays, whether Buddhist or not, she always brings some good Tibetan cooking for us--saffron rice with rasins, meat dumplings known as mo mos and, sometimes, tea made with milk, butter, and a dash of salt.
Jampa works in a local discount store and she is the primary breadwinner for the family. But, to make ends meet, she also drives a trade in Tibetan and Nepali goods. Our downstairs room is set up for collective dining, with a kitchen and folding tables, and Jampa will take up about three of these with a display of all her wares. She sets all this up in the hour or so we are doing quiet sitting meditation in the shrine room above.
The sitting started out with a smaller group than normal, about 20. Sundays with three times that number are not uncommon for us. We are one of the oldest and largest Tibetan Dharma Centers in America, having been founded in 1977. Columbus has proved to be a very fertile ground for Buddhism and we are one of the few centers who are lucky enough to actually have a resident American lama, Kathy Wesley, who was one of our original founders and who was one of the first of us to actually train in the 39 month closed lama training retreat.
Lama Kathy has been on the road quite a lot this year. She is popular and much in demand as a down to earth and realistic teacher among the 36 Dharma Centers and Study Groups we have around the country. She also has the very high esteem of the major teachers at our main monastery and teaches there often, as well. So we don't have her nearly as much to ourselves as we would like [she is a jewel personally, also, ever the "spiritual friend" to all]. Consequently, when she announces she is teaching here, we make special efforts to attend.
So once the gong for sitting meditation had been rung and the first twenty had gotten planted and quiet, people started coming in dribs and drabs, so that by the time the sit was over and the half-hour tea break was under way, we had about 35 people in the building. Many of these brought holiday tidbits and candies, so our tea break was rather more festive than usual, as were the people.
The teaching was excellent as was the day and to all my non-Buddhist friends I wish both the complements of the season and the shortest path possible to permanent happiness and freedom from suffering.