Category Archives: meditation

Practice

Choosing to stop attending the Bible listening/study group with my friend was one of the harder choices I’ve had to make recently. I miss having the opportunity to see her, but I don’t miss the group as much as I thought I would. The truth is that I never really felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And as Easter approached, I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to attend.

For Christians, Easter is supposed to be a celebration. “Jesus is Risen!” For me, Easter has become a time of discomfort. It was at an Easter service several years ago that I was finally able to name that discomfort: that I don’t believe in the Resurrection or Jesus’s divinity. It was that Easter service that made me realize I wasn’t yet in the right spiritual home, that as awesome as the Episcopal religion is, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Shortly after is when I (re)discovered Quakerism and knew this was where God had led me.

The truth is that attending that Bible listening/study group made me acutely aware of how distant I often feel from my Meeting. Since my Meeting is half an hour away, it’s all I can do to attend Meeting for Worship once or twice a month and the occasional library committee meeting. Being more involved with my Meeting, such as joining a discussion group, is not a possibility. And I miss my Meeting. I wish I could be more involved.

Another truth that surfaced after I realized I was no longer led to attend that group is that I need to be more faithful to my religions: both to Quakerism, and to Buddhism. I’d let my daily formal meditation fall to the wayside, with the excuse that since I was constantly trying to practice mindfulness, the formal sitting meditation “wasn’t necessary”. But I realized that I missed my meditation practice. So, I’ve started practicing sitting meditation again, and it has been good.

Tomorrow, I will be attending Meeting for Worship and then Meeting for Business. And I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know yet how to reconcile my longing to attend more Meetings for Worship with my physical inability to do so, but I’m hoping way will open. And in the meantime, on Sundays when I’m unable to attend Meeting for Worship, I’ll practice Centering Prayer meditation. It won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, daily life, discernment, faith, Jesus, leadings, meditation, meeting for worship, third haven, worship

Abandon All Hope, Question Motivation

Today’s slogan is:

“Abandon any hope of fruition.”

This slogan always seems almost unnecessarily morbid to me, very reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And I always have difficulty with this slogan.

The explanations I’ve read about this slogan speak about being in the present, instead of always looking for some future outcome. I’ve read about how this slogan encourages one to meditate for the sake of meditating instead of, say, meditating to achieve enlightenment.

Rationally, I can accept that; but I’ve had difficulty accepting it on that deeper level where Truth rests.

Last night, I came across this passage from “Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings of John Cassian”:

“There is a great difference between those who put out the fire of sin within themselves by fear of hell or hope of future reward and those who from the feeling of divine love have a horror of sin itself and of uncleanness and keep hold of the virtue of purity simply from the love and longing for purity. They look for no reward from a promise for the future, but delighted with the knowledge of good things present, do everything not from regard to punishment but from delight in virtue. “

This I understand. When I was young and certain “pious” adults tried to instill in me a fear of hell and longing for heaven, I rejected it. What is the point of doing the right thing if I’m only doing it for a reward or for fear of being punished? Shouldn’t I do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing? I decided then that I would do the right thing, as I best understood it, even if doing the right thing would lead to eternal punishment instead of eternal reward.

This offers me a new understanding of today’s slogan: that it’s not about abandoning hope, but challenging motivations.

Am I meditating because I want to become enlightened or because meditating is worth doing for its own sake?
Am I attempting to practice Right Speech because of some reward or because it’s the right thing to do?
Am I attending Meeting for Worship because I want to give ministry or because I want to open myself to Spirit, whether or not ministry through me will occur?
Am I praying because I want God to do something for me or because praying is a worthwhile activity, even if there’s no discernible end result?

Am I living because life is worth living or because I want to accomplish something?
Do I love because the object of my love is worthy or because love in and of itself is worthy?

Am I listening because I want to know what best to say to change you or because you deserve to be listened to, just as you are?

Will I have the courage to accept things just as they are or will I continue to see the present as just a step towards the future?

(The discomfort these questions are giving me is a good sign.)

3 Comments

Filed under buddhism, catholicism, daily life, jamie, love, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, prayer, slogans

Walking Gratitude Meditation

Since getting my right hip replaced on August 8, formal sitting meditation has been… well, not very possible. My last attempt two weeks ago resulted in my almost falling asleep, at which point I made the decision to stop attempting formal sitting meditation until I’m able to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. I’ve been sleeping better the last two weeks and will likely be returning to formal sitting meditation soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been practicing walking meditation.

I’ve often heard Thich Nhat Hanh extol the value of walking meditation and I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time, but my past inability to walk for any real amount of time discouraged me from seriously trying it. Prior to my surgery, I decided that I would give walking meditation a try during the recovery period, when I was supposed to walk as much as possible. Mindful walking would encourage me to pay attention to my new hip and make sure I wasn’t walking in such a way that I’d be hurting other joints.

For the first 10 days after returning home after surgery, my mom and stepdad stayed with me to help me around the house. This was necessary–the first week or so I wasn’t even able to get in or out of bed on my own–and I appreciated the help. But I am by nature an introvert and am used to being alone for several hours every day; so after about 5 days of having my parents around all the time and not having any solitude for more than a week, I was beginning to feel trapped and suffocated. It was around this time that I added an element to my mindful walking: thinking “Thank you” as I walked, step by step, “Thank” step “You” step.

This action helped me generate gratitude to my parents, who were, after all, doing me a big favor (had they not been able to help, I likely would have needed to spend some time in a rehab facility).

Eventually, as walking became easier and required less effort, I forgot about my gratitude walking meditation. Earlier this week, I remembered and have made it a daily 10 minute practice.

As I walk, I’m aware of the magnitude of this action and I’m reminded of how wonderful it is that I’m now able to walk. And then I begin to be aware of how many beings played a part in granting me this ability: the surgeon, the nurses, the teachers who taught all the medical staff that treated me both during and after surgery, the farmers who grew the cotton used in the many gauze pads, the miners who mined the metals used in my hip replacement and the IV needle, the people who worked at the oil company who provided the oil that would become the plastic in my new hip, the researchers who developed this new technique, the people who funded that research, the people who educated those researchers, the plants and animals that fed all of these people, the insects and bacteria that fed the plants and animals, the people who cared for those plants and animals…

The list could go on.

I have pieces of the entire universe in my new right hip.

Tibetan Buddhists have a practice of treating every being as if he or she were your mother, because chances are high that in one incarnation or another, the being was or will be your mother. This practice makes sense to me, but is one I’ve always followed with a grain of doubt marring it, since my belief in reincarnation is not absolute.

But as I walk, “Thank” step “You” step, I become aware that–in some form or another–it is the whole world I have to thank for my new hip. Retrace the steps involved in my new hip and the circle becomes larger and larger until it encompasses the whole world.

Thank you.

3 Comments

Filed under buddhism, daily life, gratitude, health, meditation, mindfulness

Meditation Struggles

I’ve been having difficulty meditating recently. First, I’m having trouble finding a set time to meditate. Because I’m having surgery in 3 weeks (I’m having bilateral hip replacement surgery on August 8, for more information, please check out Bionic Bellydancer ), my daily schedule is pretty variable. On Monday, for example, I had an appointment at 2:30PM while yesterday I had an appointment at 11:30AM. Both Monday and yesterday, I meditated after my appointments. Today with no appointments, I meditated at my ideal time: right after breakfast, before turning on my computer.

While I think that not being able to meditate the same time every day isn’t helping, I don’t think that’s the direct cause of my recent struggles. The truth is that I’m having some anxiety over the upcoming surgery, or, more accurately, over the amount of tests and appointments I have to get done prior to the surgery. It feels like I have so much to get done–a lot of which I don’t have direct control over–in an ever-shortening amount of time.

And so, I sit down to meditate. I set my cell phone alarm (with a Tibetan singing bell ringtone) for 30 minutes. I bow three times three (touch head, touch throat, touch heart). I clang my belly dancing zills that I’ve re-purposed as meditation bells. And then I lean back in my chair, attempt to get as comfortable as possible, and close my eyes.

And no matter how much or little I have planned to accomplish for the day, the litany of things I need to get done before this surgery begins. It may be subtle, it may not manifest as thoughts, but it’s there: this itching need to stop meditating because I have so much that I need to do and I don’t have time for this and and and…

And I return to my breath, often with a bit of an exaggerated huff. I try to feel the breath enter my body, the oxygen saturating my blood, and then the breath as it leaves. I breathe in, and I breathe out.

And then my blood starts dancing and the agitation begins again.

I repeat this several times, until I can’t bear it any more and I give up.

For the last week or so, I’ve been unable to wait the 30 minutes. I know all the right words to say to myself here about how meditation is a PRACTICE and how I just need to keep doing it, even if I do end up stopping before the 30 minutes is up. Maybe I should reduce my meditation time to 20 minutes for a while.

4 Comments

Filed under buddhism, meditation

Practice: A Slogan Post

I pulled this slogan a few days ago and am only now getting around to writing this post, which is appropriate given what I’m planning on writing:

“If you can practice even when distracted, you are well-trained.”

I could delve into the teacher/guru-student structure that’s so central to Tibetan Buddhism, which is the tradition from which I get these slogans, but I think that’s not the real message to be had here.

I’ve received this slogan many, many times over the past few years, and I’ve always discounted it as one of the “boring, inapplicable” ones, like the ones that seem to be pontificating on what I usually discount as Buddhist dogma and philosophy that really doesn’t matter.

(Okay, let me explain that last part a bit: I graduated from a college that spends an awful lot of time and energy on philosophizing everything. By the end of it, I started wondering what, exactly, the point was of being able to define everything. Just because maybe the exact definition of, say, a table can’t be known–what’s the eidos of a table, for those of you schooled in Greek-geek-speak–doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize a table when we see it. So, a lot of Buddhist philosophizing about perception or the 51 mental states, etc., I have difficulty finding ways to apply to my life, probably because I’m coming at it from this particular lens. … This may be something I need to work on.)

Back to the slogan at hand. I always thought this slogan was about the ability to meditate through distractions, that, say, if I can meditate even though two kitties are wrestling on the bed behind me, then I’m “well-trained”.

Right, because the whole purpose of Buddhism is to learn how to meditate well.

Let me say that more clearly: the purpose of Buddhism is not to teach people how to meditate well. While meditation can be both a means and an end, it is not THE end of Buddhism. It’s only a means.

What is the end?

I realize I’m still relatively new to Buddhism, but the purpose of Buddhism seems pretty clear to me: to alleviate suffering. The path that Buddhism recommends to do so is meditation, which allows one to develop right understanding so that one’s actions can truly alleviate suffering. (How many times have we tried to do the right thing and found out later that we had a critical flaw in our understanding of what the problem was?)

There is what I’ll call a Quaker fable that relates to this slogan:

A first-time attender is sitting in Meeting for Worship, waiting for the service to begin. As the silence stretches into many minutes, the attender whispers to his neighbor, “When does the service begin?” The Quaker replies, “When the worship ends.”

The point of this slogan is that it’s not easy to practice Buddhism, to be alert and aware enough all of the time to skillfully act in ways that alleviate suffering. I often find myself feeling very compassionate and loving during meditation sessions. I’ll resolve that the next time my sister calls, even if she calls for no reason and more than once a day, I’m going to be truly present for her and give her whatever it is she’s needing from me. But how long does that resolve last?

I think you all can relate to my answer. It lasts until I hear her ring-tone on my cellphone, when annoyance and irritation replaces my intention of love and compassion.

Or when I sit in Meeting for Worship, steeping in that Divine Love that centers us as Quakers and enlivens us, thinking about all the ways I’m going to be better at following Him. I’m going to be more alert to leadings and less fearful. I’m going to be more trusting. I’m going to be more loving and compassionate (that is the main common thread for me between Quakerism and Buddhism: the desire to be loving and compassionate).

So, this slogan is not about becoming an expert in meditation after all. It’s about, as Quakers would say, “letting my life speak”. It’s about maintaining that feeling of love, compassion, and mindfulness after the meditation session is over. It’s about maintaining that connection to God outside of Meeting for Worship.

It’s about practicing.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, compassion, daily life, jamie, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, obedience, quakerism, slogans, submission

Finding Balance

When I was in 8th grade, I had a theory about how the world worked. The theory was that there was a finite, definite amount of suffering and happiness in the world, and that, consequently, the more I suffered, the less others would suffer. In a way, this gave my pain of that year a purpose: after all, if I wasn’t suffering, that would mean someone else would be.

8th grade was a hard year for me. I’d had a falling out with most of my friends from the previous year and was left with only 2, other outcasts who it was social suicide to spend too much time with. But they were good, true friends, and I wish I had treated them better before I had no other choice. In addition to social things, there was family turmoil. And, of course, there was always my Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis looming in the background.

In retrospect, I suspect this worldview came from a desire to find meaning in my suffering. At the time, my faith was very strongly Christian, if not completely in line with the Catholic Church. But Jesus was very important to me and I related very strongly with the suffering he went through. If my suffering was to prevent others from suffering, then it had a purpose, a meaning, like Jesus’s suffering did. After all, Jesus suffered on the cross and died so that we could be free from sin. Like Jesus, I was willing to suffer so that others wouldn’t have to. And that connection and belief made it more bearable.

But the flip-side to this worldview is very, very dangerous, especially to a kid permeated with the guilt and sin teachings of the Catholic Church. Believing that my suffering would prevent someone else’s also meant that if I was happy, I was actively causing someone else to suffer.

By the end of the year, I’d fallen into a pretty deep depression that I only made it out of because of a wonderful experience that year at Arthritis Camp.

But the desire to take on another’s suffering is at the heart of the Bodhisattva vow I took a month ago. The difference now is that I’m a lot more spiritually and emotionally capable of doing so; though even now, I’m not fully able to take on the suffering of all beings, as my vow requires. I know that, in a very real way, I–and all others–are already Buddhas, we already have bodhichitta/Buddha-nature within us, but I, like most others, have not fully realized that. I have not, as Quakers would say, come to know that experientially.

The other difference is that I don’t believe in the same worldview. I don’t believe that my happiness actively causes someone else to suffer, or that my pain prevents another from suffering, nor that there is a finite, definite amount of suffering and happiness in the world.

The point I want to make is that finding balance is essential. One cannot take on the pain of the world before one is able. So often, we try to do too much. This is especially true of people who volunteer their time who often feel obligated to do more than they can because someone has to do it. But one cannot offer more than one is able to do. For example, if a charity needed someone, for whatever obscure reason, to perform a handstand and I volunteered to do so, I would then be put in a position to do something that’s not physically possible for me to do, no matter how much I desired to help out and do it.

And there’s the other side of this, also, when we refuse to do what we can because we assume there are others who are more able or more willing to do so… or because we just, ultimately, don’t want to get any more involved.

I am lucky that both of my religions offer concrete, solid practices for finding this balance. As a Buddhist, meditation allows me to gain Right Understanding. And as a Quaker, waiting on God, meditative listening, and the process of discernment allows me to figure out what I can and can’t do.

And there’s always the push, also, that thrusts one out of one’s comfort zone and into a whole new place, that makes one realize that one’s limits are quite a bit further away than one thought.

What methods of finding balance do you use?

1 Comment

Filed under arthritis camp, buddhism, catholicism, daily life, discernment, faith, meditation, quakerism

Emptiness and Compassion

The Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen is perhaps one of my favorite Buddhist practices, and one of the first Buddhist practices I incorporated into my daily life. This practice is an act of breathing in someone else’s pain or suffering and then breathing out the remedy or relief of that pain or suffering. I’ve often thought of this process as a way of opening oneself to the potential everyone has for reducing suffering in others. The idea is that you open yourself to another’s suffering and share what you can to reduce suffering. Taken more broadly, the practice encourages one to reduce suffering in the world by practicing non-attachment to one’s own joys.

This morning, as I was practicing tonglen, I let images of those who were suffering rise up. First on my mind was those who are suffering from the oil spill, especially those beings who live in the water.

“Oil,” I thought as I breathed in deeply. Then, “water” as I breathed out.

Then on to more general suffering: “Suffering” breathe in; “Peace” breathe out.

Then I thought of a dear friend of mine who is recovering from a painful surgery and whose daily life is filled with pain: “Pain” breathe in; “Relief” breathe out. I let my own pains act as a way of empathizing with hers.

Then I felt my stomach growl with hunger, and I thought of all those in the world who suffer from hunger: “Hunger” breathe in; “Food” breathe out.

As I alternated between these 4, I began seeing a connection between the last 3. Instead of imagining that I was transforming suffering into peace through breathing (what I consider a metaphor for actions), etc., I began to see how suffering pointed or led to peace. For example, when one is suffering, one becomes drawn to end that suffering. And the lack of suffering feels most potent when one has experienced suffering in the past. Pain always leads to relief, one way or another. No pain is permanent. Any pain will either end on its own, or the person with the pain will find some way of relieving the pain, or, in the worst case scenario, the pain will stop when the person dies. When one is hungry, one seeks food. If one does not find food and one dies of hunger, one’s body becomes food.

I used to have a concern that the practice of tonglen encouraged dualistic thinking, which is contrary to the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness. But now I see that tonglen is not only a practice in developing compassion, but also a practice in understanding emptiness. The relief of suffering is bound up in the experience of suffering. They cannot be separated.

“Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.”

(You may have noticed I was unable to see this kind of connection in the first formulation of breathing in oil and breathing out water. But perhaps the oil spill will lead us to take better care of our ocean’s and the water resources on this planet.)

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, compassion, daily life, emptiness, emptying, environment, humanity, love, meditation, pain, physical pain, speak and listen with love

Impermanence

On July 21st, I will be participating in a ceremony with a local sangha to renew my Refuge and Bodhisattva vows and take my precept vows (if you’re interested, you can view the format I’ve developed for the ceremony here.). On Wednesday evening, as I was meeting with the leader of the sangha/meditation group to discuss the ceremony, I mentioned that my body was very good at teaching me the nature of impermanence. It had, however, been a while since my body had reminded me of that lesson. In fact, for the last several months, I’ve been able to do activities I hadn’t dared to dream of for years: I was able to walk for exercise, even managing to walk 1.8 miles in this year’s Arthritis Walk; I was able to visit a local cat shelter twice a week to give the cats the love and attention they deserve, if only for a few hours a week; I was even able to do two hour-long drives this month (total, not each way) to attend what I called the “local” sangha earlier on.

As part of my Buddhist practice, I encouraged myself to be aware of these wonderful moments and to enjoy them while they lasted, because I knew, without a doubt, that the bodily strength and resilience I was experiencing was bound to end at some point. Moments always end, but sometimes the actions that filled those moments can be repeated. I knew, without a doubt, that my ability to do these wonderful things was transitory.

And yet, when the inevitable loss came yesterday, I was broken. Somehow, while sleeping, it looks like I sprained part of my right foot. The sprain itself, if it had happened as the result of a fall or injury and was not accompanied by my myriad foot problems, would not be a big deal. But since it happened apparently while I was sleeping, this could indicate serious joint instability in my right foot. This could very well mean surgery. This could very well mean that my right foot is literally falling apart. This could very well mean that the way of life I’ve been enjoying these last few months is over.

Now, this sprain may just be the harbinger of the crisis and not the crisis itself. Yet even so, it is the beginning of the end for my right foot. One way or another, this does not bode well.

I find myself thinking, first, of the cats at the rescue center, who blossom and shine each and every time I’m there. With the attention and love I’ve been able to give these cats, they’ve become happier. For a few hours a week, they know love. (And this is not to say that they don’t receive love and attention from other people, but there are close to 30 cats there. They need all the love and attention they can get.) They’ve grown attached to me. What will happen to these cats if I have to stop these bi-weekly visits, even for a short period of time?

And then I begin to think of possible adaptations, ways I could drive with minimal use of the part of my right foot that may be collapsing.

I am surprised by the sorrow I feel for an event that I rationally knew would happen at some point. I sobbed in bed this morning, talking out loud to myself, to God, to my cats, to whoever might have been listening. “I’m too young for this!” “I’m afraid!” I suppose I just assumed that “some point” would always be in the future and was not immanent. Somewhere deep inside, I was skeptical about the impermanence of my condition.

I see my podiatrist bright and early Monday morning (my mother-in-law will be driving me). All I can do it the meantime is try to stay off of my feet as much as possible… and meditate.

Part of me is grateful for my body teaching me, once again, about impermanence. But right now, most of me is suffering, because though I understand the Four Noble Truths rationally, they are so damn hard to actually accept and believe.

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
[The Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Thinking, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Diligence, Right Concentration, and Right Livelihood.]

[UPDATE: It’s just tendinitis from too much driving. Not a Big Deal. Note to self: not every new physical symptom is a Big Deal.]

2 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, daily life, health, meditation, mindfulness, physical pain

The Simplicity of Now

If not now, tell me when
If not now, tell me when.
We may never see this moment
Or place in time again
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

Carrie Newcomer, “If Not Now”

I made it to Meeting for Worship last Sunday, after only intermittent–at best–attendance so far this year. I came to Meeting clothed in a new practice of mantra meditation that I had just started days before, but had already deepened my meditation practice. But instead of “Om mani padme hum”, the mantra I used was “Veni sancte spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit). I rotated a piece of quartz that I was using as a make-shift prayer wheel. I let the mantra seep through me, letting my attention always come back to it when my mind inevitably wandered. But, I wondered, would meditating like this mean that I would be unable to notice a message from God?

The first message came from a well-seasoned Friend, who rose to give ministry on the topic of simplicity:

If we make simplicity the core of our lives, it will lead us back to the core.

This message sent a vibration through my soul. And as I returned to the mantra of “Veni sancte spiritus”, I felt a message rise up in me. I waited, returning always to the mantra, wondering if this was a real message or just the caffeine from my morning tea hitting my bloodstream. I felt the caffeine drumming in my veins, but I also felt that tell-tale pressure building up in my heart that notifies me that what I have received is a message meant to be shared. (Either that, or I have a serious heart condition and will one day die of a heart attack during Meeting for Worship… Me and every other Friend who has experienced this.) I waited longer, testing to be sure. And then when I finally felt that not standing up to speak would literally result in my heart bursting open then and there, I stood:

The most simple thing is now.

(Later, I would be mildly embarrassed that I’d apparently forgotten the word “simplest”, but the Spirit works with what one has, and at that moment–in spite of the caffeine–the brain I had was apparently only half awake.)

The simplest way to live, the simplest moment to live in, is now. There is nothing simpler than that, though, as one Friend rose to point out during Afterthoughts, this can often be surprisingly difficult. (As an aside, we often conflate simple with easy. This is a mistake we should try to be mindful of.)

Simplicity isn’t just about pruning our material possessions to check for seeds of war (John Woolman) or purchasing a Prius instead of a Hummer, though those kinds of actions are certainly worthwhile and not always easy to do. Simplicity is also about pruning life down to the essentials, to what really matters. And what matters the most in any given moment is that given moment. We can spend so much time and effort pruning our possessions, our activities, how we spend our money… But if we are living each moment without really living it, spending each moment thinking about when or then, we are missing the point.

The point is now. The moment is now. God is now. We are now.

Leave a comment

Filed under buddhism, daily life, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, ministry, quakerism, simplicity, third haven

Buddhist and Quaker

I received an email from a reader, asking me questions about being both Buddhist and Quaker. Below is my reply:

Hi. Thanks you for your email. 🙂 I’m also not a fan of most “New-Agey” type of books… I consider myself both a Buddhist AND a Quaker, and I ultimately think this is okay and not inconsistent because both faiths–at their core, I feel–are faiths of practice more than faiths of theology. For example, meditation, mindfulness, developing compassion/loving-kindness, and the knowledge that attachments are a direct cause of suffering (in short, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path) I consider the core of Buddhism (and I’m in good company: Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a wonderful book called “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings”, which you might be interested in). As for Quakerism, I believe our way of worship and our testimonies are our core. And there seems to be a lot of ways that Buddhism helps my Quakerism: for example, how could I follow the testimony of Integrity without having Right Understanding (one of the Eightfold Paths)? Equality lines up with Right Action, Right Speech, Right Vision, and Right Understanding… etc. There’s even been talk within some Quaker circles recently of “Right Relationship”, which has a lot in common with the Buddhist Eightfold Path (Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Understanding, in particular).

As for specific practices, I try to meditate every day (Om mani padme hum…), though I admit that this has been on and off for a while. Still, I keep trying. Also, the Tibetan Buddhist concept of tonglen (Pema Chodron is an EXCELLENT, life-changing Buddhist writer–I highly recommend any of her books to you… and when I say life-changing, I mean that literally) has been helpful for me. Tonglen is a form of breath meditation where you open yourself to another’s suffering: you breathe in their suffering, and breathe out peace/calm/etc. I find it helpful in developing compassion, especially towards those I’m angry with. The practice of mindfulness–being IN the moment–I find consistent with the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity. Meditation is also useful in centering for Meeting for Worship: I often start Meetings with a few minutes of meditation, to help quiet my own thoughts so I can better hear the Divine.

As for good books, Jim Pym (another Buddhist and Quaker) wrote one called “Listening to the Light”, which is mainly about Quakerism, but also about his experiences as a Buddhist as well. Mary Rose O’Reilly, who identifies as a Quaker, wrote a memoir called “The Barn at the End of the World” about her experiences tending sheep and spending time in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Buddhist retreat in France. (This is the book that got me interested in Buddhism; I was a Quaker first.)

I suffer from a lack of participation in a formal Buddhist meditation group. I’m disabled and unable to drive the distance required for meditation sessions. I’m not in the Bible Belt, but I live in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is pretty much Southern Christian Conservative in culture. My monthly meeting, Third Haven, is a kind of liberal oasis in the area; even that is half an hour away from me (my husband drives me to Meetings, though he doesn’t attend). There is at least one other Buddhist and Quaker at my Meeting, and I’ve made no secret that I identify as both.

I took my refuge and bodhisattva vows last May and intend to keep them. Part of that is not hiding that action.

As far as I know, no one in my Meeting has been upset or offended by my identification with both faiths. It might be helpful that I also take Christianity very seriously–I just finished reading the Bible for the second time as a whole a month ago and read the New Testament every year. I think Jesus and Buddha would have agreed on a lot. I also think Jesus and Buddha said a lot of the same things, but said them in the context of the dominant religion of the community they were in (for Jesus, it was Judaism; for Buddha, it was Hinduism).

Part of it is that I fundamentally believe that theologies (God, heaven, reincarnation, etc.) are, at their root, unknowable. In my mind, it makes no difference to me if I’m reincarnated when I die, sent to heaven, or my consciousness/soul simply ends: I try to act with compassion because I feel it’s the right thing to do, and I made the vow back in high school that I would act this way even if I’d be punished at the end (sent to hell–I was a Catholic at the time) and not rewarded.

I believe in God because I’ve felt His presence, yet I’m aware that this belief is based on a feeling and a concept. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment has taught me that what I call God, another might call something else. And that there is no way for me to know who is right, nor is that what I should be concerned about.

4 Comments

Filed under belief, buddhism, different faiths, faith, God, Jesus, meditation, meeting for worship, mindfulness, quakerism, statement of faith, third haven