About 15 years ago I was exposed to basic Buddhist concepts through the writings of Kerouac, and also many of the other Beat Generation writers, through a book called “Big Sky Mind”. All of these different writers whose lives were influenced by Buddhism were represented in this book, which is a collection of passages reflecting on Buddhism and its impact on our lives in western society.
Over the years, I would occasionally return to my interest in Buddhism. While my interest is sincere, it is casual. I am by no means an expert on Buddhism. In fact, I have forgotten most of what I have learned over time, and find myself to be in the humble position of always having “beginner’s mind” … which is a good thing!
I read books like “First You Shave Your Head”….“Tibetan Book of the Dead”…. “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” and a ton of stuff by notable Buddhists and scholars like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Shunryu Suzuki.
…making first contact with other Buddhists (the Sangha)
In 1998, I made some friends who practiced Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren was sort of a 13th century rebel who thought that Buddhism belonged to the people, not the priests… and also a proponent of the Lotus Sutra.
I was very interested in two very important aspects of Nichiren Buddhism:
Chanting daimoku, as I perceive it, is seen as a way to influence one’s karma through sound and vibration. It helps the Buddhist to focus his energies towards his goals as the vibrations of his chanting daimoku permeate every aspect of his existence with Buddhist thought, deeds, and action (and hopefully results!).
The Gohonzon is a very important meditation symbol. Consisting of Japanese script arranged in a very precise manner, the Gohonzon is a visual representation of important Buddhist concepts, but also as a mirror into the mind of the person chanting daimoku. Essentially when you are chanting daimoku to the Gohonzon, you are chanting to your true Buddha nature
In 1999, Jewel Heart sponsored a lecture at a church in West Bloomfield. I eagerly attended the lecture by Gelek Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk with a sense of humor that helped the audience to engage the topics he discussed.
I made a New Year’s 2006 visit to Zensho An (in Clawson, MI) to try some sitting and walking meditation techniques. The monk who ran the space had a visitor from Japan, and they both talked about Japanese culture and what the New Year means to them.
I visited the Detroit Zen Center in Hamtramck on one occasion in the spring of 2006. A session of Zen meditation and a lecture about some basic Buddhist concepts left me intrigued and energized for quite a long time afterwards.
…a little bit of the Dharma
In 2008 I took the chance to see the Dalai Lama in Ann Arbor, MI. He delivered a lecture about Nagarjuna’s writings. The lecture was HHDL reading a passage, and then commenting on its meaning. Since HHDL was most comfortable speaking in Tibetan, his translator would then give us the English version of HHDL’s comments.
HHDL also discussed the roles we play in society, and our responsibilities to each other. An assortment of monks was present onstage with him, and assisted in chanting during the appearance. It was an interesting experience that I will always value.
…cultivating Buddha mind ( locally!)
Since I moved to Grand Rapids in 2009, I have been looking casually for others interested in Buddhism. There are a few places where it exists, but you really have to look for it. I really hadn’t had any luck and was distracted by other things occurring in my life and lost focus in regards to Buddhism for some time.
I have been thinking recently about how to bring the dharma to town. I had an idea or two kicking around about a lecture series with art, music and food to make it a more comprehensive event… something to really experience, rather than just have people come and hear some guy talk “Buddha…dharma…blah blah blah…form is emptiness…blah blah blah”
Recently some new ideas and opportunities have been appearing on the horizon. I have started to think that maybe there are some more concrete possibilities in the works for the future…
So my point in all of this?
In reminiscing about my past exposure to Buddhism, and thinking about my future involvement, it seems that Buddhism has found a new home in my present.
Grand Rapids Zen Center is setting up shop just a few blocks from my home in Heritage Hill… due to open in June 2011….
Now how cool is that? Just as I have been focused on my search for Buddhism and thinking about where to find it, or how to bring it to me, Buddhism shows up right under my nose!
That is so damn Zen…