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I Am Engaged

In October, 1982, I attended a meeting on Vajrayana Buddhism and stayed for 11 years and 11 months. As I age, the percentage of my lifetime spent there, gets smaller. Right now, it is 17% of my life. What eventually became apparent is that what happened in the ashram is not nearly as interesting as why I left and who I since have become. Unexpectedly, as of today, I have been on a Direct Path for 34% of my life. It is thrilling to watch that number grow, to still see the horizon in the rearview mirror. So far, it is my favorite part of aging.

Vajrayana is a subset of Tibetan Buddhism. At its core, it is a practice of meditation, scrupulously organizing the mind and surgically removing the thinker from the thought. (not the thought from the thinker – there is a big difference). Back then it seemed a perfect practice for a Virgo, certainly with Mercury in Virgo. But actually, there was something profoundly missing for me and, while only guess, my higher self kicked my ass right out the door.

One night when dashing from Grand Central Station to the meditation hall a homeless man asked for change. If you live or work in any large urban sprawl you learn fast that you simply cannot give a dollar to everyone who asks; nor can you say, “listen, I gave my last bit of change to the person around the corner.” Once tapped, you have to hold a distant look, move your feet and just keep going. He followed me. He followed me all the way to Mrs. Field’s cookies. I ordered one chocolate chip no nuts. Standing closer than I liked, when the clerk gave me change, the man put his hand over mine and nabbed the money. “Fuck Off!,” I said.

The short sentence was one of just a few uttered in my 69 years that changed me right then and there. I dropped the rock, I broke out of the wax, I shed lifetimes of practice and stood in bleaching light. Though it was not a direct insight, it was not long before the evidence could not be denied. My heart was pierced. Later that night, the meeting, the teacher asked for questions. I raised my hand. I told him the whole story and described my shame. The teacher said that meditating perfectly would help the poor, the homeless, the suffering more than anything else. Politely, I said, thank you.

For a year or more, I stayed on. I sat for hours. I read the texts. I followed the lineage. I received empowerments and was ordained but I was never home anymore. I was not sure what would be right but this mostly certainly was not right for me. I left. I started over. I had to meditate, organize my mind and find a new way to practice Self-Discovery. I committed to the Direct Path for the rest of my life.

Just on the other side of degrees, theory, philosophy, teachers, scripture and masses of information; something was percolating. As the story is told by Yogi Michael Stone ~ in the throes of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh and his monks debated if they should meditate or go outside to help those who are suffering. The decision they came to was BOTH. They would sit and take their mindfulness and spend it with to the suffering. It was one of the first stories of Applied Buddhism, of Engaged Buddhism. Since then we know of Bernie Glassman, The Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Warrior’s Way, the simple teaching of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, “Kindness is my religion.”

Oh happy day. Oh lucky me. I experienced, that for me, there is a spark, a heat, a lightning strike when hands and feet in service meet the possibility of giving. I finally understood what others have meant, it is a privilege to be in proximity to suffering. Many are confounded by the gospel passage that there will be poor always but the confusion rests in assuming the result is being glib. There is no direction to be glib. We are called to witness, to lift, to give comfort, to stand together.

For the Engaged Buddhist, Off the cushion and into the streets means to sit in stillness with a mission of readiness. We accept that peace can only enter the world through inner cultivation and conscious engagement. It is in service that the light we access in meditation finds its way into the world. Primarily, the Engaged Buddhist believes that they are the hands and feet of consciousness. They are called to manifest peace. There is no other way for Divine Light to enter this world but through our actions. Imperfect, to be sure. The next event, the next day, an inquiry will be made that draws even more through their being reaching deeper in hopes to be of greater comfort, of deeper solace, of listening with an open heart.

A few others describe their Engagement

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Marge Piercy, To Be of Use

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

James Kilbane, Here I Am Lord

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard My people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin, My hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear My light to them? Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart. I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have born my peoples pain. I have wept for love of them, They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, Give them hearts for love alone. I will speak My word to them, Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart. I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame. I will set a feast for them, My hand will save Finest bread I will provide, Till their hearts be satisfied. I will give My life to them, Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.


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