Kindness: A nun in Taiwan

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We need to remember that most of practice can be summed up in kindness.

Charlotte Joko Beck

I feel blessed to include this photo in my book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love.  My host in Taiwan, Venerable Jenkir Shih, is pictured on the right with one of her elder students from one of her classes on Buddhism.  She brought me with her to visit this lovely woman after the death of her husband.  Many family members gathered for the visit with Ven. Jenkir and I was treated to the warmth of an extended Chinese family honoring a loved one.

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If you are in Boulder don’t miss my book signing at the Boulder Bookstore, Weds, Apr 24, 7:30 – 8:30.  I will be presenting a slideshow of photos from the book and talking about the quotes from women teachers that accompany the photos.

In Vietnam with Guanyin

Deborah Bowman in a temple in Hoi An, Vietnam

A Mother Meets the Buddha: Patacara

Patacara statueThis photo of Patacara is taken in Thailand at Songdhammakalyani Monastery where 12 statues are placed of the foremost Theri (elder nuns) from the time of the Buddha.  

The next photo is from the same monastery of clay sculptures of the Theri by Venerable Dhammananda.  

The last photo shows Rev. Dhammananda and the sisters of the monastary meditating under a Medicine Buddha.

   

Last night I delivered a speech about Patacara to the 2012 graduating class of Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University.  I learned several members of the class would sing Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Paul Simon right before my talk.  Those students inspired the beginning of my speech:

Our job as transpersonal psychotherapists is to be that bridge over troubled waters and to help others to learn to ease their minds.  Our job is also to inspire the depths that are possible below those troubled waters, where the peace of our greatest nature resides.

In an ancient Chinese text, the TaoTe Ching, an old sage expressed it this way:

Some say my teachings are nonsense.

Others call them lofty yet impractical

But for those who have looked inside themselves,

This nonsense makes perfect sense.

And to those who have put it into practice,

this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:

simplicity, patience and compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and thoughts,

you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

You accord with the way things are.

Compassionate towards yourself,

you reconcile all beings in the world.***


Therigatha statues

Simple in our thinking as we start to drop some of our mind chatter and insecurities.  Instead of our ranting or babbling with others, simply saying, “I’m sad or angry and I need support” or “I hear how much pain you are in.”

Patient towards all parts of ourselves, towards the differences of others and what we don’t understand.

Compassionate. Trusting compassion is our basic nature.  When we look within and put compassion into practice our world is righted and we see a human being where we once saw a wrong.

I’d like to share a story on this day before Mother’s day about a mother who lost everything, went mad and then found a bridge over troubled waters.

Her name is Patacara and she lived some 2500 years ago in ancient India.   She was making the traditional trip home to her parents to birth her second child.

The baby came midway on the journey and while her husband struggled to make a shelter in a storm he was bit by a poisonous snake and died.

Continuing her journey both her sons died as she attempted to cross a river.

When she came to the town of her family she discovered her parents and brother died when their house collapsed in a fire. The ashes were still smoldering.

Mad with grief she wandered about walking in circles and tearing at her cloths. As a ragged and now homeless person people threw trash at her.

Sitting with the Medicine Buddha

One day she entered a grove where the Buddha was teaching and the audience attempted to keep her away.  Nevertheless the Buddha approached her and said “Sister, recover your presence of mind.”

Her mind became clear at that moment and after hearing his words of wisdom she asked to be ordained.  On the spot he left the audience and  took her to a community of nuns where she was accepted.

Here is a poem by Patacara of her later enlightenment in a moving translation by Anne Waldmen, one of the founders of our Writing and Poetics program:

Young Brahmins plough fields,

sow seeds,

nourish their wives and children,

get wealthy

Why can’t I find peace?

I’m virtuous

comply with the teacher

not lazy or puffed up

One day washing my feet

I watched the water as it

trickled down the slope

I fixed my mind

the way you’d

train a thoroughbred horse

Later, taking my lamp

I enter my cell

sit on my bed and

watch the flame

I extinguish the wick

with a needle

The release of my mind

is like the quenching of the lamp

O the nirvana of the little lamp!

Patacara expresses frustration in this verse yet describes how she returns to a simple practice with patience.  No longer tearing her cloths to shreds or the facets of her mind she finds the compassion that has no boundaries.

The moment the lamp is extinguished so is her final suffering.  Her peace is the bliss of nirvana.

Patacara went on to become a great teacher and many expressed their appreciation her for being their own bridge over troubled waters.

We have a lot to celebrate today.  You’ve followed your own emotional, mental and spiritual path of development these past 3 or 4 years.

You’ve shared what you’ve learned of simplicity, patience and compassion with your clients in internship.  You bring your presence of mind to your work and invite others onto the same path.  This is the transpersonal path.

Now you are about to make your own journey as healers into the world.  I speak for all the staff and faculty of Naropa University in wishing you many, many blessings on your journey.

***translation by Stephen Mitchell

All photos by Deborah Bowman

For more photos and inspirational words go to www.thefemalebuddha.com

For the 2008 Naropa University graduation speech go to www.luminousbuddha.com

Open Engagement: Relationship and Empathy

Spirituality is the movement from our prison of self-blame and self-preoccupation to an inclusive and open engagement with life.
-Sharon Salzberg


This week I’ve been under a deadline to write an academic paper for a conference I attend every year in Bangkok sponsored by the International Association of Buddhist Universities.  I have struggled to write again as a scholar after enjoying the free flow of sharing as a blogger, personally and upfront.

I’ve fallen behind in my blog schedule and just realized that a few fragments from the paper I’ve been laboring on addresses Sharon’s invitation into a more open engagement with life.  Here are some excerpts on relationship and empathy, topics addressed in my paper: Slang, Freud and Buddhist Psychology: Clarifying the Term “Ego” in Popular, Psychodynamic and Spiritual Contexts.  Quite a mouthful.

Relationship

The Buddhist concept of interdependence informs our understanding of relationship and the natural reciprocity inherent in all of life.  While a psychodynamic perspective understands the autonomous development of the individual as a necessity, Buddhism points to the danger of the extremes of self-sufficiency creating a false sense of “I.” This “I” or ego manipulates and misperceives self and other.

Suffering in relationships stem from the extremes of independence and dependence.  One is marked by the painful experience of isolation and the other is an immature fusion where our demands on others do not reflect our chronological age.  Learning to walk the interdependent path begins with the practice of attending to the present moment, seeing through the impermanence of past wounds and trusting the guidance of our teachers to mirror our yearning for compassion and liberation from suffering.

The Bodhisattva Vow, to liberate others before oneself counters the tendency of the individual to attend to oneself and not the other.  From the Buddhist point of view we are all narcissistically wounded in clinging to the “I” and it’s delusional views and habits. Waking up requires the development of clear seeing and the reversal of painful self-centric patterns in relationship.

Empathy

Compassion is Buddhism is related to empathy as it is based in entering the experience of the other.  The Latin root of the word refers to having deep feelings (passion) with (com) another.  Compassion implies a further response of an action to bring relief to the passion (suffering) of the other.  In this case passion is understood as the impossible desire to escape “what is.”

A compassionate response can pierce the ego-encasement that an individual has built to protect him or herself from pain.  Compassion acknowledges and accepts loss and other feelings imagined as too big to bear.  Compassion understands the ultimate boundarylessness of experience and the natural exchange continuously occurring between all beings.

In the Buddhist view any wall created to protect the self from others is the creation of ego or a false sense of self.  At the same time Buddhism does not deny the uniqueness or the different experiences of each human being.  The task to hold both a relative and an absolute understanding of self and “no-self” is embraced on the path of liberation. Holding this paradox we open to embracing other and “no-other” as well.

If this were a blog I’d add it’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too!

Action + Acceptance — Art Therapy Serves Sex Trafficked Girls

Acceptance does not mean passivity. We may try to accept things as they are, but that doesn’t mean if, for example, a situation is unjust that we don’t try to change it.
Diana Winston

There is so much pain and suffering in this world that is hard to accept.  I have a friend that is working on a project to bring art therapy to young girls who have been used in the sex traffic industry so I’ll start there.

Slavery and rape are more accurate words for the unspeakable crimes committed against children throughout the world.  “Traffic” and “industry” says how far off course humanity has veered.

The reports on girls abducted or sold on the black market is horrifying.  The latest stories and the mounting statistics tug heavily at my heart.  I admire those who challenge the transgressions in the streets and in the halls of government.

How can we accept these despicable acts?  Not easily, but if we don’t fully accept the injury we can never address the suffering. When we accept the truth we face it, look it in the eye and let it in our hearts.

No wonder it’s so hard to accept. Our heartstrings are inevitably intertwined with the distress of others the moment we make contact.  Acceptance means connection and responsibility. Response-ability is the measure of an open heart.

With endless access to the suffering of a world torn open by the media’s onslaught we are faced with a mighty big task.  Every one of us must honestly ask ourselves whom we are able to serve: a young girl, a neighbor, our grandfather?

Every year I am struck by the ignorance of a childhood fiction that the world was on a trajectory of improvement.  The 50’s myth was shored up by a mistaken belief that every disease would be cured, technology would solve any problem and increased understanding was uniting humans across racial differences.

Yet every year my eyes are opened to greater suffering and doubts about a future on our planet. Child slavery points a laser beam on that uncertainty.

So how do we choose to serve?  How we know our capacity? How do we keep our hearts open?

My friend Sue is finding her edge developing a service-learning project for her art therapy students at Naropa University.  The Naropa Community Art Studio International is planning to take their healing work to Cambodia to support and empower survivors of sex trafficking.

She’s Partnered with Transitions Global, an organization that provides a safe environments where girls can heal through intensive trauma therapy and sustainable life and job skills training.

Raising funds through crowdrise and throwing marathon-painting parties the students are on their way to working with the Cambodian girls next summer.

Do I need to believe in a myth?  Absolutely not.  Can I accept a world of hurt?  It’s a little easier with friends like Sue.