Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Floating Zen: Harvard Buddhist Community

Photo © 2006 Laine Walters/The Pluralism Project; you can visit the beautiful Andover Chapel virtually here at the Pluralism Project's resources page.

This one I'm going to call Dharma treat.

Especially after the day I had-- oy! Pilar Teishin and the very bad no awful terrible horrible day. (A mama's nod, obviously, to this gem.) To wit: my kitchen flooded-- Twice; and thus I learned my landlord is terminally ill. Some mean 20-year-olds began dismantling the igloo I'd just made for my 3-year-old in front of him, apparently for snowballs. And to make matters worse, turns out I'd put my underwear on inside-out while dressing this morning. Gah. This day!

I'd planned to visit the Harvard Buddhist Community meditation session in the evening, but while stirring my rice for dinner I decided I oughtn't count on it... and so began the utter blessing of remembering to give up completely.

I even gave up on counting on knowing where I was going, once I made it there --and so I did, at 6 o'clock sharply. And so imagine my delight when I arrived at the chapel's front door just in time to meet a very nice law student who was on his way there also. A guide. Wonders!

We ascended a noble-looking stair and entered an old chapel that took my breath away. I'd read a bit of its history on the Pluralism Project website (the link is above), but really, web sites do no justice to delivering the real feel of a place. Old wood, wide walls, grand ornamentation and lofty, pointy ceilings-- I entered the room and felt elevated.

And so should one feel at Harvard, one supposes...

At the center of that ruckus of a wooden-chair-gathering you see pictured above was a nice, cushy oval rug, and upon that rug were a handful of zabutons, upon whose zafus sat a handful of students. Honestly, it was a novelty for me-- nearing 40 as I am-- to at long last be the eldest person in the room; most dharma communities I visit are home to folks far older than I, and I've long been one of the youngest in attendance, even now. Yet at the opposite end of the oval stood a simple wooden table, and thereupon sat the oldest One in attendance, with a bright offering of a single candle beside the icon. I bowed to all the ages, and sat.

Tsultrim, the student leading the group, gave a brief introduction to the practice, which was grounded in awareness, effort and relaxation. There is no particular style HBC follows; rather they are open to any meditation tradition and so echo that diversity in the format they offer. We sat "in our own way" for 20 minutes, facing the center of our oval, and after had a brief Council-style sharing session where we could say aloud whatever was on our minds at the moment, passing the talking-stick afterward to our neighbor. Tsultrim began our Council practice with a short reading on past, future & present from his Tibetan resource of Mind Trainings. At the end, by my request, we said our names again and what meditation tradition we followed.

The real gift of the evening-- I mean besides giving up completely-- was in the joy offered by sitting with others who are from such different backgrounds, inspirations, techniques and traditions. It struck me that this doesn't really happen that often-- usually, one goes to a Zen Center or a Tibetan Center or a Theravadin Center, and that's that. So throughout the meditation period, before even knowing anyone's training or experience, and without those labels or the "common cause" that can rally (...and distract) those within a given tradition, I returned again and again to this sense that all of us were just sharing a truly human experience. By whatever means, we were simply meditating. And struggling with the same repetitive thoughts, soreness of muscles, antsyness, stillness... Just sitting.

The Harvard Buddhist Community is open to anyone who has an interest in sitting with such a lovely diversity of folk, and tonight students old and very new in the Vipassana, Zen, Tibetan, Thich-Nhat-Hahn, Catholic and "otherwise nameless" traditions met together with great sincerity.

And, once again (lucky me), with great zafus...

Three out of three enso!

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