images of the crossing over

Cold shoulder

“[When the Buddha took the offering of rice-pudding from Sujata, he made] a decision toward life.”
-Jane Hirschfield, from the PBS documentary “The Buddha.”

* * * addendum 02.04.2011

I was unpacking my boxes from school–it’s vacation and I’m back at my home temple–when I came across a scrap of paper covered on one side with my half of a written conversation held with one of my do-ban during a “special lecture” at school our first year. I don’t remember what prompted our debate over monasticism and participation (or non-) in social/political issues; I do remember that we stood on opposite sides, I for involvement of some kind, and she against involvement of any kind. I wrote, for my part, the following:

One of the blessings of a fortunate human rebirth is to be born in a country where you have freedom to hear and practice the Dharma…don’t tell me Sunims should ignore politics. Love or hate the reality, politics matter to us. In the U.S., if religious people don’t defend freedom of religion, who will?

I’m not saying go out and campaign. I am saying vote, be aware, and if the cause is great enough–war, for example–be public about where you stand and how your spiritual life is asking you to act. A religious/spiritual life that doesn’t have the confidence to be public, to expose itself to criticism and scorn, to put peace and patience into action when necessary–that’s just a show. False. Quietism without relationship to the real situation.

At this point, my do-ban must’ve told me I was being overly American, to which I retorted by bringing up all the complaining the Buddhist community does about the anti-Buddhist president, Lee Myeong-bak (이명박):

What’s all this 이명박 noise then?!! MY POINT EXACTLY!!!

I underscored the last line. In red. Twice. Obviously, I felt the pot was calling the kettle black. But I found it funny, both comic and coincidental, that just when I’m having another reaction to what I accusatorially called “quietism,” I find evidence of past dissatisfaction with the cold shoulder.

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3 responses

  1. Warm heart.

    February 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    • Hi Barry!

      Thank you.
      Jane Hirschfield’s statement–her very bold reading of the Buddha’s acceptance of that bowl of porridge beyond “he returned to the Middle Way” into “toward life”–struck me deeply, like a challenge. It’s a very affirmative stance, so connected to the possibilities that practice bears on us in our world, as we are and as this world needs us. It’s difficult to reconcile that living Buddhism (and the living, toward-life Buddha) with the entrenched tradition(s) that sometimes do not see our practices in a greater context of engagement, but sometimes even insist on a willful ignorance of “the world.” I was in a conflicted mood when I walked up to our Dharma Hall, something that came out (without explanation) in the juxtaposition between the statues and Hirschfield’s words.

      February 4, 2011 at 12:31 am

  2. great reflections! thank you!

    February 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm

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