Today I sat with a group of Sri Lancan people, put my hands together, and paid homage to Buddha.
I was privileged to be able to take part in the wonderful ceremony of Vesak, the day Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing.
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In the morning a new friend and I stood with the rest of the celebrants around the perimeter of the great hall while children made their way about the room bearing gifts for Buddha. It was a Dana ceremony. Later I enjoyed a wonderful meal and good conversation. In the afternoon Bhikkhu Rahula, who had graciously invited me to the event, gave a Dhamma talk. His words were wise and informative.
I hope I got everything correct. I have much to learn about the cultural aspects of Buddhism.
Though I have been studying Buddha and Buddhism for three years and increasingly moving towards Buddhist practice today was the first day I enjoyed the company of Buddhists. I must admit I was quite nervous when I arrived, not knowing what the customs or etiquette was. Soon, though, I was engaged in conversation and was able to meet not only Bhikkhu Rahula, a marvelous and kind person, but several other monks as well, some from a temple in Port Arthur, Tx.
Having been in virtual solitude for such a long time my visit was quite a change. Though I made the trip to Houston and stayed in a hotel Friday and Saturday night specifically to visit the Vihara I almost didn’t go. It was a very big step for me. It’s one thing to learn, study and practice from books. It’s quite another to walk into a group of practicing Buddhists. Would I feel out of place? How would I be welcomed? Would it be different sitting with a group in front of a big Buddha than it is for me to sit before my little Buddha statues in the little corner where I meditate?
“Why don’t I just go back home,” I said to myself. “After all, I had a lousy night in the hotel, got little sleep, and the bed was a rock.” Ah, I answered, but I paid for the motel and planned the weekend for some time. I also knew my wife would fuss for wasting the trip. She would be right, of course. I went. I’m very glad I did.
When I walked up to the dining hall after I arrived some people asked if they could help me. I asked for Bhikkhu Rahula. The words sounded funny coming out of my mouth. I’d never spoken those words before.
A bonus of my visit was the opportunity to meet a new friend, an “American,” which in this case meant an anglo Texan. Bhikkhu Rahula was quite busy, understandably, and left me with Shawn, an engineer from Houston who has been visiting the Vihara for a couple years.
We had a good conversation over lunch. I probably talked too much. I’m good at that. How delightful it was, though, to be able to discuss things that are important to me with someone who does not look at me as if I’m from Mars!
It did not take too long for me to get over my nervousness. Though Shawn and I stood out like sore thumbs among the dozens of dark skinned Sri Lancan people we were a part of them in a way that I did not expect. Everyone was kind. The children who played around the grounds were all beautiful, happy, and very well behaved. My kids would have fit right in.
After Bhikkhu Rahula finished his talk he asked for questions. The words he’d spoken, like so much I have read, made so much sense to me all my questions were answered. I could have been the “A’men” corner had it been appropriate! Bhikkhu spoke about Truth and how the Buddha said Truth had to be universal or it was not Truth. Anything called Truth derived from custom, from books, from the words of others, is not Truth. I did agree!
Anyway, Bhikkhu called on my friend Shawn who had indicated he wanted to say something. Before I knew it he was relating some of our conversation and mentioning me! The eyes of the group I had happily avoided were all looking my way. After Shawn said what he did Bhikkhu said, “why don’t you introduce yourself and speak a little about why you are here.”
Hmmm. I remember those old days when I was a Christian and we’d put visitors on the spot. “Stand up,” we’d say. Arg. And here I was, a first time visitor to the Vihara, with all eyes on me! What goes around comes around, huh?
The faces were all kindly and curious. I explained that I came from a Christian background, that my religion had crumbled away, and that when I searched for Truth I found Buddha. I explained that I had been practicing from a book and was there today so that I could become part of a Buddhist fellowship and learn more than I can learn from books. I think that’s what I said. By then I was not the slightest bit nervous.
Following the Dhamma talk people came up and welcomed me. I’m sure they’d wondered about that odd looking big guy wondering around looking lost! A dear lady gave me a book of Buddhist wisdom. I will read and cherish it! Bhikkhu Rahula also gave me a copy of his book which I will also read as soon as I can.
At some point in our conversation in the Hall during the Dhamma talk I turned to my friend and said, “You know, I was not sure how I would feel actually being in a Buddhist temple. I feel at home.”
Having made one visit to the Vihara I would be very presumptuous to call the Vihara home specifically, of course, but today I feel as if I arrived home in a different way.
In Buddhism the Triple Gem is very important: The Buddha, The Dhamma, The Sangha. These three we find refuge. I have very much found refuge in The Buddha. The Dhamma, too, though I have so very much to learn, has been a refuge as well. But living in these back woods so far from anything Buddhist I had not experienced Sangha…. until today. Thus I “came home” in the sense that There was a wonderful moment when I found refuge in all three.
When I got back home my kids all jumped up and welcomed me with glee. They all missed me! I missed them too. My wife gave me a wonderful hug and kiss. How fortunate I am to have this family!
A bit later I eagerly told my wife all about my day. She was very kind to listen, nod, and throw in a “good” once in a while as I talked about my visit. I know my Buddhism is difficult for her to swallow. She loves me and respects my faith even if she has no interest in it herself.
Sitting on our back porch in our little back-woods primitive home, kids all in bed, wife catching up on some last minute TV (Probably HGTV!), I can say this has been a very joyous day. I have had two home comings, one that gave me joy in my faith and another that warmed my heart when my kids and wife all welcomed me from a two day trip as if I’d been gone for months.
Coming home. Ain’t it grand?
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