As an Asian American who grew up in the West, Tibetan Buddhism has always been a source of fascination and inspiration for me. In college I’d read a few of Lama Yeshe’s books and in 2004 had the fortune to attend the Maitreya Heart Shrine Relic Tour when it arrived in New York. But it wasn’t until 2017 that I would enroll in my first Discovering Buddhism (DB) course at Shantideva Meditation Center, “Intro to Tantra.”
My own roots in Buddhism were developed through Ch’an Buddhism for more than 20 years under the guidance of many an incense board. Learning to calm my mind and illuminate its vicissitudes, within a giant meditation hall, filled with the quiet robes of the sangha has been one of my greatest sources of refuge and happiness. My teachers have all, in one way or another, aimed at modernizing the more traditional facets of Buddhism recognizing the differences of the West. One of my main teachers, Master Sheng Yen, once commented that Westerners often need to approach the ego differently, as it were, by first conjuring a more “coherent” sense of the self before deconstructing it altogether. (Sometimes it takes more than the whack of an incense stick to redirect one on the road to enlightenment.) I certainly found this to be the case after the elections of 2016.
Shortly after registering for DB, I signed up for Venerable Amy Miller’s retreat on “Riding the Wave: Moving Forward in Vulnerable Times” which addressed the topic of Buddhists finding themselves at odds with the current political ethos. Like most New Yorkers, I found myself ill at ease with the new political milieu. While the trappings of my own tradition would ask me to simply “put down” all distractions, every news leak and Tweet became further impetus for my mind to spiral inward with renewed obsessive compulsion for the news. (“Om Samsara” as Rinpoche would say?) So when Ven. Amy asked us to focus on the current events and reflect upon our minds I felt my mind doing a double take. When Venerable asked whether we could “soften the edges” of our hearts to accommodate people whom we had walled off, because of political disagreements, I felt a sudden swell of tears behind my eyes. Ven. Amy’s longstanding experience in politics resonated well with my New York upbringing. I realized that my mind had convinced itself that I was gliding smoothly along the surface of the water, on the waves of samsara, when in fact I’d dropped off the board long ago.
Since then I have found a new home in the many teachings and retreats at Shantideva Meditation Center (SMC). Discovering Buddhism and the teachings of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe have greatly deepened my own appreciation of Buddhism as a dynamic exploration of the self. I have also found that the teachings of the lamrim have provided a nice mental anchor against the tides of worldly distractions. Meditations on the perfect human rebirth, the difficulty of encountering the Buddhadharma, and reflecting on the nine points of death have, as an example, provided new possibilities for developing meditative equipoise.
As such, I am greatly excited that SMC will soon open a new home in Brooklyn with a center full of activities and meditation courses led by a group of wonderful people who are working hard on perfecting their delivery and approach to the Dharma. It takes a village to build a thriving community and I encourage anyone reading this blog to come and participate as everyone plays an integral part. Last spring I had the rare opportunity to attend part of the month-long Light of the Path retreat, where I witnessed Lama Zopa Rinpoche tirelessly give himself to the Dharma by teaching, nonstop, for four hours a night. This kind of opportunity and energy to witness the Dharma is very rare. Ven. Amy often reminds us that the Buddha asked us to check, check, and check again – and if the teachings, our center, and our community of practitioners speak to you, as they have for many of us, then join. Contributing to the development of a new center does not come merely in the form of money but kind participation. And if you should feel encouraged to contribute financially, we would certainly be grateful as well. Hope to see you at the new space!
Michel is a lifelong practitioner of the Dharma who finds solace in cloud covered mountain monasteries where there is nary a trace of a rumbling subway, but rather the echo of gongs and chanting monastics.