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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

Last week, after my post about how blue I was feeling around Thanksgiving, I received the following delightful comment from a reader named Rod who lives in Alabama:

Firstly, may your blues rise unto the sky and provide the landscape for the clouds to live. Secondly, thanks for sharing such a wonderful prayer. Thirdly, Thank you for such an exquisite book. I have no doubt that your treatment of this subject, the making and using of prayer beads, will enhance the spiritual lives of many folks from different denominational and religious backgrounds.

My wife and I are making the commitment to return to the Episcopal Church after a hiatus of ten years. Your discussion of the Anglican Rosary has already enhanced our path. I’m looking forward to using the Anglican Rosary in my daily life.

This will involve making a small change in the beads in my pocket. You see, I’ve carried malas with me for over 20 years as I’ve practiced and lived a bi-religious path: Buddhist-Christian. Not being Catholic, my experience with the Catholic Rosary has been rather superficial. However, having been a practicing Buddhist for over 27 years, and discovering malas 7 years into the journey, I thought that I’d only carry malas with me for the rest of my life.

My wife and I were confirmed in the Episcopal church 26 years ago this month. Yet, “way back then”, I had never heard of an Anglican Rosary so all of my beads were Buddhist. My Buddhist path moved from the study and practice of Zen, to the borders of Tibetan Buddhism in 1989. The first of a number of initiations followed shortly thereafter. It was a little over 10 years ago that I took refuge vows and became a “card carrying Buddhist”.

Living as a Christian and a Buddhist simultaneously has been an interesting experience. In fact, much of my academic training ( I received a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Western Kentucky University in 1980) led me to believe that this was an impossibility. However, I was able to walk within both paradigms at the same time…..never far from my malas.

As you may know, within Tibetan Buddhism, various initiations (wongkur) require the repetition of various mantras. Some of the required mantra repetitions are in the hundreds of thousands. For my guru yoga practice I had one mantra to repeat 250,000 times. I had one mala that was only used for this practice. It had two strings of counter beads attached to the 108 bead mala. Using the counters I could keep track of up to 10,000 repetitions. At that point I had to fall back on some small stones, each one representing 10,000 mantra representations. Then I could start my 10,000 count again up to 20,000, and so on and so forth.

I look forward to reading more of your book and delving further into the use of the Anglican Rosary. Blessings – Peace – Happiness,

Rod

Rod’s message chased all the blues away, and I was captivated by what he wrote about his own faith journey – so many different stops! – and how he uses his mala. 250,000 repetitions of a single mantra????? WOW! I wrote him back and asked him a few more questions about his prayer bead use. Here is what he had to say:

Over the years I’ve settled into carrying two types of malas. One, with all wooden beads on a string with a single tassel like the one in this picture:

rod-mala-1or a bone mala, similar to the one in this picture: rod-mala-21

The mala that “stays at home” is the one with counters on it, similar (but not exactly like) the one in this picture:

rod-mala-31

I had practiced Buddhist meditation methods ( a dozen or more different types of meditation) for more than a decade before agreeing to take refuge vows. However, the process takes some time. I attended 6 one-day long retreats held at one month intervals going through the Foundation Series. This series acquaints you with the basics of Buddhist thought and practice. The Series ends with the opportunity to “take refuge”. This link shows you the new (5 part) series taught in Atlanta at Drepung Loseling….by the same teacher who taught our class in 1998.

On February 1, 1998 I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. This formalized my Buddhist commitment and identity. What I like about the Geluk school’s Refuge ceremony is that it is rather straight forward and easy to understand. This link will fill in a lot of details about what it means to take refuge.

What do I do with a mala in my pocket? I do several things: first, I’ll finger them one at a time while matching my breath. This I do off and on all during the day. Just touching the beads while breathing reminds me of the time I’ve sat meditating and brings me closer to a relaxed open minded and open hearted response to life. Secondly I’ll run though some of the mantras I’ve used over the years:

1.) Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!

2) Om mani padme hum!

3) Om Vajrapani hum!

4) Om muni muni maha muniye soha!

5) Tayatha Om bekanze bekanze maha bekanze radze samung gate soha!

What I’ve done over the years is do a round of 108 repetitions of any one of these mantras, while in my pocket, while walking down a sidewalk, through a mall, etc. The repetition brings my mind back to a calm and alert state and sweeps aside the usual self centered commenting going on in my mind.

My two favorite mantras are # 2 and #5 in the list above. The #5 mantra is the mantra of the Medicine Buddha. My first Tibetan Buddhist initiation ( wongkur ) was in the practice of the Medicine Buddha.

To be accurate in answering your question about the 250,000 mantra repetitions I had to pull out my booklet received when undertaking the training for the Guru Yoga of Lama Tsong Khapa. This entire sadhana [spiritual practice], which takes between 25 and 40 minutes to complete was supposed to be done 100,000 times. Contained within this sadhana were a number of mantras that were to be performed 3 times, 7 times, 21 times or 108 times.

Many of us students would usually practice with the 3 times or 7 times repetitions of the mantras. Thus, if we did the entire sadhana 100,000 times we might repeat certain mantras 300,000 – 700,000 times! This takes years to accomplish and becomes a significant base of ones Buddhist practice within the Tibetan Buddhist ( Geluk School ) tradition.

Thanks, Rod, for sharing this intense practice! I wish you and your wife all the best in your return to the Episcopal Church.

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In my last entry, I wrote about the almost mystical prayer experience I had in Seattle’s gorgeous St. James Cathedral. I left there at about noon and continued my quest for good places to pray with beads in this quirky, lovely city.

For some reason, I got it into my head that after praying indoors at St. James, I should look for a good place to try out my prayer beads outdoors. Seattle is not known for its fine weather, but during the time my husband and I have been here, the weather has been positively ideal – sunny, between 74 and 80 degrees and often with a light breeze. After all the smoky skies we’ve been having in the SF Bay Area, the weather in Seattle has been like stepping out into a cool, bright morning after a night’s debauch in a cigar store.

So, after looking at a tourist map the concierge gave me, I decided I could walk from St. James to Seattle’s Japanese Garden. Surely, once there, I would be imbued with the meditative, Buddhist spirit of the place and be moved to pray.

WRONG.

I walked. And I walked. And I walked and I walked and I walked. With every step, I think a lost a little of transcendent mood I captured at St. James. By the time I stopped for some lunch in a neighborhood called Capitol Hill, I thought I must surely be within a block or two of my destination. WRONG AGAIN! It seemed that the tourist map crunched the perspective on the areas of the map outside Seattle’s downtown, because who, in their right mind, would want to venture beyond the Space Needle, Pioneer Square and the culinary lure of Pikes Place Market? So instead of a few blocks, I still had more than a mile. UPHILL.

Okay, so after a slice and soda, I set off. Soon I was walking on some pretty tree-lined streets with what I would call mansions on either side. The homes were definitely older – maybe from the 1920s or so – and some had four floors! All were gorgeous and I would dearly have loved to peek inside the humblest of them. After i don’t know how many blocks of this, I came to Volunteer Park, home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Asian art. Right. That goes with Buddhism. So I decided to stop there, draw some inspiration from looking at some Buddhist art before getting some more directions to the Japanese Garden.

Asian art is not my favorite. But as I was getting warm and needed a bathroom (soda – must remember not to guzzle soda when not working within steps of my bathroom) I eagerly stepped inside. And I am rather glad I did. The Museum – which is part of the Seattle Art Museum – was hosting a show called “Discovering Buddhist Art – Seeking the Sublime.” The show offered a great introduction to Buddhism, describing all the major stories about the Buddha and how the religion/philosophy spread across Asia. It had lots of statuary depicting Buddha as he is imaged in different Asian cultures, and I was on the look out for representations of him carrying malas, the Buddhist and Hindu form of prayer bead. Several of the statues of the Buddhas held little malas in their right hands, some while seated with their consort goddesses, others while crushing demons with their hands and feet. All the Buddhas and other figures in the show wore the most serene expressions on their faces, reflecting the immeasurable peace attained by true detachment from all wordly thing. Ah, yes – that reminds me – back to my quest for the the Japanese Garden where, I too, might find such detachment.

WRONG AGAIN!

I set off one more time, still almost a mile away from my destination – and with one more major hill to climb up and over. But, like any spiritual quest, it isn’t the destination, but the journey, and my journey through the Capitol Hill neighborhood was one of the highlights of the day. As I have been all week, I was stunned by the vibrancy of the flowers in this town – riots of hydrangea, roses, peonies, marigolds, poppies, pansies, fuchsia spring from the smallest garden plots and from hanging baskets that seem to be a totem of this city. And at the top of the hill, I was rewarded with a view of Mt. Ranier, snowy and cool and remote, some 90 miles away from the city.

And someone who lives on Capitol Hill has a sense of whimsy. As I walked by this one big house, the yard was decorated with “art” – painted cowboy boots, stone towers and the like. At the foot of a tree in the yard was a collection of little trinkets – sea glass, little dolls, balls, etc. and a sign that said “take a treasure.” I did – a piece of sea glass!

Downhill, downhill, downhill and then – at last! – the Japanese Garden. But I think by this point I was just too darned tired to be inspired anymore. All but three of the park’s benches were in full sun at this time of day, so I couldn’t find anywhere to sit and be alone. But I took some pictures and I show them to you here so you can see that if you do come to Seattle and you are looking for a good outdoor place to be alone with your thoughts and prayers, this will do. It is a little close to Lake Washington Blvd. for it to be totally quiet, but it has lovely waterfalls and brooks that spread the soothing melody of bubbling water throughout.

This is a brook that runs through the garden. You can sit on a rock or under a tree or on a bench – if you can find one not in the sun.

And here’s a shot of the pond – that the brook runs into – looking across to a set of bridges. There are big goldfish in the pond (I don’t think they are koi) and some turtles that come up and sun themselves on the rocks. Dragonflies dart among the waterlilly blossoms.

This is a shot of the pond from the bridges pictured above. It is nice a cool under the willows and that would me a nice place to meditate or pray.

And here is a guy who is doing what I had hoped to be doing – meditating or thinking or praying – before the brook. I am happy he found a good spot.

And these are my feet after my walk. IS IT ANY WONDER I

COULDN’T FIND THE INSPIRATION TO MEDITATE OR PRAY??

Then I did something smart. I caught the bus back to the hotel, bought an iced coffee and put my feet up.

In my next post, I’ll give you a review of a couple of Seattle bead stores I frequented and I’ll tell you about one or two more places I visited for prayer.

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