Hey everyone, here’s a link to my talk on Cultural Humility and Listening to the Heart of Basic Goodness that was sponsored by the Boston Shambhala Center. Would love to hear what you think!
From 2000 to 2012 I was a Buddhist (and interfaith) chaplain intern at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where I also worked as a Research Professor of Public Health. While Buddhism is far from being a mainstream religion in the United States[i], I found that my Buddhist practices and understandings supported me in my training as an interfaith chaplain.
I was part of a team of multi-faith chaplains at a large, tertiary care hospital in downtown Philadelphia. Our care supported spiritual and emotional needs of patients in the many clinical departments of the hospital. I was “on-call” approximately once a month, responding to calls from the nursing floors, as well as to emergencies, and rounding in the many medical and surgical intensive care units.
In addition to our on-call time, we also had supervision-type meetings where all of the people in my internship group got together and discussed patient cases, intermixing clinical discussion with theological perspectives. There were often 4-6 chaplain interns in my peer groups; at that time, I was the only Buddhist. Most of the others were Christian and reflected the diversity of Philadelphia’s demographic, ranging from Catholic to black Baptist. Many of the patients I visited were not Buddhist either, although I was the Buddhist chaplain on call. In that role, I visited Vietnamese and Chinese families as their loved ones were dying, as well as Western-trained Buddhists who were in for bone marrow transplants and cancer treatment.
My training as a Buddhist and meditator supported me in this activity. I vividly experienced the Four Noble Truths, one of the first teachings the Buddha gave – where he spoke of birth, old age, sickness, and death. The Buddhist teachings became very visceral and immediate, providing tremendous ground for my personal formation as a chaplain. My practices of mindfulness and awareness supported an intention to open to myriad situations within the hospital, and to listen deeply.
And, a trust in Bodhicitta[ii] – a basic goodness that exists in all beings – was key to my caregiving as a chaplain. When I interacted with patients and staff, I used our encounters to look for that personally felt connection to Bodhicitta. This connection was often created through conversation and physical gestures. It was an exploration of what topics, words, movements – warmed the heart, and opened up the humanity within the hospital room. It could be noticing family photos, or what sports team was playing on the television, or equally a prayer from a religious tradition.
In the urban environs of Philadelphia, I discovered many ways that people expressed their connection to their human-ness, Bodhicitta. And, I felt it was one of the chaplain’s roles to support and enhance that quality through words and gestures, particularly in times of grief and transition. I would mirror Bodhicitta back to them – perhaps through a spontaneous prayer – or gestures – perhaps by joining hands – in a way that would bring comfort to them. It was seldom that I overtly proclaimed my being Buddhist, unless I was asked. However, I felt that my Buddhist training supported an ability to be present with suffering and to offer compassion, as well as to be open to a creative expression of what was appropriate for a specific encounter.
It has been years since my first CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) trainings in Philadelphia, and I have gone on to teach aspiring chaplains in the Master of Divinity program at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Along the way, I’ve recognized the many Buddhist upayas[iii], or skillful means, that support how our own and others’ suffering can be worked with and alleviated. As mindfulness meditation has become increasingly popular within our larger social sphere[iv], I have observed how mindfulness, a practice originally described in Buddhist texts[v], has become a support for many caregivers who may not identify solely (or at all) as being Buddhist.
This changing role of Buddhist views and practices within the field of chaplaincy is a question that we hope to answer in a current study, Mapping Buddhist Chaplains in North America[vi], that is being fielded through Brandeis with a consortium of researchers from academic institutions in the United States. As Buddhism as a religion and practice becomes integrated within Western sensibilities, it will be relevant how chaplaincy and spiritual caregiving draws upon Buddhist wisdom, as well as how Buddhist practices are shaped by practicing chaplains.
[i] Pew Research in 2019 finding 1% of the US population are Buddhists 5 facts about Buddhists around the world. Pew Research Fact Tank, April 2019.
[ii] Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart, Pema Chodron. Lion’s Road, October, 2015. https://www.lionsroar.com/bodhichitta-the-excellence-of-awakened-heart/. Accessed 1/6/2021.
[iii] An Explanation of Upaya in Buddhism Skillful or Expedient Means. https://www.learnreligions.com/upaya-skillful-or-expedient-means-450018. Accessed 1/6/2021.
[iv] Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over. NCHS Data Brief 325, Nov 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db325-h.pdf. Accessed 1/6/2021.
[v] The Buddha’s Original Teachings on Mindfulness: The Satipatthana Sutta, from the Pali Canon, outlines some of the Buddha’s first instructions in establishing mindful awareness. Tricycle, March, 2018. https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/satipatthana-sutta-mindfulness/. Accessed 1/6/2021.
[vi] Mapping Buddhist Chaplains in North America. tinyurl.com/buddhistsurvey. Accessed 1/6/2021.
In these days, we’re bombarded by news, household logistics, and finances (among other things) – the question may arise” how is my meditation practice fit into all of this?” In this short talk, I consider what might bring us to the path of dharma, and how we’re motivated to stay on (or stray from) this path.
A guided meditation for the Zoom-weary.
These days, many of our group practice and study programs are taking place on zoom. How do we create a felt sense of community over this medium?
A challenge on meditating on zoom arises when our eyes and attention are often focused on an electronic screen, while our body is ensconced – often alone – in our bedroom or study. This guided meditation aspires to coordinate our mind with our body – a coming together of our conscious attention and thoughts with our felt sensory experience.
So to start, let’s just find a good seat, whether you’re in a chair, on your couch, on your meditation cushion. Find a good way to sit, so that your back rises very gently, like a tree seeking light. And you might meditate with your eyes open or closed, either way is fine. A good posture and good head and shoulders. You might want to put your hands in your lap or on your knees. The important thing is to be comfortable but upright, not too tight and not too loose.
Now I’d like you to find your breath wherever that is. It might be in your abdomen, your lower chest, it might be by your nose – And let’s take a few deep breaths together, and allow yourself to settle into your body. And in doing so you might notice your presence in your physical location, in your room. Your dining table wherever that is – just take that all in – notice that.
Notice your body settled within this room. And then you might notice your attention is also being directed to an electronic screen, whether it’s your phone or a computer, iPad. Notice that we’re bound together through this medium.
There’s two aspects of our presence right now – one is in our physical location where our body is breathing very simply. The other is our attention is directed either visually or maybe just aurally through sound – that we’re connected together through our electronic instruments and the internet. So notice this dual presencing that we might have – in our room, breathing, very simply but also that we’re joined together through the internet.
You may even want to turn off your screen or turn away from your screen at this point, but still acknowledging the community that we’ve created through the internet and through zoom.
Let’s practice this way [meditate for a short – or longer – time]
Notice what you notice, and breathe with that.
Okay, that’s it. Thank you.
“How do we blend contemplative practice with service in the world? How can we extend ourselves, offer ourselves to that world in an authentic way? One where we’re not burning out at the same time? How can we support people both at the peak of tragedy, getting over the most difficult parts, as well as the lasting repercussions? We meet people there, with them, where they are, with an open heart, acknowledging with them moment by moment by moment. I feel that’s where our contemplative practices are most supportive, helping us be more present with that moment to moment disillusion. There is one moment – the one moment that is all of our life really.”
Mindful U Podcast with Dave Devine, April 17, 2018
I’ve been listening to the Heart Sutra that the Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche sangha put together for Saga Dawa about a month ago. Saga Dawa is the celebration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.
The Heart Sutra is practiced in many Mahayana Buddhist traditions in Asia and the West – in many translations and formats. It ranges from 21,000 pages in the Tibetan tradition down to a single syllable AH, as a expression of profound understanding.
The Shambhala Buddhist community has practiced a “medium length” version of the Heart Sutra since the early 1970s translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee. And in the shrine room at 1111 Pearl Street the mantra of the Heart Sutra, Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha was painted in gold lettering around the entire perimeter. [Read more…] about Heart Sutra musings
I’m sitting in DIA waiting for my plane to DC. Along with me are the ceramic tablets that my cousin Margo gave me a couple of weeks ago in Lodi – they were commissioned by Uncle Harry (in Hong Kong? China?) and are 30 pound large photos inscribed on white ceramic of my two grandparents on my mother’s side, who died in China and whom I never knew.
Perhaps there are the familial dralas coming along with them – my heritage from China – ones that I never knew but Chinese dralas that seem to be coming at me full-force ever since I went to Japan – 2 years ago – and Hong Kong – last year – and India Thailand and Taiwan – earlier this year.
I’ve been thinking about how we are trapped – not only by doubt, but by so many other aspects of our life. Of course right now there’s the physical claustrophobia of being in lockdown, and how to “open up” – and not to go too quickly. There’s the trap of our expectations there – that things could go “back to normal” – whatever we might have in mind for what that is. Then there’s the hesitation, the fear, that comes along with that – is it safe to go out? What have the medical experts have to say? The push and pull of the health and the economy, as it is described in the daily news cycle.
Then of course we might be stuck in another way – trapped in expectations about what practice may have to offer us, and perhaps what teacher or teacher(s) we should follow, listen to, practice with. So in contrast to a definitely held physical limitation (such as social distancing and staying inside all the time) we might be trapped, stuck, regarding how to proceed on the path.
Generosity is the virtue that produces peace.
By this generosity one has power over the bhūtas.
By this generosity one is free from enemies.
Generosity is the transcendent friend.
Therefore, generosity is said to be essential.
Generosity is the ornament of the world.
Through generosity, one turns back from the lower realms.
Generosity is the stairway to the higher realms.
Generosity is the virtue that produces peace.
The prosperity of the bodhisatvas Is inexhaustible, filling the whole of space.
In order to obtain such prosperity,
Completely propagate that generosity.
Tibetan meal chant, also used in Oriyoki meals within Shambhala community
I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity lately – watching the news, cheering the medical personnel, the meal delivery folks, the grocery store clerks –who are generously giving their time – and sometimes risking their health – to serve us. [Read more…] about Generosity is the virtue that produces peace
Beloved wish-fulfilling jewel and emanation body
Supreme of lamps that take the darkness of ignorance away
Oh precious chakravartin king, the one behind the wheel
At your feet, Oh Marpa the Translator, I bow in trusting homage!
A guru truly reliable, belonging to a lineage
This is the guide on the path of dispelling the darkness of ignorance
Is there anyone here who is able to keep to this path and follow it through
The one who relies on a guru who is buddha in person is happy
The mind’s own recognition of itself is emaho!
Two verses from The Eight Wonderful Forms of Happiness, a song of Milarepa, translated with the guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated and arranged by Jim Scott, Huba, Poland, June 1995, Tibetan page 149. Translation copyright 2012, Jim Scott
In this tumultuous time, there’s a lot to consider as a contemplative and educator – how to most benefit the world, the world is crying the world is calling – and to be able to genuinely hear those cries. This morning I sang this song Milarepa – and was reminded deeply of my connection to practice, and the gratefulness I have towards my teacher.
How to follow through with the mandate, practicing and embodying “the teachings”? The mind’s own recognition of itself – is emaho – is the teacher. All the teachings arise from one’s mind. All understandings are within one’s mind. Is it just what we choose to see?
As meditation instructors and leaders in our centers, we might often find ourselves working with individuals with diverse personal qualities and motivations. Part of our practice as leaders is to develop genuine communication and connection with them, and their manifestations of basic goodness. To do this, we might want to consider how our own diverse qualities manifest skillfully in our interactions.
Often diversity is framed in terms of culture and cultural differences. However, we might first want to consider “what is culture?” Culture may be understood as integrated patterns of human behavior that include language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, social or work groups.
Culture has a dynamic, rather than static quality – it is constantly re-created and negotiated in specific social and historical contexts.
The age old practice is that women get together to knit, and in the process share stories, knitting tips, personal problems and gossip – all is interwoven into a practice that soothes the soul by sharing, not just the tactile and esthetic sensations of the yarn, the colors, the neat stitches, and the finished product, but also the inner landscape of the color and heat of joy, disappointment, remembrance.
The Contemplative Knitting weekend at Sky Lake on January 26-27, 2008 proved that this was all true. Eighteen of us gathered (all women, although one father brought his daughter): some were experienced knitters but had not meditated; some were experienced meditators but novice knitters. Opening our day on Saturday with meditation and shamatha yoga, we moved into workshop mode as Karin, our knitting instructor and guide, asked us to bring out our balls of unwanted yarn. We went around the table and each participant told the story of the yarn – stories of unfinished and unwanted garments, memories of mothers and friends who had died, happy and sad stories that were coupled with colorful balls and skeins. We then chose yarn to work with; each person taking someone else’s unwanted balls and grouping them into small treasurehouses on the table. [Read more…] about Contemplative Knitting at Sky Lake Lodge
Rachel Payne of Boston University talks with Elaine about teaching chaplaincy. Check it out at: https://chaplaincyinnovation.org/2020/05/educator-profile-elaine-yuen