What a difference a day makes! Today was so much less intense than the previous two days on our bus tour. I feel like I learned just as much but in more gentle, less intense sorts of ways. Starting the day with Seth’s overview of how Buddhism changed over time as it spread throughout Asia helped me to start to solidify my understanding of the differences in of the Mahayana and Theravada. The student panel of one, Cindy, about Buddhism was a joy to witness. Cindy was so open and honest about her beliefs and in describing what Buddhism means to her as a person. She seemed mature way beyond her years and seemed to recognize that in herself in a humble way. I was inspired by her focus on continually working to better herself and to be available and helpful to others in need. When asked if Buddhism was a religion or a way of life, Ciny chose, way of life. It seems to me that for Cindy, her behaviors as a Buddhist are the most prominent in shaping her identity. Her behaviors seem to reinforce her Buddhist beliefs, but she mentioned countless times that she is focused on becoming a better self. She alluded to be rebellious and perhaps a bit naughty when she was younger and that now she makes better choices and is not rebellious. She stated that she states an internal chant when she’s struggling with anger. She chants several times throughout the week and tries to go to her Sunday worship service on a consistent basis. All of these are Buddhist behaviors that Cindy was noticeably proud of and perhaps more importantly, they seemed to help her to feel comfortable with who she is and the choices that she is making.
Photos Courtesy of Seth Brady
Next we took a short bus ride to Watt Dhamma Meditation Center. The Buddhist Monk, Ajarn Thapakorn that educated us about the benefits of meditation and the path to living a peaceful life free of “clinging” to the human condition which is a way of reaching Nirvana in the Buddhist faith. He gave some wonderful examples of how “clinging” to our reaction to the negative actions of others, our actions are often harmful and cause pain for ourselves and others. If we were to follow the example of Buddha, we would let go of our negative feelings and continue on a path of kindness towards others, (and ourselves) so that we are continuing our work towards our best self and putting good out in the world. Then, he guided us through a chant, standing meditation, walking meditation and seated meditation to help us experience peace of mind. Again, like Cindy, it seems that Monk Thapakorn identifies himself as Buddhist primarily through his behaviors. Chanting, meditation and the consistent choice to let go of negativity are all behaviors that help him to remain on the path to enlightenment. Monk Thapakorn couldn’t stop talking about the peace that comes from meditation.
Photos Courtesy of Seth Brady
Finally we met with Superintendent Venerable Youheng at IBPS Chicago. She welcomed us into the temple with a gentle smile and snacks :) because we were running late and needed to postpone our lunch break. Then the Venerable lead us through a description of the form of Buddhism that is practiced in the temple. Again, a major focus is on behaviors and making choices that will better the person as well as the world. Venerable Youheng was quite impressive in her dedication to educating others by investing 8 years in helping to edit a set of encyclopedias that educate and explain Buddhism in English prior to moving to Naperville. Behaviors dedicated to helping others that in turn help her to live through her Buddhism faith. She mentioned in passing how she must shave her head every two weeks on the same day and at nearly the same time. A behavior that reinforces her faith in Buddhism that also shows others her dedication to her faith through her actions.
Overall, today was all about how actions have consequences. In order to live a life on the path towards enlightenment, making positive choices that cause no harm is a way to live the Buddhist way. I think behaviors were prominent in the Buddhist identity of all three people that taught us today. Their day to day choices in behavior seem to affirm their beliefs and also bring them joy for themselves and for those of us around them.
After reading Stephanie’s blog reaction to today’s lessons, it seems that we agree that behavior is the prominent influence on each person’s identity. I appreciated her reminder that much of what Monk Thapakorn talked about today transcends religion. He talked about choices in behavior that can help anyone to be a better person and to promote global citizenship. I often wear a t-shirt that say “Kindness Matters” and very much believe that it does. Perhaps I was a Buddhist in a past life :)