#7 Ekoji Buddhist Sangha

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When I pulled up to the temple located at 3411 Grove Avenue, I called my husband to double check that I was at the right place. When picturing the location, I had envisioned a golden temple with Buddhist statues and fountains out front in a quiet secluded neighborhood. In reality, it was a modest duplex on a busy fan street that resembled apartments I had rented while attending VCU. I should have known the picture I had created in my mind of the temple was a far cry from reality since I knew it was located in the fan and in my 7 years of living downtown, I had never seen a golden temple or a quiet neighborhood.

I entered the front door at 6:45 for first time orientation. It seemed as though I was a bit late since most people had already started their meditation practice. There was a small cubby area to the right of the entrance that held everyone’s shoes. I took my boots off, and laid my jacket down and stood there in the doorway watching the students while they sat silently. Kevin Heffernan, the meditation instructor, warmly greeted me at the door and gave me a quick rundown which he referred to as meditation 101. He said, "You’re a visitor, right?" I nodded. He said, "I’ll give you the short version since we only have a few minutes..... Sit down on one of the pillows. And don’t say anything." And so I did.

The room was approximately 500 square feet and I enjoyed the comforting smell of rich incense as it burned on the alter that held an ornate statue of Buddha. A few people who entered the temple would bow to the statue before meditating. There were approximately 15 students downstairs and 10 on the second floor. From 7-7:30, we all sat silently on square cushions with a circle cushion on top of them. My zazen meditation experience was far from enjoyable.

I had read that in Zen meditation, one should not close their eyes completely because they’d get sleepy. They should also not open their eyes all the way because they could get distracted. Instead, a person should relax their eyes half way while focusing on a spot on the floor in front of them. Unfortunately, the floor in front of me was covered up by another meditator’s backside. As one could imagine, that sight didn’t inspired me to "get in my True mind". So I opted to close my eyes and explore the world that lay behind my eye lids.

Meditation is not a practice that comes easy for me. Actually, it’s as enjoyable to me as a root canal. The objective is to silence your thoughts. However, here is just a glimpse of some of the interferences I had when trying to access my mental sanctuary.

Did I tell patrick the right time to take the chicken out of the oven?
I think I’m getting "luke warm" about God. I haven’t picked a church yet for this week.
Someone’s feet seriously stink.
How am I going to write about this place if I don’t have a pen and paper.
I’m going to write about the thoughts I’m having now.
I should visit my friend Kira before I go home since she’s right down the street.
I think I drank too much coffee today.
Meditating is so hard.
My back is killing me. I think it’s PMS.
This position is so uncomfortable.
The noise outside is so loud. They shouldn’t have a temple on a busy street.
Should I go to my sisters this week?
I don’t think I’m ready for kids.
I could close 3 deals this week. Man, that would be great for business.
I should use that word I learned from Wayne Dyer to get me in the zone here. "DOWWWWW."
I forgot what that word means? Does it mean God?
I wonder if God wants us to meditate?
That one time I meditated at the beach, I swear I felt God that time.
Why don’t I feel him now?
I wonder if these people are all members of this temple?
I’ve only ran 3 miles this week. I need to step it up if I’m going to run the 10k.
Should I make mashed potatoes or mac n cheese with that chicken tonight?
I can’t believe that chicken was only $3 at ukrops. That place is so expensive now. I love their mac’ n cheese.
I like the name Martin’s for the new Ukrops.
Why am I thinking of Ukrops. Back to meditation. "Dowwwww"
That time I told my brother Joe about the DOW meditation was funny.
I should read some Wayne Dyer.
I need to read the 2 books I have already before picking out more.
I wonder how these people got into meditation.
Is that guy sitting in front of me Kira’s ex-boyfriend?
There is no way I’m going to Richmond Hill tomorrow. I’m just in no way ready for this type of disciple for an entire 24 hours.

And the list goes on. I think those thoughts occupied about the first 4 minutes of my meditation. So you can imagine the 26 minutes that followed. I tried counting back from 5 while I breathed in through my nose, and then another 5 as I breathed out. I tried just meditating on nothing but the small light that flickered in all the darkness when my eyes were shut. I basically tried everything. And then...... I stopped trying.

For about 2 minutes of my entire 30 minute meditation, I think I got somewhere close to where I was supposed to be. I got tired of trying to "make myself meditate" so I gave up. And when I did, my body no longer hurt from the uncomfortable lotus position it was in. My mind wasn’t wandering in a hundred different directions. I was relaxed and thoughtless. And in that state of complete peace, the door opened and a freezing cold breeze entered the room. And in that very moment, it dawned on me...I wanted the mac n’ cheese.

The seated meditation came to an end with the sweet sound of the singing bowl that the instructor used to indicate it was time for walking meditation. We all slowly emerged from our seated position into a circle to do the 10 minute walk. I found this much more relaxing. The objective was to walk around the room in a circle so slowly that you pretty much couldn’t even tell we were moving at all. I think I got all of 3 baby steps in the 10 minutes. It came as no surprise that I consistently found myself wanting to move forward instead of staying in my current position.

Following the meditation, we had the pleasure of attending a Dharma Talk led by Kazuaki Tanahashi, a Japanese artist, writer and peace worker. The discussion was titled the "Dharma of Stupidity." Kazuaki gave a very simple, yet engaging lecture about stupidity. He was a self-proclaimed "stupid person" and he urged us to all look at ourselves that way. He said only with this type of humility can we gain wisdom. At first, I was troubled by his willingness to accept such a negative affirmation. The idea of calling ourselves stupid as a means to become more enlightened didn’t make much sense to me. But then, he defined American stupidity and I knew with this definition...I was one of the stupid ones.

Stupidity is not being able slow down. It is rushing from one thing to the next. It is wanting more. Speaking without thinking first. Stupidity is about multi-tasking. Using email as our only means of communication. It is inner chaos and lack stillness. And knowing that you are "stupid" is essential to overcoming this stupidity and gaining wisdom. It is self-awareness. I am ashamed to say that just that morning while driving my car and rushing to get a cup of coffee at 7:45, I was checking my bank balance on the cell phone while turning the station on my radio. Without thinking, I slowed through a stop sign. I came about 2 inches away from being pummeled by a school bus. It was only by the grace of God that I turned to my left and saw the bus rushing toward me. I slammed on my brakes and avoided a major accident. Once my heart stopped wildly beating out of my chest, my eyes welled up with tears because of my fear. I silently reprimanded myself for my stupidity. My bank balance, the radio, and even my coffee was not worth sacrificing my life or the lives of the children on that school bus for.

The experience at the Ekoji Temple was a difficult one. The realization of how stupid I really am was quite eye opening. I’m hoping to use meditation as a means to slow my life down. Not to one of laziness, but one of mindfulness because that’s what meditation is about. It is about being in a place of understanding and acting out of choice, not just hastily without wisdom guiding our steps. It’s about slowing down so we can do things with purpose and thoughtfulness.

Psalms 49:3 - My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

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1 Comments

  • Dabney

    Dabney April 18, 2010

    Funny that I picked this as my first entry to read… I struggle with many things you expressed. I am constantly recognizing my own “stupidity” and, man, it is hard, but I feel blessed to notice. I am reading “Wherever you go, There you are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I am enjoying reading it.

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