January 9, 2013

Day 5 of the 13th Sakyadhita Conference

We woke up to fog so thick that my roommate thought it was snowing–and at 3 degrees Celsius, it’s cold enough to do so. My roommate and I have gotten into a pattern of having coffee and conversation in our room before going to the 7 am meditation. The first few days we started before 4am, then as we adjusted to the time difference it was 5 am. Today our bodies seem to be on Indian time and we slept until 6, which gave us only half an hour to chat over our cups of instant coffee. The first few days of instant coffee and whitener were a shock to those of us who drink gourmet blends,  but now we no longer notice the difference.

 

This is the first time I’ve been able to attend Sakyadhita; my academic calendar has always interfered. But this year I start teaching later and I decided not to miss the opportunity. I didn’t know anyone else who was attending but I knew I’d be with friends. And so it’s been. In Delhi, I was already in falling asleep in my bed when I met my roommate Barbara Wright. We introduced ourselves and started talking… and we haven’t stopped since. That sense of familiarity seems present with many of the people I have met here–people who hold lovingkindness and Buddhist ethics in the forefront of their minds.

 

Each morning meditation is led by someone from a different tradition. Today Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo was the leader. A few days ago she gave a workshop on meditation in which she said one thing that really struck me. I paraphrase here, “the ego believes that meditation will solve all its problems.” How true is that!

 

This morning she emphasized how important it is to relax in meditation. So nice to be reminded of that and so contrary to how I approach most things in life. As we came to the end of the sitting, she led us in a brief visualization and as we left the hall, I noticed how many people coming out had tears streaming down their cheeks. Tears of connection, tears of joy.

 

Another thing I’ve noticed here is the melting away of sectarian boundaries. In my observation, there seems to be little grouping of practitioners from the various traditions represented here. Theravada, Chan, Zen, and diverse Tibetan lineages seem to have checked any exclusivity at the door. True there are language differences, but lay and monastic, women and men (yes, there are a few) are drawn close to each other by their love of the dharma.

 

In finishing my post, I want to mention how inspired I’ve been by some of the papers presented. I’m still thinking about this morning’s panel on Buddhism and Social Activism. I wept when Karma Lekshe Tsomo described the sacrifices and hard work of motherhood as social activism. As a mother and a grandmother, I feel like I’ve waited a long time for someone to acknowledge that. It’s a far cry from the belief that lay women and mothers are spiritually inferior.  

 

Sarana Nona Olivia

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