Friday, June 16, 2017

Cultural and religious spotlight: Chùa Linh Sơn Detroit Buddhist Temple in Warren, Michigan

A couple weekends ago I had a wonderful time with my dear cousin Rachel and my best friend Daniel Moen at the Chùa Linh Sơn Detroit Vietnamese Buddhist temple on 9 Mile Road in Warren. Linh Sơn is special to Dan and me because it’s where we went on our first one-on-one outing when we became friends in 2010, when “temple-hopping” was a big thing of ours. I still treasure our periodic visits there over the years because of this association, and because it’s an amazingly beautiful and peaceful place to meditate and chant daimoku.

When we first found this place, I was a spiritual free-agent seeking a form of Buddhism that suited my life. In 2015 I finally found what I was looking for in SGI Nichiren Buddhism; now when I go back to Linh Sơn, I enjoy it from the perspective of a person visiting the home of friends who practice a different version of my religion, instead of from the perspective of investigating to see if I want to practice it myself.

Dan and I knew that Linh Sơn practices a variation of Mahayana Buddhism (the large umbrella category that Nichiren Buddhism also fits under). We have only gotten minimal specifics from the people there due to the language barrier, however, so I decided to see if I could get any comprehensible English through auto-translating Linh Sơn’s all-Vietnamese Web site.

After putting the Web site through Google’s auto-translation, the only thing I could verify for sure is that the “Chùa” in “Chùa Linh Sơn” means “pagoda.” To put it bluntly, the auto-translation reads like a Buddhist Mad-Lib, so I recommend not even trying it.

Instead of continuing to try and figure out what its exact teaching is, I decided to simply appreciate this place for our experience there. The experience we have when we go there is something that few people experience when they go into a house of worship other than their own—even Christians walking off the street into a church of a different denomination. No one asked us if we are Buddhist, or why we were there. They just correctly assumed that we were there to pray, they spoke to us, invited us to lunch with them downstairs, communicated some of the essential cultural and temple etiquette to us, and even gave us a few lovely gifts—all using makeshift sign language (with a little English thrown in by the two people available who speak it).

Even though I had no idea what the monk said during his dharma talk, I got the impression from him that he is a kind man, and he really took a shining to Dan particularly, and he spoke just enough English to convey a sincere invitation to us to come back any time, especially Sundays for meditation, and told us that sometimes there is someone there who presents the dharma in English.

These folks are following the Buddha’s path in whatever way they’re following it, I thought, and they seem really happy doing so, so it's clear that they get the basic purpose of Buddhism. When I offered prayers at their altar I chanted my daimoku for them, for the success and happiness of their community, and for whatever goals they came to the United States to achieve.

Every time we’ve been to Linh Sơn, almost or everyone we’ve encountered there is from Vietnam or one of its neighbor-countries. While I don’t have any plans to learn to speak Vietnamese, or to have an immersion experience in the community, what I value about going to this temple and to the immigrant-run businesses on and near Dequindre Road in Warren (including the delicious Phò Hàng Restaurant and Q Q Bakery) is that it expands my definition of what “America” is really made of, especially at at time when so many people are trying really hard to make that definition narrower and narrower.

For the record, I have had the privilege of this cultural enrichment because of Dan, whose ethnic identity to date has been more pan-Asian than specific to his own ethnicity. Recently, however, he has finally directly connected with his Filipino rootsincluding having just gotten back from a family reunion in the Philippines with his birth family, whom he's been wanting to find his entire life and finally did a few months ago! Yay!

I’ll write more about my reflections from this experience with two of my favorite people next week, and in the meantime I encourage you to watch Dan’s amazing documentary-style video about our outing by clicking here.


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Image: "Ahimsa" by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An honest and respectful "no" is better than a begrudging or exhausted "yes," for a few reasons...

When Soka Gakkai founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi said that “to not advance is to retreat,” and our mentor SGI President Ikeda said “Buddhism is win or lose,” they were not expressing hard-hearted absolutism. They understood that when we truly tap into our inner wisdom while trying to encourage someone, we can tell the difference between someone who is trying to avoid the difficulty of personal growth and someone who is struggling to fill a role that is not in alignment with their vision for kosen-rufu in their lives.

For many people who say “yes” to voluntary community responsibilities, these roles are great opportunities to push themselves in healthy ways. For others of us, while it may be good to give community leadership a try for a while, we must then be honest with ourselves and our colleagues if we realize that these responsibilities do not suit us after all.

If we say to ourselves after each time we do tasks we can’t bring ourselves to enjoy, “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” we negate both our own feelings and the benefits of our actions, because over time those actions will become contaminated by reluctance or resentment.

There are a few benefits of telling our colleagues a respectful “no”. One is that we may get out of the way of a successor who will both enjoy the work more and do it better than we did. Another is that we may strengthen our bonds of understanding with our colleagues, through transparent and honest dialogue about what our strengths and interests really are.

When we approach this dialogue from a high life-condition and with gratitude for the opportunity to serve, (rather than start it when we’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed), then our sincerity and our concern for doing what is right by the people our services affect will shine through, and make our decisions easier for reasonable people to accept without misunderstanding our true reasons.

Yet another benefit of relinquishing responsibilities we aren’t in alignment with is that we stop wasting time. During our self-assessment, we may realize we have spent as much or more time resisting—and complaining about—our responsibilities than we have actually spent fulfilling those responsibilities.

This does not mean that we should never try to expand our healthy limits beyond what is comfortable right now. We just have to change how we do it, and trust ourselves to know what is best for us despite what other people may think is best for us. I said last week that many of us need to take our human revolution more slowly, so part of this healthy-pushing is to identify and then honor our own natural pace for sustainable self-improvement.

One way I’ve been practicing this lately is when I’ve committed to a gathering or outing and then found myself feeling more tired or socially-reluctant than I thought I would be. In such situations, I ask myself, “Am I willing to go for an hour?” I then remind myself that I can leave whenever I want (politely, and without having to justify my early departure), and I have the choice of saying no if I am asked to volunteer for something. Then, I find that if I am willing, I enjoy and participate more fully in the activity, maybe even say “yes” to something small, and may not even have to leave early after all.

Developing an accumulated karma of honoring small commitments is what helps us slow-bloomers build up toward expanding our healthy limits if necessary, rather than pushing ourselves to be as useful as we can even when we’re overdue for a major life-recalibration.

This is like gradually increasing our fitness: If we go from being sedentary to trying to sprint, we’ll injure ourselves. If we start with walking, then walk a little longer each day, then do some short jogs, we can gradually increase our fitness level without injury.

Equally as important is identifying how long it feels good to jog for, and not continuing to increase the time until our enjoyable exercise turns into an exhausting chore. We may even realize we would rather swim than jog—If so, instead of committing to another month or year of jogging, we need to go find a suitable body of water to cultivate our inner fish in.

In addition to getting a better idea of what our healthy limits are, taking these small steps and checking in with ourselves as we go will help us identify what we are truly the happiest doing, and what is best left to other people who are obviously energized by what we felt exhausted by doing.


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Image: “Mystic Main” by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, silver Sharpie, metallic gel pen, white gel pen, colored pencil

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Some thoughts on finding the Middle Way between doing what we really want to accomplish and not pushing ourselves past our healthy limits














So much of our cultural conditioning is about “pushing” ourselves, and this combined with our society’s insistence on extremes too often leads people to push themselves past their healthy limits and into the crash-zone. We all know those people who seem to say yes to and be able to do everything; what we don’t see is that many of them are tormented by frequent or chronic physical health problems or other sufferings they don’t share with us, because they feel that they are doing the right thing by continuing to strive to make everyone else’s life better without taking enough time for themselves to really discover what will make their own lives better.

A big part of my human revolution lately is finding the balance between striving to be productive enough to accomplish everything I’ve committed to do, and not pushing myself past my healthy limits to the point where I feel so burnt-out that I don’t want to do anything.

Part of this process has been chanting to increase my capacity. For me, this doesn’t mean increasing my capacity to take on more responsibility, more projects, or more activities, but to increase my capacity to better handle and make progress in what I’m already trying to do.

Thus, I’ve done a lot of self-exploration to identify what my capacity really is, rather than assume what it is based on people’s or society’s expectations of me because of the demographic categories I fit into.

One of the ways I’ve been assessing my capacity versus what I’m demanding of it lately is imagining my energy system as a main circuit-breaker panel. I’ve found this analogy to be helpful for identifying which of my circuits I’m trying to draw too much electrical current from (think about what happens if you plug a vacuum-cleaner and a space-heater into outlets on the same circuit), and for recognizing when my input-power is lower than the amount of energy I’m trying to draw from it. This is helping me visualize where I need to draw my boundary lines, as a way of not only honoring myself but of being true in my relationships with other people—especially when in large groups.

A few months ago, I reflected with a good friend about our similar experiences of striving to become more community-oriented when our original inclinations were to be loners. It’s not about being “introverted” or “shy,” he pointed out; whereas naturally-outgoing people find large, lively gatherings to be energizing, more naturally-inward people like us have the opposite experience: It takes us an enormous amount of energy to manage ourselves in such gatherings. This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy ourselves or that we resent people for wanting or expecting us to participate; it does mean that we need a lot more recovery-time before our next interaction that involves more than one person.

Some people’s lives are so outgoing and so fast that the lives of people who are more reserved and who take a more gradual approach to personal growth look like they are not moving at all in comparison—which would be synonymous with stagnation and defeat in Buddhism. This misconception indicates a need to develop a deeper understanding of each other and not be so quick to tell others, for example, that they “should” strive to become more outgoing or do more in their community. Even if it may not appear that they’re doing much, we have no idea how hard some people are really trying, and how much energy it’s really taking them to do whatever they are doing.

This is especially important to bear in mind if a group’s emphasis is on rapid change or rapid growth: Some of us, especially those of us striving to overcome addictive behaviors, and who have exhibited emotional patterns that have been labeled as “depression” or “anxiety disorder,” need to take our human revolution more slowly.

I’ll continue these thoughts in my next post.

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Image: “Mystic Main” and “Balanced Current” by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, silver Sharpie, metallic gel pen, white gel pen, colored pencil