Friday, August 15, 2014

Pilgrimage to New Mexico with my clergy group - Aug. 15, 2014

We wrapped up our trip to Upaya Zen Center with 40 mins of meditation at 7 am, followed by breakfast and a conversation with both Joshin and Fleet Maul, the Buddhist teacher who gave the dharma talk last night.

I have to say that the food here is really good. I'm impressed not only by its quality but by the way they prepare and eat food. There is a team of residents who work in the kitchen. They begin by "praying" together. I put "pray" in quotes, because Buddhists insist that belief in a deity is not part of Buddhism. Nevertheless, meal preparation here is surrounded by a spiritual discipline that I find very impressive.

When we gather for meals, everyone joins in saying a "prayer" that goes something like this: "We receive this food in gratitude to all beings who have helped to bring it to our table and vow to respond in turn to those in need with wisdom and compassion." Before sitting down at table, you bow; when you get up from the table, you bow. When someone new sits down at the table, you bow. There's a lot of bowing at Upaya!

A word about God and Buddhism: Although Buddhists insist that belief in a deity is not part of Buddhism, it seems to me that Buddhists believe that reality itself has a spiritual shape or nature. Everything we do has an effect on all other beings. We are all connected with each other in spiritual as well as material ways. Buddhists believe that they have a profound connection not only with other humans, but even with non-human reality.

I talked about this with Joshin and pointed out that the Christian theologian Paul Tillich defined God as "the ground of all being" and that seems to me very close to a Buddhist idea. He acknowledged that Tillich's idea of God is very close to the Buddhist idea of reality.

On our last day at Upaya we finally began to connect with some of the residents. Maybe they got curious about us. I was afraid that we looked like "spiritual voyeurs" or dilettantes. We talked with Kieran, a native of Cambridge, who taught high school for a while and now has committed to being at Upaya for a year (he called it being a "dharma bum").

We also talked with Nick, a native of San Francisco. Nick worked for a time in Silicon Valley and found it profoundly unfulfilling. Nick is passionate about mysticism. The mystic, he said, just wants to be empty. Presumably, he or she wants to be empty so that they can be filled by God. Nick said that he wished that he had talked with us earlier. I would like to have more time to explore his ideas about mysticism.

We left Upaya and spent a couple of hours exploring the incredibly expensive art galleries on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. The folks at Upaya told us of the drastic contrasts between rich and poor in Santa Fe. They have one of America's most important art markets and a world class opera, but they also have incredibly low graduation rates and drug abuse is rampant.

Nick also told us that he wants to be part of a project that Upaya is launching to open a "pay as you can" restaurant in Santa Fe, offering nourishing meals to the poor. Upaya is part of the "Zen peacemaker order," a spinoff from mainstream Zen that is deeply engaged with social problems.

I don't know when I'll be with the guys in my clergy group again, but I'm looking forward to it. When Nick asked why we were exploring Buddhism, I told him that we all live in a very small world, and we'd better get to know each other. I really believe that. I believe that a Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and Reform Jew can do a lot of good just by modeling how people of different faiths can not only get along with each other, but also learn from people of other faiths and have a great time doing it.