January 2, 2012
I am sitting in my friend Rhea’s living room as four bald men enter dressed in lovely Portland orange and scarlet robes under their North Face coats and wool beanies. That night I was introduced to four monks: Bhante #1, Bhante #2, and Bunti #1’s two masters who came all the way from Sri Lanka a day ago. It was their first time visiting the United States and witnessing snow in real life.
They stopped by for a light meal on their way to a Buddhist Monastery in Queens, NY. Bhante #1 was giving his Masters a tour of the Monasteries he knows on the East Coast.
We spoke of Pittsburgh, the place that they had just spent 6 hours driving from, and how they found the apartment. I knew that Rhea met Bhante #1 at an on campus cafe at the University of Pittsburgh. He was getting his PhD while she was finishing up her undergraduate studies. After starting up a conversation with him at an on campus cafe, she began frequenting the Buddhist temple and learning all about sacred chanting in Sanskrit and promoting love and kindness. I remember she would tell over the phone about how wise, loving, and generous Bhante #1 was and how he inspired her to be more aware of the kindness in the world.
Bhante #1 told me that the amount of love and kindness in the world is unconditional. We can spend every moment practicing to project love and kindness on others and to the universe in everyday activities.
“Even when you’re stuck in traffic? Or when someone cuts you off on the road?” I asked.
“Yes,” he responded, “Even then.”
When an uncomfortable or irritating situation like being cut off happens, you have to draw awareness to what happens to your body. You feel your breath and your heartbeat speed up. You now see the changes that this situation does to you. Is it worth reacting angrily? Will angry actions help console your speeding heart? Of course not. You have to shine a light at your heart and calm it. You have to remind yourself what you are grateful for.
I suddenly began to be ashamed of how I had gotten so angry with this man for cutting me off earlier that day that I yelled to myself and flipped him off as I sped and passed him. (I get road rage easily) What Bhunti said was a beautiful notion. It’s very difficult to offer the world unconditional love and kindness. But apparently, we all possess the ability.
They performed a special New Year’s ceremony:
We all sat in a circle and unravelled a silky string, which we all held on to between our fingers as our hander were in prayer mode. The monks began chanting their New Year mantra while Rhea, her dad, and I listened with our eyes closed.
The monks’ voices were strong and soothing as they chanted their upbeat, powerful mantra. The rhythm resonated in my heart and travelled all through my veins until their were all pulsating to the beat. Funny enough, I could feel the string heat up way past boiling point, but strangely still bearable to hold on to. It was as if their voices lit the string on fire and I was adding to the flame so long as it was trapt between my folded fingertips.
After the chanting was done, Bhante #1 called each of us up individually to tie a golden bracelet around our wrists while the other monks chanting something else in Sanskrit.
Bhante #1 said that these were good luck charms to make sure that this year will be very enlightening for us. When look at the bracelet every day, I am reminded of what it represents and I become happy.
We were all very grateful for the gift, and then went on to serve the monks a light Indian meal of flatbread, pea soup, yogurt and fruits, complete with traditional Indian dips and lentils.
We thanked the monks, and escorted them out when they were ready to leave. Afterwards, Rhea, me, and her father ate some more and drank wine while participating in a very engaging conversation about Jainism, G-d, Angels, reincarnation, exorcism, Judaism, and the Devil. It was very deep, and I’ll save the story for another time.
I just can’t believe the experience I had with the monks. It confirmed the fact that I need to incorporate spirituality, love and kindness into my life on a daily basis. And it certainly inspired me to write this blog.
Now, isn’t that lovely?