On Sunday morning, I had planned to visit the Cambridge Zen Center for a long sitting meditation and interview. Just before I left, I checked online to confirm times and address and noticed a polite suggestion that beginners first attend an orientation on Thursday nights. Oops. So instead I headed to the Drikung Center down the street from me in Arlington, the homey one I told you about last week.
I arrived at the center 10 minutes early, welcomed at the door by friendly Lama Sonam, the resident teacher at the center.
“You here first time?” he asked.
“Yes, and I could use some direction,” I replied.
“Okay, I will put you to work.” Lama Sonam pointed to a shelf of small cloth mats and paper booklets then instructed me to lay one of each on the 10 tables lining the room. “Then go get some tea and sit down,” he suggested as he flip-flopped away down the hall.
I obediently got to work. While setting up for the talk, I took a moment to settle into the house. It was much like I remembered the first time I visited, but more familiar, which I liked. The Buddha room was still adorned with lots of pictures and statues and draping cloths, but this time I was less overwhelmed by the display and more intrigued. In front of the Buddha statue was a large comfy-looking chair with colorful cushions, and in front of that a table with a small spinning drum, fresh flowers, and some books. (I learned later that’s where Lama Sonam sits when he participates in talks and lectures, but today his space would remain empty.) Across from Lama Sonam’s chair were two lines of floor cushions, each equipped with its own mini desk for chanting books and tea.
After setting up the space, I turned the corner and poured myself green tea and sat down. While waiting for the talk to start, I noticed my friendly Buddha lady walk in. She prostrated herself to the Buddha three times then engaged in some friendly chit-chat while others were arriving. When five of us gathered, we sat down and began to chant, being led by one of the practitioners.
First the group chanted in Tibetan, then in English. I didn’t participate in all of the chanting, only that which I understood and accepted. There were many references to people whose names I’d never heard. So I just kept quiet during those parts. Then the group sang a few quick songs (more like musical chants) and pulled out a book to read: “The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa“. We only read a very small part of this book and I was amazed at how much discussion resulted. Practical discussion. As the talk progressed, a few more people joined our group and jumped right in on the discussion. It was a very relaxed and comfortable scene. Incredibly easy and welcoming.
We broke for 20 minutes and were entertained by a lively guy who brought a coconut to share. He broke the thing open with a butter knife, very cool. I was honored to be offered the juice and the others ate up its sweet white flesh before cleaning up and returning to our seats. We finished with a bit more discussion and purifying meditation. Breathe in with “om”, crest with “ah”, breath out with “hung”. This is a purification for body, speech and mind. While we meditated, we focused on heart center, imagining a spot of blue the size of a mustard seed. (You can try this at home! Very easy!)
The bell rang and that was it! I was going on a whale watch that afternoon so I bolted quickly, asking friendly Buddha lady if she wouldn’t mind cleaning up my space. She sweetly said, “Go, go!”
On the car ride home I thought about the morning at Drikung and decided it was lovely! The experience was genuine and easy. The people were kind, thoughtful, engaging, and extremely patient with me (the rookie of the group). I was especially touched by a man who said even though he’s a practicing Catholic, he still considers himself a Buddhist. The health benefits of Buddhist practice have improved his life tremendously and he encouraged me to visit other temples and centers to find what works for me.
I’ll definitely return to Drikung and hope to hear some teachings by Lama Sonam at some point. Bu-curious can join the dharma talk on Sundays at 10am.
From mine to yours,