“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth” .
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away at the age of 95. He’s been in poor health for many many years and this is no surprise. But it’s still incredibly sad.
He was an amazing Buddhist teacher and a big inspiration to me. Two of my teachers died in 2021, Lama Chuck Stanford and Zen Master Wonji Dharma. Both of those deaths hit me hard. And now at the beginning of 2022 Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away. Three deaths in rapid succession. The world is changing. All things are impermanent.
I’m reminded a little of when my parents died, over 20 years ago now. 3 years apart and both from different cancers. This isn’t the same as losing a parent (or two), not even close. But it’s still…. something.
I never met him and I’ve never practiced in his community, but Thich Nhat Hanh has been a big inspiration to me. The first book I read on the subject of meditation was “The Miracle of Mindfulness” way back in 2000. And his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” is still, in my opinion, the best introduction to Buddhism that there is.
He was one of the most well known Buddhist teachers in the world. He was born in Vietnam and he became a monk as a teenager, in the 1940s.
In 1966, he became a Zen Master.
He traveled the world as a peace activist throughout the 1960s, and in 1967, his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize saying, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” He wasn’t given the award—it wasn’t given to anyone that year.
He was denied permission to return to his home country in the 1970s, so he moved to France.
He founded an organization called “The Order of Interbeing,” and spent his life spreading Buddhist teachings and advocating for a peaceful world.
There’s a story that gets told about the death of the Buddha. It’s said that his cousin Ananda was at his side and had time to ask two final questions.
Ananda asked, “Do we have to follow all the rules that you set out?” And the Buddha replied, “Just follow the important ones. Don’t worry much about the minor ones.”
(Ananda forgot to ask which rules were the minor ones)
Then Ananda asked, “Who is going to lead us when you’re gone?”
And the Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”
It was up to his followers to figure out how to go on. And when our teachers pass it’s up to us to figure out how to go on too. We can get through losses like this. And we will go on.
I think he was aware of just how much people put him on a pedestal. He was almost worshiped. The fact that there even are celebrity Buddhist teachers is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like a bit much and I wonder if it felt like a bit much to him.
He wrote over 100 books and he taught many many students. There is little doubt that he had a large impact on modern Buddhism.
Thich Nhat Hanh stated that the way forward is to strengthen our bonds of community. We need each other just as much as we need teachers, maybe more. I believe he would like that to be part of his legacy, although of course I don’t claim to speak for him.
Teachers arise and pass away. It’s up to communities to (hopefully) carry on.
Don’t be sad he’s gone. Be happy he was here. We’re all better off because this great teacher existed.
“When relying on the sacred spiritual friend, our faults become exhausted
And our good qualities increase like the waxing moon.
It is the practice of bodhisattvas to value such a sacred spiritual friend
As more precious than their own body.”
–The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, verse 6.*
What is a spiritual friend?
In this context it’s someone with the qualities that we want to embody ourselves. We have the ability to choose who we spend time with. The truth is that if you’re spending your time with people who are trying to be wise and virtuous in their own lives, then it’s a little harder to be a jerk. When we spend time with people that are trying to grow and are encouraging us to grow, that is a great value. And the flip side is if we’re spending time with people that are rude or mean, those qualities will grow in us.
Nagarjuna said, “Through relying on a spiritual friend, pure conduct will be completely perfected.”
There’s a story from the Buddha’s life that I want to share with you.
The Buddha’s assistant Ananda (who was also his cousin and best friend) went up to him and said, “You know, I’m beginning to think that half of the path is just spending time with spiritual friends.”
And the Buddha said, “No Ananda, it’s the whole path.”
I love that story. It really gets at what matters. Being on this growth journey alone is incredibly difficult. It’s so easy to get off track without friends. In the same way people seem to have an easier time getting to the gym and working out when they have a buddy. In the same way support groups really help people that are battling addiction. We don’t need to do this alone.
The spiritual community can be like a support group. Or even just one friend who is trying to grow like you are can be a great help.
I wanted to practice without that community aspect. I am, by nature, more than a little introverted. Social gatherings aren’t my favorite thing and meeting new people isn’t my favorite thing either. It takes me a long time to get comfortable with other people. And I’m telling you that because I am certain many of you struggle with that as well.
I tried to practice Buddhism without a community for a long time and I really regret that. That’s not to say those years were wasted but I could have had so many more opportunities for learning, practice, and encouragement if I had just been willing to utilize what was around me. But I was too busy thinking I didn’t need the support of a community because I didn’t really want to meet people. That seems so silly now. But I know plenty of people think that way. There are a lot of people interested in these kinds of teachings that do not take that crucial step of engaging practice in a community.
But now I think what the Buddha said to Ananda is correct. It is the whole path.
What I recommend is finding a Buddhist community where you live. That being said if there’s not one within an hour of where you live, there are other possibilities. Plenty of people in this world are looking to improve themselves. There are countless Bodhisattvas all around and we just have to seek them out. Go volunteer at a charity. That’s a good way to meet virtuous people a lot of the time.
The people we spend time with can water the seeds of good qualities in us.
There’s another meaning to “spiritual friend” in this context. It can also mean teacher. It’s good to have a teacher. It’s good to have someone that’s been working at this stuff longer than you that can advise you and maybe point to trouble spots.
But in my personal opinion having a community is significantly more important than having a teacher to look up to. The truth is we can all learn from each other.
Being free from distraction, the practice of virtue spontaneously increases;
With brightened awareness one feels confidence in the Dharma;
To adhere to solitude is the practice of the bodhisattvas.”
the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. Verse 3.*
We need to be aware of where we’re going and what we’re doing. Sometimes in life we just do things and don’t give it much thought. The truth is that everything can be part of our spiritual journey. Actually everything is, whether we like it or not.
What do we mean when we say things like “Abandon negative places”?
Sometimes in life we feel trapped. In a job, in a relationship, in a social group, whatever. Rarely are we as trapped as we think we are. None of that really bind us. In the song “Already Gone” by the Eagles there is the line: “So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key.”
I love that line. It really says what I’m getting at. You are not trapped. You can empower yourself to get out of anything. That’s what we’re talking about here. Staying in a situation that doesn’t serve your growth gets in the way. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for to get ourselves out.
I’m being vague on purpose here. I can’t tell you what is or isn’t a negative place. I can’t tell you if your job or your friendships or your relationships are toxic. But you know. With just a little introspection you know exactly what situations would be good to get out of. Also, it’s true there are some outlier situations where people are really trapped. I do need to go out of my way to mention that. Speaking just for myself, I’ve felt like I was trapped and been wrong before. I have usually had more power to get out than I believed I had.
I think we can add habits to this too. What are the habits that keep us away from our spiritual journey? And then what habits can we add to our lives that inspire more practice?
The Ornament of Sutras says:
“The place where intelligent ones practice
Is well supplied, an excellent dwelling place,
An excellent soil, endowed with good companions,
And graced by yogic bliss.”
Several years ago I got divorced and I was really struggling. I stopped trying to cultivate mindfulness and virtue and just sort of wallowed in my struggle.
Then I started going to a Buddhist temple all the time, the Rime Center. I wanted to spend some extra time dwelling in a sacred space and also meeting good companions, people with the same spiritual goals that I have.
If you go less often to the places and situations that get in the way of your spiritual journey, then that can really help. If you go more often to the places and situations that help inspire your spiritual journey, then that can help too. I want to compare it to filling your diet with vegetables so there’s less room for chips.
And it doesn’t have to be a temple, of course. Plenty of people feel motivated and inspired by going out to the woods or something. Your mileage may vary, but I think you probably know already what things and places work for you.
I still like to go to the Rime Center to feel inspiration, but I also have a statue garden in my backyard that I can go to for that. Where do you go?
Nagarjuna said, “One remains in a place that is conducive and relies on holy beings.”
The Buddha said that having a community is important. I think he was right. Getting together with other people that have the same goals as us can motivate us in a way that nothing else really seems to. Some people want to put that aside because they’re introverted. I am sympathetic to that, I used to be quite introverted myself and I still am sometimes.
The Buddha’s student Ananda said, “You know, I think spiritual friendship is half of the path.” And the Buddha replied, “No, Ananda. It’s the whole path.”
I don’t, however, need to appeal to authority really. I can point to my own life. In the past I spent time with people who looked down on and made fun of others often. And then I stopped. And I could really see my own personal growth, just from getting out of those situations.
That’s really what it comes down to here. Spend time with virtuous people. You don’t have to go to a temple or join a group to find them. You just have to pay attention to the people in your life and dedicate time to the ones who have qualities that you think are positive. That’s it.
Obviously we still have a lot of work to do on our personal growth, but spending time with positive people really puts you ahead.
Spend more time in the places that inspire you. Spend more time with the people that inspire you.
That is how to unleash your potential.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –
*all quotations are from “Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Chokyi Dragpa
I ran the Sunday Dharma School at the Rime Center for four years. It’s a Buddhist Sunday School for kids, not unlike the same kind of thing many churches have. There I taught kids how to meditate and shared many lessons about kindness, wisdom, and mindfulness. We usually had 10-15 children and we ran for 90 minutes while the Rime Center Sunday Service was going on. Parents could drop their kids off to meditate with me or they could stay with them. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, but also often exhausting. I never really got the amount of help I needed, which is probably true for anyone that runs a volunteer-based program. I have a whole lot of patience for kids and I’m pretty good at communicating with them, so I feel I was pretty effective in this role.
One day someone offered to take it over and I stepped away. That was nearly 7 years ago. Now I regret it. But I do think stepping away gave me the chance to get some perspective. For a while I wanted to contribute to the Buddhist Community in other ways. I wanted to lead meditations, I wanted to teach classes to adults (you know, REAL classes), I wanted to figure out how to do more outreach type things.
I somehow thought running the Dharma School was not *really* contributing, like meditating with kids is somehow not serious and important.
I was wrong.
All kinds of service have value and all kinds of service are important.
We want to carry these teachings and practices forward into the future. And part of the strength of the community is making sure families can participate. It shouldn’t be a situation where you have to go away from your family in order to practice your religion. But a lot of people feel like that’s exactly what they have to do.
And it’s good for the kids too. I think I would have been enormously helped by some meditation training back when I was an unhappy child. It would have brought great benefit to me to have all these teachings earlier in my life. And it can be a kind of refuge, a place for kids (and parents) to come together and just have a chance to feel like they belong somewhere. How many kids feel like they don’t belong anywhere? Many. Kids are the future and if we want these teachings to go into the future then they need to be included. And I think the benefits of meditation are well known these days. Meditation helps us improve many things that kids need to get through life: focus, emotional intelligence, empathy, communication skills, equanimity, even things like bravery. We need to cultivate these kinds of qualities and of course kids do too.
So it’s with all of this in mind that I’m really aching to get back to leading meditation and spiritual practice for the next generation. Because I can belong in Dharma School and you can too.
The temple the Rime Center is in right now doesn’t have enough space for a children’s program to be possible. They had to purchase a new space and it’s smaller than the old one. Once the new Meditation Hall is built there will be plenty of room. That’s the only way I can have a potential opportunity to lead Sunday Dharma School there again.
If what I have written is meaningful to you, please consider donating to help make this a reality.
“If, while befriending someone, the three poisons increase, The activities of study, reflection, and meditation degenerate, And love and compassion disappear, Then it is the practice of the bodhisattvas to give up this company.” -The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, verse 4.
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It was back in 2017 when one of my teachers, Lama Chuck, retired from the Rime Center. I just called him one of my teachers but I don’t think he ever liked me very much.
When he retired he said something that didn’t mean anything to me then, but it’s jumping out at me now.
You see, his replacement Matt didn’t know if he should call himself a Lama or not, or so it seemed. And Chuck said publicly, in front of everyone, “This is what my teacher told me. If you’re doing the work of a Lama, you are a Lama. Running the Rime Center makes you a Lama.”
In that moment Matt became Lama Matt.
I’m not, however, writing about Matthew Rice and Chuck Stanford here. Maybe some time I will, but not now. I just wanted to write about that one quote.
“If you’re doing the work of a Lama, you are a Lama.”
Today, right now, that quote is enormously meaningful to me. Because you can reverse it. “If you’re not doing the work, then you’re not…”
Twenty years ago I first started exploring Buddhism. I started studying and practicing without the support of a community. I had given up the religion of my family and at first I was one of those irritating atheists that judges religious people. Then I found Buddhism.
And it just felt right to me.
I don’t know if I believe in karma or fate or past lives, although my view of such things have softened in recent years. I just know that when I started learning about Buddhism it felt like something that was already part of me, like I was supposed to find it.
And for 9 years I practiced it by myself. I’m not by nature a very social person. I don’t really have close friends. It’s hard for me to feel like I belong anywhere. So joining a community scared the shit out of me. The truth is I still don’t know how to fit into one. So, I read every book I could get my hands on and I spent a lot of time meditating.
Eleven years ago I joined the Rime Center. I thought some of the trappings of Tibetan Buddhism were silly and I really wanted to practice Zen Buddhism. But the truth is I didn’t know what I wanted. I realize that now. But at the time I definitely wished there was a Zen Temple in Kansas City (there wasn’t and still isn’t)
I became a part of that community. I enjoyed practicing Buddhism with others and I was glad to be there and feel like I was part of something. I started volunteering in the children’s program (called Dharma School) and I eventually ended up running it. I took Meditation Instructor Training classes. I took Refuge Vows and got a Buddhist name (Kelsang Dakpa). I also took Pratimoksha and Bodhisattva Vows.
Vows are serious things and shouldn’t be taken or given lightly. I may write about those vows at some point, but not right now.
I started writing about Buddhism too. Not presenting myself as an expert, just as a sincere practitioner. I like to write, it’s the reason I got an English Degree in college.
Ten years ago I connected with a Zen teacher that lived here. He found me because of my association with the Rime Center. And he convinced me that a person could become a Zen Monk without changing their life very much. (in that organization they use the title zen monk. In most organizations zen priest is used instead)
Now, a few things are at play here. One is a person wanted me to be his student, that felt nice, like getting chosen first in sports as a kid (which never happened to me)
Why did I want to be a Zen Monk? Just because I had read “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki, “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner, and “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts. I really think that’s it.
So I was convinced that 1) I could become this without changing my life much and 2) that I should do that. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure he would say he didn’t mean to convince me of either of those things.
So I went through Zen Monk training, such as it was. I took the vows to become a Monk in that tradition. It wasn’t an incredibly rigorous training and it was mostly online. But I can say that I learned a lot.
But some things about this organization and this teacher (which I won’t name here) didn’t feel quite right. And when he suddenly changed the rules on me, I knew it was time to leave. He said, “We’re going to start expecting monks to wear robes all the time” and I knew I would not do that. I didn’t really want to wear robes at all, let alone all the time.
So I left the organization. That rule was lifted really soon after I left, I think. But maybe things happen for a reason. There wasn’t much of a community to it anyway and during that period I had never quit going to the Rime Center. I don’t think that teacher is running a community now, but I could be wrong.
I still had this idea that he had planted in me though. I wanted to be a Zen Priest. I found some teachers on the internet that were willing and able (maybe even eager) to vouch for me.
The truth is I’m not doing the work of a Zen Priest, so I’m not one. I don’t have any students that are learning from me, I’m not doing Zen rituals for anyone, I’m not serving a Zen Community. And that’s what a Zen Priest does.
It’s the same with the word Dharma Teacher, which I’ve used at times to describe myself. I’m not doing the work of a Dharma Teacher. I have no students. I’m a Speaker and a Writer who is interested in Buddhism, but I’m not teaching anyone.
Lama Matt gave me the title “Gegan” which means Teacher in Tibetan. I felt incredibly honored when he gave me that title. It’s the word that gets applied to lay teachers. That is what I was when I was teaching at the Rime Center, a lay teacher. Although I certainly feel more connected to that title than Zen Priest, I can’t in good conscience use it. I’m not doing the work of a Gegan. That would be teaching Buddhism, which I’m interested in doing, but I’m not doing it. A teacher without students is not a teacher.
What work am I doing?
Occasionally I do teach meditation. I am doing the work of a Meditation Teacher, so I am a Meditation Teacher. I taught at a local library recently and not too long ago I taught at a store called Aquarius KC. I believe just about anyone can teach other people how to meditate. We tend to think there’s some great secret to it, but there’s not.
I’m also a Speaker and a Writer. I’m comfortable saying I am those things. I probably have more in common with Alan Watts than Thich Nhat Hanh, if I’m honest.
I’m trying to do the work of a Bodhisattva by studying, practicing, and cultivating virtue. I’m not going to say, “I’m a Bodhisattva” because that feels bigger than me. But I am an “Aspiring Bodhisattva”.
So that’s it.
I desperately wanted to be a Zen Priest for a little while. I have robes and everything. It’s weird and a little embarrassing to even look back on that now. I do an open awareness practice that is essentially the same as zazen, but I can’t call myself a Zen teacher or anything of the sort. Hell, I met some wise teachers like Dosho Port and Man Hae and this *really* should have confirmed for me that I am nowhere near being a Zen Teacher.
The truth about that is I trained with one teacher for a pretty short time, then I studied with some teachers on the internet. I wanted that to be more than it was. Emailing back and forth with a teacher isn’t really the same as training with them, no matter how much you do it and no matter how much they encourage you. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone that I said that. There are organizations out there that function on that premise. I see that in the modern world people are out there trying to have not only teachers, but also whole spiritual communities that exist online.
I don’t know how that works for anyone, I just know it does nothing for me.
I had a lot more training at the Rime Center, where I ran the youth program, went on dozens of retreats, sat with various teachers, and took many many classes.
I’m closer to a Rime Buddhist with some Zen influence than I am to a Zen Buddhist. And that’s very clear to me now. Maybe I just wanted to be cool and different from the Buddhists around me. I don’t know.
When a pandemic hit and I was struggling with all that uncertainty and isolation, it wasn’t zen teachings that helped me get through it. It was all those teachings I learned at the Rime Center.
Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva has turned out to be the guide to my life. I used to study these teachings while at the same time thinking I was somehow better than them, above them. I was so deluded.
I stopped going to the Rime Center three years ago. And when the pandemic started to lift I decided to go back. And it was just like going home again even though it’s in a new space.
I still want to teach people about Buddhism, but I’m not sure if that’s an opportunity that will ever present itself in my life again. I’m not doing the work of a Zen teacher or of a Gegan, at least not right now.
But I’ll keep doing the work of an aspiring Bodhisattva. Every day I’m trying to do good in the world, to be more mindful, and to help others. That’s what life is about and that’s what I want to do.
In the meantime, I’ve found a way to turn my career into something where I’m helping people that need help every single day as a Union Representative. I don’t want to make that sound like more than it is, but I’m trying hard to listen and to fight for people that need someone in their corner. To me that is the great Bodhisattva action of putting some good into the world. And I have a wife and four kids. And a garden full of Buddha statues in my backyard, because I’ve slowly grown more devotional in my practice. I never thought I’d grow more devotional but I have.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know I’m letting go of things that don’t serve me and don’t seem to be part of my journey.
Well, that’s not the start of it. The start of it is wishing Kansas City had a Zen Center. Then that goes into wondering why Kansas City doesn’t have one. Then, that goes into wondering if I could do something about it.
I don’t think about this because I have an abundance of free time that I want to commit to it. I don’t think about this because I think I’m enormously qualified to run a spiritual community. That level of responsibility would be scary to me.
The main reason I start to get that idea is because Kansas City doesn’t have one and I think that’s weird.
Smaller cities have Zen Centers.
St. Louis, Columbia, Lawrence, Omaha, and Des Moines all have Zen Centers. I’ve been to some of them and they’re nice.
But why in these smaller cities and not here?
There are a handful of (really small) zen groups here, but there’s no center.
(I’m not talking about a temple. The difference between a Zen temple and a Zen center is that a temple is designed to primarily serve monks and nuns and a center is designed to serve regular people like you and me.)
And I wonder why we don’t have one?
We’re a growing city with a (surprisingly) spiritually diverse population.
I didn’t intend to start a community and I’m not sure if I have.
I created Fountain City Meditation as a project because I was inspired to serve others by providing meditation instruction and encouragement. People need a lot of encouragement in meditation practice, I think. And if I can reach people that aren’t being reached right now, that’s even better. I think many meditation communities might not be as focused on encouragement as they could be. People need a support system for their practice and to me THAT is the central role of a meditation/spiritual community.
I was teaching in a Buddhist community here in Kansas City for a while and then one day I wasn’t anymore. That’s not something to get into here except to say that my inspiration to help and encourage others didn’t just go away, so I spent time thinking about what I can do.
I have considered asking some of the other wonderful communities here in town if they’d be willing to bring me on as a teacher, to work together. But so far I haven’t asked. I have a fear of rejection, I think. Teaching in an established community would be pretty great though. Insecurity is a weird thing.
I recorded an episode of my podcast Scharpening the Mind with my friend Daniel Symes on the subject of community because I think it’s an interesting subject. You can listen to that podcast here:
I tried to create a situation where people come meditate with a minimum of baggage. We’re outside, so some of the intimidation of entering a new place isn’t there. Some people just come once, and some people come over and over. Some people come alone and some people bring friends. Many of the people that come just do the sitting practice and leave, without talking to anyone. I think that’s really great because I’m happy to welcome the most introverted among us. I think a lot of really shy people stay away from spiritual communities because they’re nervous about meeting new people. I know that when I first became interested in meditation practice, I had some issues around being reluctant to go meet people.
You don’t have to meet anyone to come to Fountain City Meditation.
Also, there’s no religion or ritual attached to what we’re doing.
I call it meditation without baggage. My hope is that people who are devoutly religious (of whatever kind) and people who don’t like religion could be equally comfortable coming to one of these events. I’m hoping that by doing outdoor events I can attract people who, for various reasons, don’t really want to go to temples or yoga studios or other traditional settings. Going inside an unfamiliar place can intimidate people too.
There’s no membership, I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t even ask for donations. The great thing about meeting in a public outdoor space is that it doesn’t cost me anything (there are downsides too, of course) so I don’t need to take donations. All I’m spending is my time.
That might not seem like a big deal, but I know some people stay away from communities because they feel guilty when donations are being accepted. I want to reach people that feel weird when they hear the word “donation”.
I wanted to create a situation where all the things that scare people off or make people reluctant aren’t present.
I’m not sure if I’m achieving that, but I do think there are people that are interested in meditation that aren’t being reached by traditional efforts.
If we’re a community, we’re a community full of non-joiners.
Non-joiners could use some encouragement too.
Is Fountain City Meditation a community? I think that’s not up to me.
The world is a crazy place right now and I am scared.
Lots of people’s lives are turned upside down right now by current events and things are really hard to understand and hard to deal with.
This is a story I like to share.
A student went to Nakagawa Soen Roshi during a meditation retreat and said, “Master, I am feeling very discouraged. What should I do?”
And Roshi replied, “Encourage others.”
That story has meant a lot to me since I heard it. I think we’re best at encouraging others when we feel discouraged and it feels like there’s no hope.
I am discouraged. How can I encourage you?
Encouragement is central to this new project and I will not lose sight of that intent. I want to encourage you.
I teach online. I think if you’re reading this you know that. I reach people all over the world and it’s rewarding. I’m trying to figure out if I can serve my local community too.
Right now I’m envisioning “Fountain City Meditation” as a floating community, a group where we come together at different places and different times.
I want to provide opportunities for meditation practice and I want to encourage that practice. There are several meditation communities in town. I want to reach the people that aren’t feeling served by those communities. I know those people exist.
I used to belong to a Buddhist community as a very active member, I was around for years. I saw so many people come and go. Some people would come once or twice and then go. But others would stay for months and years and then just be gone. I don’t know what the disappearing people needed. I just know they weren’t getting it. I want to reach people that feel like they don’t belong anywhere. I want to reach people that no one is reaching and I want to encourage them.
(if you want to know why I left, just ask. I want to share with others and I want others to feel comfortable sharing with me. There are real human issues in life and no one is perfect)
I also want to reach people that maybe don’t feel totally lost, but are interested in something a little different.
So, this is my invitation to you, if you’re in or around Kansas City.
If you want a community where none of us pretend that we’re perfect or that we have it all together.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong in a Meditation Center or Buddhist Temple.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only person in the meditation room who doesn’t know what’s going on.
If you really want a sense of community with your meditation group.
If you feel like you can’t meditate, or you’re not calm enough, or everyone will look at you like a fraud.
If you feel alone in a room full of people because no one in the community has reached out to you.
It feels like I’ve been an independent Dharma teacher for a long time.
I guess I haven’t really been independent because I’ve been teaching online at the Open Heart Project for a few years, but that feels like more of a guest teacher role to me.
Recently I was invited to join an international Buddhist community called the Dharma Winds Zen Sangha, which is a branch of the (not much) larger Order of Hsu Yun. This order is in the Chan (Chinese Zen) tradition and comes from the tradition of Hsu Yun and Han Shan, some of the same historical teachers that inspire me. I felt the need to mention that it’s international because I wanted to make it clear that they’re not here. I, at best, exist on the margins of the communities that are here in Kansas City.
And that’s okay.
I’m sort of a Zen hermit, largely practicing on my own and/or with the people in my household.
I’m still independent, really, but also part of something. I’m part of a tradition. It’s about recognition and connection. And although no one that practices in this tradition is close by, it’s still meaningful.
I was welcomed into this international order and ordained as a Zen Priest. I’ll have to think long and hard about what it means to be a Zen Priest before I try to explain it in detail. This doesn’t really change anything other than making my relationship to Zen, as a practice and philosophy, more clear. To me it essentially means I’m committed to the path and I’m obligated to share teachings with anyone that asks. I have to meet the world with an open heart and to be as genuine as I can. Maybe we should all be trying to do that anyway. We say “priest” and not “monk” because I am in the world with everyone else living an ordinary life and that is not going to change. I’m not a monastic teacher, I’m a householder teacher. I have a family and a career. And I’m also trying to carry the teachings forward and pass them on whenever I can.
I was given the ordination name QianMing. This translates to “Supreme Clarity”. I’m not sure if I have great clarity. The clearest things to me are usually my own shortcomings. But maybe facing our imperfections honestly is the greatest clarity there is. I’m dedicated seeing myself clearly and sharing what I see with honesty and sincerity.
I believe in a Zen practice that includes all things. All beings that I meet are part of the path. So are the wind and the rain. We’re part of a connected whole. And this path isn’t about going away from the world. It’s not about retreating. It’s about being in the world fully and completely, manifesting authenticity and compassion.
So that’s what I’m trying to do.
I’m not going to try to build my own temple or anything like that.
But I am going to share the teachings with anyone that asks.