By Alex Chong Do Thompson
A few months ago, I was meditating at my local Zen center, and I did something that I almost never do during practice. I opened my eyes, and I looked around at my fellow practitioners.
What I saw shocked me.
The guy sitting directly across from me was wearing black from head to toe. The sides of his head were shaved, which helped to accentuate his eyeliner. To my right, there was a young woman sitting in the lotus-position. Her brown hair fell to just below her shoulders, and her tattoo-covered hands rested in a perfect mudra against her pregnant belly. She told me once that she’d started practicing Zen because people like to “test” her at home, and meditation helps her stay calm.
Finally, to my left there was an older gentlemen who looked like he’d come straight out of a John Wayne movie. He had tan leathery skin, and a propensity for flannel shirts. I knew from conversation that he was a hunter who described his practice by saying, “I eat what I kill.”
That being said, it wasn’t the appearance of my fellow students that I found shocking; it was the fact that we were all in the same room together.
A goth, a young mother, a vegan and a hunter were all occupying space together under the watchful eyes of monks. We had nothing in common, and yet we were able to sit silently, and support each other’s practice. It was beautiful.
After meditation, we listened to a dharma talk from our teacher and drank tea. This was the exact chain of events that happened every Tuesday night at the zendo, but it was like I was experiencing it for the first time. I wasn’t just seeing my fellow students; I was feeling them as well. It’s hard to describe other than to say that I felt a connectedness between us that I hadn’t noticed before. Yes, we were all different in terms or race, tattoos, eating-habits, and makeup preferences. But there was something else underneath; something that was identical in all of us.
Some Buddhist traditions refer to this thing as the dharmakaya. Others call it our buddha nature. These are all fine words. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to cop out and state that it’s “beyond name and form.” I’m just happy that it’s there, and I can become more aware of it through seated meditation.
As a result of this experience, I started a sitting group called, Be The Peace, that meets once a month to practice meditation in public spaces.
I’m also working with my friends at The Tattooed Buddha to organize an International Day of Meditation.
On August 5th, individuals and sitting groups from all over the world will meditate as a united, human family and livestream the event!
I still don’t know exactly what I experienced that day in the Zen center. But I’m hoping that if we can get a bunch of people to meditate together on August 5th, then maybe they’ll feel it too. And if we’re truly lucky, everyone will be kinder, and more compassionate as a result.
Kansas City, MO
please let us know if you would like to participate!
Editor: Dana Gornall