By Debbie Lynn
I had just moved into my new apartment—LA style (or I really should say, “L.A. no-style”).
I was broke with no furniture except for a few plants, my stereo, over 300 LPs and my leather jacket. Five bucks would get me a couple packs of cigarettes, a can of Dinty Moore stew and a loaf of bread that would last almost a week.
Life was good.
One very early morning Saturday morning after a drunken night on the Sunset Strip, I was awoken to the sound of bells and chanting. It was coming from the other side of my bedroom wall and it seemed to be getting louder. I lay there and listened.
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.
My first thought was that it was 5:00 a.m. and what the…? My second thought was, I am still drunk and dreaming because there was a lightness and hypnotic rhythm in those words and they gave my hung-over head and heart peace. It was odd, soothing and then very irritating all wrapped up in one. I really needed to go back to sleep, or get up and puke (the latter of the two won).
Later, I rolled my sorry butt out of bed and slowly began my day. The chanting of the morning seemed to stay with me, but I didn’t really understand why. I chalked it up to all the weirdoes in this town and it gave me a smile. Being on the edge of weirdness was where I loved to be. I am an artist—it’s good for the inspiration. I went about my usual Saturday ritual cleaning: coffee, vacuuming and a cigarette, but not necessarily in that order.
Trash can in hand, I opened up the apartment door and my neighbor, “The Chanter” opened hers. With the energy of a 40 knot wind she offered up a huge, HI!
She was a stout ebony colored woman sporting the latest hippie garb. She had dreads, Birkenstocks and eyes that could melt ice. I loved her immediately. We exchanged some pleasantries and she asked me if she was too loud this morning. I said, “Yes” but with a smile. She said, “So is your music” and our playful friendship was born.
I asked her about her singing.
She gave a loving laugh and explained that she was a Buddhist and that she was chanting, not singing. She then asked if I was interested in joining her someday for a chant. Humm, more oddness—she didn’t ask me to come over for conversation, coffee or a cookie…but for a chant? I respectfully declined yet the vibe of her voice was still in me and my curiosity was piqued.
Weeks of her morning ritual chants turned into months. I thought my boyfriend was going to shoot her (he was convinced she completely whacked), but I loved the sound. I told him to let it go.
Even though it started long before the birds were up, I loved the bells and the feeling that her chanting gave to me. So, I decided I was going to take her up on the offer and I would deal with the boyfriend later.
There were a couple of things I had to work through, however.
1) How the hell would I wake up that early?
2) How would I sneak out at 5:00 am without getting caught?
3) How would I explain I was chanting with a Buddhist to my “Rock Star” macho boyfriend and friends?
4) Justifying it all to myself
See back then, Buddhism was not understood, accepted or liked—at all. Most people thought it was a goofy cult. As for me? It was another step in my exploration of the mystic, the spiritual and the longing to find some roots. The obvious had to happen, so, I joined her.
I endured the harassment and the whispers of, “She has gone off the deep end” for a while from friends but quite frankly, this 5:00 a.m. crap was edging into my partying and living the “Metal lifestyle.”
Something had to give.
Incense, bells and words that meant nothing became embedded into my be-ing, yet I wasn’t truly convinced that Buddhism was my path. Try as she might, her teachings and daily mantras and my being in a seated position at the butt-crack of dawn was not for me.
It is said that, ”When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Obviously, I wasn’t ready. Maybe my timing was off, maybe I was too insecure or lazy or all of the above, but it didn’t last long.
All I knew was it was easier to find meaning in an astrological forecast from the LA Times than it was for me to delve into Buddhism. And being a “Taurus” was a lot easier than trying to explain Buddhism and far easier for my friends and family to digest. After all, Nancy Reagan had Ronnie hooked on astrology (an Astrologer, not a politician, ran our country…eye roll).
So, I quit going.
She never said a word. We were still good friends and neighbors because that is how she (the Buddhist) was. There were no questions asked; just respect, love, purity and the of course the magic of the bells. It took a few years for me to fully appreciate her Modus Operandi. I began to miss the energy of the OM and all the amazing gifts of the Noble Eight Fold Path. Although I loved it, I just never committed; yet it is the closest thing I have ever come to my higher self.
Fast-forward 30 some years.
People ask me all the time, “What Religion are you?” I say, “I don’t have one, I just am.”
To me, the thread that runs through all the religious teachings is so simple and clear that we don’t have to subscribe to any sect to practice. I believe in love, truth, respect and kindness—that is it, the end. These “things” are found all over the world. It is the universal call and when you mix it with music, the power is beyond words.
I love how the Koans make my mind spin: the wisdom of Buddha and the Buddhist messages that are minimal with huge impact on the soul.
I no longer live in the big city, my LPs have long been replaced by CDs, my leather jacket hangs in the closet and my heart belongs to Buddhism. It is not uncommon for me to but on heavy music and rock an hour or so of yoga or meditate with Led Zeppelin. I was destined to integrate my music with Spiritualism.
And, I am forever thankful for that beautiful neighbor whose chanting woke me up (in more ways than one) early one Saturday morning.
Editor: Dana Gornall