By Alex Chong Do Thompson
In less than a month, I’ll be inducted as a Lay Minister in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.
After the ceremony, I’ll have a new Dharma name, and be authorized to use the title Sensei. I’ll give Dharma talks, teach meditation and assist in training the next group of Buddhist lay ministers who are working their way through the ranks. Depending on the day, my feelings about the ceremony alternate between awe and terror. This is a very serious responsibility, and I don’t know if I’m ready.
I stay up at night pondering questions like, “How should we teach Dharma in the West?” and “Should Buddhist teachers be involved in politics?”
In addition, there are many mundane tasks that need to be addressed. For example, this past week I booked a pet hotel for my cat, I bought a train ticket, and I purchased a set of Buddhist robes. The robes are much heavier (both literally and figuratively) than I thought they’d be. They’re dark blue to signify that I’ll be a lay teacher, not a priest. They’re extremely comfortable. And they’re sacred. That is to say, robes carry a lot of weight in Buddhist circles.
After the flower sermon, Buddha famously gave his robes to Mahākāśyapa to show that his teachings had been transmitted. Huineng, the sixth patriarch, had to go into hiding after receiving his teacher’s robes and bowl to hide from jealous rivals. When a Buddhist monk decides to return to lay life, his decision is called “disrobing,” so yes, I believe my Buddhist robes are sacred. But that begs the question:
What makes Buddhist robes sacred, and bathrobes mundane?
In order to explore this, I looked up the definition of the word sacred. Dictionary.com states that an item is sacred if it’s reverently dedicated to some person, purpose or object. This describes my relationship with Buddhist robes perfectly. When I put them on, I feel connected to a 2,600 year old tradition; filled with men and women who work single-mindedly towards awakening. My robes remind me that Dharma practice is the actualization of my own Buddha-nature, and they’re reverently dedicated to that purpose.
But there’s more to it than that.
Because in spite of all the things I just listed, at the end of the day, these robes are just plain cloth. They’re made of the same stuff as my t-shirts and blankets. But it’s the ordinary nature of my robes, which makes them special. On the surface, this may seem like a contradiction, but it actually points to a much larger lesson.
Because Rev. Koyo Kubose, my teacher, is constantly reminding me that everyday life is sacred. Thus, if my robes are part of Dharma practice, then so is my business suit. If folding my robes deserves special attention, then so does cleaning the litter box.
My robes are sacred because they remind me that ordinary life is sacred.
Every object should be treated with care. Every person should be greeted with compassion. This is the heart of Buddhist practice, and my robes are a physical reminder of that.
That’s why I’ll put them on in less than a month, and dedicate myself to the teaching of this sacred practice; this everyday suchness, which is a cornerstone of the Bright Dawn lineage.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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