Sunday, September 18, 2011

ninety-fourth visit: Sept 21st 2011 Buddhism, Dzambhala Practice, Fall Equinox (Drikung Kagyu tradition, nonsectarian supportive)

7:00pm wednesday
Three Rivers Dharma Center
Dzambhala Practice, Fall Equinox
observing Fall Equinox two days early
201 S. Craig St, Pittsburgh PA 15213
north oakland

Today I read an article that started like this:
"If you are in any way witchy, or follow the equinoxes, then you will know that the 23rd marks the first official day of fall this year. "
The article has nothing to do with religion but it expresses a connection between my 93rd visit and this one. Perhaps an arguable one, though. My question here: are we fully justified to associate the equinox with Witches? Is the equinox not more universal than this? Secular? Astronomical? My digital dictionary says nothing about any religion when I look up the word "equinox". Alas, the Pagans still lay claim to traditional rituals associated with this bi-annual occurrence.

But I also found: "... according to Jewish superstition, when Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac at the autumnal equinox, and blood appeared on his knife." ... "In Greek mythology autumn begins as the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her husband Hades." ... "In China the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is celebrated around (but not precisely) the time of the September equinox."
... "Higan, or Higan-e, is a week of Buddhist services observed in Japan during both the September and March equinoxes when day and night are equal at length." (here)

Tonight's meditation:
Dzambhala Practice, with a nod to the Fall Equinox two days early. Three Rivers Dharma is located in the basement level of a building that was once a house. It can be found on a street where most of the buildings are former residences, with the ground floors now used for independent commercial shops and cafes. (The architecture on this street is a little like the row-style seen in Baltimore, if you are familiar.)

At Three Rivers, you are rewarded for early arrival with time for cookies and tea. By 7pm there are close to 8 of us, at most. Like the last meditation I participated in, this is led by a non-Monk. His name is John.

After everyone settles in, stashes shoes and chooses a zafu (cushion), John orients us to the evening: beginning prayers from the more general collection, and a packet of pages specific to tonight's Dzambhala Practice. Each of us holds a copy. In an earlier email, John mentioned: Dzambhala "is the Buddha of prosperity, but this doesn't mean that we are chanting for wealth. Rather, it recognizes that a certain level of material things are necessary for us to have time and energy to devote to Dharma practice. Also, this practice helps dispel a 'poverty mentality' in order to free us to live generously, openly."

And just before the practice begins, John describes the god,
Dzambhala: the left hand holds a mongoose, who emits jewels from his mouth when prompted with a squeeze. Under the right foot is a conch shell. Light emitting from certain points. ... so this is what we should be attempting to visualize during the meditation.

In emails earlier this week, John emphasized that this meditation is more challenging, as it involves difficult visualization. Unless I'm misunderstanding the process, it ends up that the visualization is not what is hard for me. Having a strong mind's eye is a basic requirement for artists, you know. It's the simultaneous chanting in Sanskrit that provides the challenge of keeping the visualization going. ...or maybe that's exactly what he meant.

We chant the same relatively lengthy series of syllables 108 times. Some keep track using beads. I
t takes time for me to understand where in the chant, the stressed sounds fall. The sentence is too long to memorize, so reading steals concentration from my inward visualization. And one more obstacle in my way: repetition of this sort always makes me feel mildly queasy leading to an ounce of mild panic. I know: kind of the opposite of the purpose of meditation. It's probably something that I need to psychologically work myself out of, as it's the same feeling I experience with my slight case of claustrophobia. And this issue with repetition is the same reason why I choose to avoid learning to knit. But that's not to say that I don't value this experience. As I said, the symptoms are mild.

Following, I have several interesting conversations with members as we carry cushions up to the second floor in preparation for a Monk's visit this weekend. I meet a Carnegie Mellon University student who sat next to me during meditation (philosophy major, art minor). She is currently doing a project in which she is asking religious leaders of all faiths in the Pittsburgh area to define what it means "to commune." Comparing notes about our projects, I say something about my interest in experiencing all these different ways [of spirituality]. To this she adds, "and experiencing all the common aspects.
" No doubt.

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