My Buddhist BraceletOctober 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
Tags: Buddhism, Catholicism, Thomas Merton, Zen Buddhist meditation
A year or so ago I was walking across Bryant Park, just behind the New York Public Library, when a man I took to be a Buddhist monk walked up to me. He held out a bracelet made of dark brown round wooden beads; one bead, which was larger than the others, had two figures on it, apparently from some Asian language. The “monk” asked if I would like one. I took out a five dollar bill and offered it to him. He replied that the bracelet cost twenty dollars. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t pay twenty dollars and started to put the money back. He scowled at me, in a not very Buddhist way, but then took the five dollars and gave me the bracelet. I put it on.
I suppose I took the bracelet because I am somewhat attracted to Buddhism. I took a required course on Japanese Buddhism in graduate school and read some Dōgen, whose thinking I rather enjoyed. More recently though, since my husband and his mother were both so sick this summer, I have been practicing Zen meditation. I decided I really needed to calm down. I even joined the Brooklyn Zen Center, in search of a community of support.
In sharing this with you, I do not mean to mean to suggest that I am some kind of spiritual adept. Except that it would demonstrate a distinctly unBuddhist kind of grandiosity to make such a claim, I’d be inclined to say that I am the worst meditator in the world. Often I seem capable of suspending the anxious planning my next activity (sometimes my next blog post) for no more than a few seconds at a time. And most days I can barely stay sitting for the fifteen minutes that I plugged into the Zazen Lite app on my iPad.
Let me also be clear: I am not planning to transfer from Catholicism to Buddhism any time soon. As my American-Baptist-clergyman husband is given to saying, my Catholicism is genetic. Then too, some very distinguished Catholics have found Buddhism deeply meaningful. A copy of Thomas Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite is on the book shelf next to my computer.
Despite its pitifulness, my meditation practice does seem to be helping me. As a result, I suspect, of saying “thinking” and bringing my attention back to the present the six or seven thousand times I do so in any given meditation session, I now sometimes find myself being able top stop my mind from racing on to the next task when I am not meditating. Maybe this grey haired lady will learn to be in the present before she is no longer in it at all.
A few months into my meditation practice, I heard on the radio that Asian men posing as Buddhist monks were conning people in New York by selling fake Buddhist bracelets to them. I suppose this news could have annoyed me. I was certainly glad I hadn’t given the guy the twenty dollars (though the odds on this child of Depression-survivor working class parents doing so were slim to none even if the “monk” had been authentic.)
I’ve decided, though, that something about the fraudulent Buddhist bracelet fits in perfectly with my attempts at meditation. I’m not awfully good at it, but I find it a comfort. My quasi-monk wasn’t very honest, but it’s rather a nice bracelet. I think I’ll put it on and go meditate.