Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart


a rose is not a rose is not a rose… or, now what kind of beads are those?

Sometimes a rose is not a rose. Or at least a nun is not a nun… At least not when she’s a Buddhist nun. And the beads she’s selling are prayer beads. In that case, she’s an unlicensed vendor. At least on Canal Street.

If you go to the news story that follows the sad story of  Baojing Li, who was arrested for selling Buddhist prayer beads, you will see a Buddhist nun in traditional robes. Ms. Li doesn’t look like a Catholic nun, to be sure, but she also doesn’t look like a criminal.

The real problem with this whole mess is not that even in sophisticated New York City we don’t recognize the dress of other religions. It’s not that we value laws and their application more than people and their feelings. Or understanding…Buddhist nun Baojing Lin

It’s that the police didn’t get Baojing Li a translator. It’s that the police

didn’t listen to the bystander who tried to explain what was happening. Didn’t bother to understand…It’s the dispassionate cruelty (yep — that’s the word I used) of these representatives of law & order.

Please remember, as you read the story, the history of Tibetan Buddhists with the forces of law in Tibet. Who are Chinese, and not particularly fond of Tibetan Buddhists. (The Dalai Lama is persona non grata in China.) I can’t imagine the terror Ms. Lin must have felt, uncomprehending, grabbed by uniformed police, handcuffed and taken in a police car to the station. Where she was kept ‘for hours’ w/out a translator, still not knowing what was going on.

Mother Teresa

Now, translate this situation: a middle-aged Christian nun, in a country where she doesn’t speak the language. Selling rosaries on a corner, trying to raise money for her church. Imagine her feelings when she is handcuffed and taken off in a police car. Held for hours w/out being told why.

No one should treat anyone like this. A passerby tried to intervene, the article says. And Ms. Lin had a shaved head and Buddhist robes. A religious garb that isn’t exactly unknown in the global city of New York.

Why were the police so unkind? While this kind of ignorant adherence to the letter of the law is not new (although we sometimes worry it is), I wonder if it’s not exacerbated by the hectic lives we lead. Did the police officers (who aren’t evil trolls, despite their actions :)) just Buddhist malanot want to bother w/ the bureaucracy (perhaps considerable) of getting an ‘official’ translator? Why didn’t they listen to the bystander who tried to explain the situation? What ‘threat’ could a middle-aged woman w/ prayer beads really pose?

This is another of those situations my beginner’s heart doesn’t get. Today a woman let me out of the parking garage w/out paying the charge, because I told her the hotel neglected to tell me I need a ‘permission slip.’ She was just nice. And generous. She made my day. So I know there are people like that around.

I’m very sorry they weren’t there to help Baojing Lin.



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