Year of Sundays

Buddha smells like hippies.

I went into the temple last Sunday knowing next to nothing about Buddhism. I’ve never been to a service and I’m attempting to approach this project with an open mind so I can get a fresh perspective, which mean aside from date, time, location and dress code, I’m not doing much research besides just showing up. So my take on Buddhism was limited. It’s ancient. It’s Japanese. It’s peaceful and quiet. I had my mouth watered for an hour of blissful, mind-numbing silence. I know a lot of people have questioned my religious motives (among other things), but the truth is I’m very serious about what I’m looking for in a church: I’m after my inner moment.

My life is loud. I’m loud. My children are loud[loud]. Lately the words that scroll along the ticker tape of my brain seem to be written in ALL CAPS and my daily existence roars by at a decibel level that will probably necessitate the purchase of a hearing aide long before Medicare will reimburse me for it.

I may be happy and riding the Good Ship Lollipop, but god help me, I need a moment of silence to enjoy it. Not even my moments in the van down by the river are helping! You have no idea how badly I need Calgon to take me away. (Unless, of course, you’ve been following along with our comments section, for which we should really be selling popcorn and charging ten bucks a seat.)

But apparently, the Buddhists didn’t have much of an idea either, because for a religious practice that prides itself on quiet reflection, these hippies sure loved hearing themselves talk. After the service we were cornered by no less than three Buddha-loving proselytizers, each one preaching longer and more emphatically than the last. The final straw was the black-turtleneck wearing bohemian who ruined Joel’s free Dharma Project lunch by talking down to us like children. Or like blondes. The more he talked, the more I batted my eyelashes and flipped my hair and sat there looking pretty and waiting for Joel’s ire to finally boil over so he could rescue us from the beatnik zealot.

He did. And it was epic.

But let me back up for a minute and talk about the service itself.

First off, we got to Buddha camp about ten minutes late, which meant we missed the opening gong. There was some business we had to take care of early that morning or I knew I’d have to spend another excruciating church service feeling like Elaine Benes doing aerobics behind John F. Kennedy Jun-Ya. I wanted to be Master of My Domain so I could properly get my Buddha on and that meant Joel had to take one for the team. On a Sunday, no less!

We ended up sneaking in just as the prayers were starting and as they shut the doors behind us, my immediate gut response was: GET ME OUTTA HERE.

Not because of the architecture (symmetrical), the people (white), the teachings (lovely) or the music (perfect), but because of the SMELL (hippies).

I would love to take refuge in Amida Buddha because I think with some study I could really identify with his teachings, but unfortunately the fat man and I will never be a love match because mama can’t stand the smell of incense. I dislike it with the same fervor with which I hate cilantro, lavender, non-dairy cheese and lamb.

Full. body. retch.  (Just imagine Elaine Benes dancing.)

I realize this is an immature reason to reject a religion that may otherwise be perfect for me, but the smell really did turn me off THAT much. I don’t like the way it sticks to my nose. It didn’t help that an integral part of the ceremony involved lighting a stick of incense and offering it to the Buddha pot. I was just grateful we sat in the back.

The smell aside, I did end up having a moment. Or five.

First there was the light.

Think I can find these at IKEA?

As is typical for Portland, it rained that morning. Then stopped. Then it rained some more. And stopped. But while we were sitting in that pew, the sun came out for about thirty seconds (also typical for Portland) and light burst through those shoji shades like a choir of crescendoing trumpets. It was so beautiful I not only stopped THINKING, I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing as well. I may or may not have gripped a bald man’s thigh.

The music was also eerily beautiful. Since most of the church membership was at a conference in Seattle, the regular pianist was out. Lucky for the rest of us, a man named Charlie came to the rescue and plunked out the melody to the hymns note-by-note as the congregation hummed along behind him in indecipherable Japanese. I hate to use this word again, lest I be blasted by the comment gallery, but the simplicity of the treble-only piano and the quiet hum of the ancient language was one of the most perfect things I’ve ever heard.

Until the speaker thanked good old Charlie and I looked at Joel and we mouthed “Hey CHARLIE! Wake up!” to one another and cracked up.

I found the lecture interesting, but not particularly inspiring. I felt like I was in college again. The smell obviously didn’t help that feeling, nor did staring at the backs of the three dudes in front of us, one of whom was wearing a striped Mexican Corona poncho. The only thing of interest from my Dharma talk notes is that Oregon Native Americans were perhaps the only completely sedentary hunter-gatherer society. Because of the rivers and the bounty of the land itself, they never really had to get too ambitious about their existence. They could chill out and let the land take care of them. At the end of the lecture, the speaker asked us to look for the karmic connection between those native Oregonians and ourselves and all I could come up with was an evolutionary explanation for the stoner culture in stump town.

Then, instead of getting political on the congregation, one of the speakers instead simply asked that when we hear news about Egypt, we all consider the challenges they have in front of them and hope that by resolving those challenges, there is resolution for all of us. I’m paraphrasing here, but that was the message I received loud and clear. It was a gentle message and that reminded me that the gentler the words, the easier they are to hear, a practice I wish I defaulted to more often with my own children.

But getting back to my goal here – that illusive bubbly Calgon moment of silence!

At the very end of the service, the dharma talk leader explained that they always bang the gong and then sit in quiet reflection until the sound dissolves into silence. I’ve been working hard to find my own moments and so far my failure at opening myself up to them has been consistently disappointing. But while I was listening for that gong to go quiet, it happened. The ticker tape stopped. The snarky blogger in my head shut her piehole. My thoughts, which have always taken the shape of words, became the sound of that gong instead.

I was literally wordless.


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