Later, pushing Pico's stroller through our Brooklyn neighborhood to the park, my mind drifts through the grocery list, the names of friends I should call, the books I wish I had time to read. I suddenly remember that the meditation I was doing, repeating a phrase over and over, was interrupted by Pico's waking from his nap earlier in the day. [And then I remembered that I hadn't completed] the 108th recitation that would make a full mala, or Buddhist rosary. I exhale and begin to mouth the 100-syllable mantra. It is a practice of purification, of trying to uproot the seeds of negative karma, from this lifetime and previous ones, before they have time to come to fruition.
I keep an eye on the traffic lights and the walk signs and Pico's bagel. Just as I do while sitting on my cushion at home, I visualize the Bodhisattva Vajrasattva above the crown of my head and a tranquil clarity filling my body, replacing the heaviness of faults and inconsiderate actions. I see the darkness of hurt and misunderstanding blowing away. I am working on letting go.
Later that night, [as I'm working my waitressing job,] I size up a couple from halfway across the room. I decide she is trying too hard to ride the 1980s revival, and he is too eager to impress her. I know they will know nothing about wine but act like they do, and all I can hope for is that he springs for an expensive one. I'm also jealous that, presumably, they can go out for $100 meals without having to also pay for a babysitter. Catching myself, I stop. By the time I make it back to them with glasses of water I am focusing on not being so judgmental, so bitchy. I make an honest effort to look them in the eye, to be patient and, as she takes a moment to decide between the blackfish and the cod, to genuinely hope that they are happy and well and peaceful.
Tibetan Buddhism is the foundation on which I try to build my intentions and my actions. It is a dynamic path, as pliable as it is unchanging, as comforting as it is harshly practical. I find the wisdom that has been passed on over the centuries to hold immeasurable integrity, selflessness and joy. Coming to the Dharma, Buddha's teaching, has been a blessing that I now cannot imagine life without.
I first went to India as an 18-year-old college student and studied the Vipassana, Zen and Tibetan traditions, the three major branches of Buddhism. For several years, before really committing myself to the path of Tibetan Buddhism, I explored and dabbled. I found a meditation cushion small enough to stuff into my backpack. I maintained a half-assed sitting routine for years, but had yet to feel a real connection to any specific practice or teacher. I read a bit, spoke much less and was uncomfortable in my search--always feeling as if I should somehow know more than I did.
The summer after I graduated from college was, probably not uniquely, a thorny time in my life. I wrestled with an over-abundance of undirected energy, unsuccessful job hunts and general notions of inadequacy. I was dealing with a heart-wrenching breakup and a fast-expiring sublet. Then one sticky August night, in my fourth-floor apartment, I cried on my borrowed futon, and the closest thing I've ever experienced to a vision came to me. Somehow my memory had conjured up the Eightfold Path, which I had not given much thought to since my return from India several years before.
If anything, my words had been harmful and my objectives selfish. I'd been obsessing over livelihood, but more in terms of salary and cool title than impact or repercussion. I thought about effort and how I'd been spending every last ounce of it on trying to make things different than they were; holding on tightly to what had been before, but no longer was; and failing to accept that romantic love, like all emotions, is transient and fleeting. I climbed to my Brooklyn rooftop, decided it was time to leave New York City and return to India.
The next fall, on the night the Yankees won the World Series, my cheeks were red with bad airport bar wine as I paced the Korean Air terminal. I was with an old friend from college who himself was returning to India. Justin was going to continue his own practice of Tibetan Buddhism, which was already quite regimented and focused. He spoke to me about his connection with his teachers and his commitment to the Dharma in a very approachable, practical way. Nothing New Age-y, nothing exclusive, nothing spacey.