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Mar 24
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From Enlightened Society to Detroit

please toucharticle and photos by Jeff Fink

He had very kind eyes. But his robe was the most distinctive feature of this Christian monk who took his seat next to me on this first leg of my journey home to Utah from Enlightened Society Assembly at Karme Choling. A man about my age, mid fifties, with a grey, shortly cropped beard, he was intent on his prayer book as we took off (in Latin I noticed,) so we settled into a companionable silence as we flew, each reading and napping by turns.

As we landed in Detroit, we began the usual travelers’ banter. I asked him where he was going. Home to Birmingham Alabama, he said. I asked him which order he belonged to. The Franciscans, he told me, I work for the largest religious television station in the world, and proudly produced a brochure featuring a smiling, rotund nun who is apparently the Oprah of that corner of the world. And you, he asked, where are you coming from?

A meditation retreat at Karme Choling in Vermont, I said. It’s a Shambhala Buddhist center. He was unfamiliar with Shambhala, so we talked a bit about Chogyam Trungpa and the Sakyong, about the Tibetan roots of our tradition, about the teachings of Basic Goodness and of Enlightened Society. Enlightened Society, he said, how do you make that happen? That’s the question of the hour, isn’t it? I answered, and we both laughed chuckled.

He allowed as how he didn’t know much about the Buddhist “philosophy,” as he put it, but it was his sense that the tradition didn’t speak to whether or not God, per se, exists. Strictly, speaking, that’s so, I said. We have Christian, Jewish and Buddhist Shambhalians – it’s a pretty big tent, I said. But our concept of Basic Goodness, I continued, that we are all possessed of everything that’s necessary, that we’re not in some way broken to begin with, somehow flawed, that this might differ a bit from the traditional Christian/Catholic notions of original sin. My seatmate just nodded quietly.

Tell me about your meditation, he continued, what does that look like? So we talked about shamatha vipashyana, about simply making friends with oneself as the ground of the practice, about loving kindness, about maitri. He listened intently as the overhead bell rang, and we began the choreography of de-planing.

We’d said our goodbye’s, so I was surprised to see him waiting for me at the end of the jet way. I have a question, he said, and then asked something I couldn’t hear, something about “love.”

streamsWe stepped to the side of the passengers flowing by, and I asked him to repeat his question – your meditation, he began, when we meditate, it’s about our love for God and his love for us. Love doesn’t really come into your meditation at all does it? We stood looking at one another for a moment. In this enlightened society we’re talking about, I said, kindness is the pretty much the “coin of the realm.” For us, I said, it’s really love at the beginning, love in the middle and love at the end.

My new friend considered this in silence. Looking at his watch, he smiled and said, well, I have a connection to make. So we shook hands a second time and went our separate ways. I felt a smile forming – he said he had a connection to make – seems to me that that’s just what we’d done.

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