Dharma Glimpse shared by Rachel Becker
Growing up in western culture has its challenges. The religious side can be patriarchal
and the rules can be heavy. The 10 commandments carry the “thou shall” and “thou
shall not” messages. The dogma is dualistic. There is a god, he is a he, and what he
says goes. Growing up in a Jewish home, these were the lessons I learned. In some
ways I felt grateful; I was not a Christian. To me, their beliefs seemed much more scary.
Their god seemed meaner to me. It’s all the same god though, right?
As an adult I have held onto the cultural aspect of my past, but not the dogma. I find it
difficult to believe in a god per se, and I don’t like the messages of guilt to drive my
behavior. I believe in my own autonomy (as much of a fallacy as that can be in the
world), and I like to believe that my morals come from within, not from the fear of a deity
and my coming to terms with my behavior at the end of my life – note to readers, there is
no “Hell” in Judaism. There is shame however, and Jewish guilt is a thing that Jewish
mothers pass down genetically to their daughters so that they can make their own
children feel guilty. While this fact is medically unproven, I swear it’s a thing. I just don’t
swear it to any god.
Almost 3 years ago, when I stepped into a Buddhist gathering I remember thinking,
“This is so easy!” There was no dogma; there was dharma. There was no guilt. There
was no god to tell me if I was good or bad. What I especially loved was the, “Come as
you are” attitude of Pureland Buddhism. This message to me was to accept myself as I
am, faults and all. I was hooked.
Every Sunday I started to attend the gatherings. Every Sunday I sat with my Sangha.
The sangha is the community, the group of people in the room who wanted to sit
together, recite affirmations together, chant together, and meditate together. Their
hearts were so full of acceptance and compassion; I really felt like this was my tribe. I
may have started life as one of the “chosen people,” but these were the people I chose
to be around. And choosing these people, I did not have to forsake the others. I was
welcome to be a JewBu – a Jewish Buddhist.
Every Sunday, there was a dharma talk. The dharma is the Buddha’s teachings. The
Buddha is not a deity, not a god; he was just a guy who lived 2500 or so years ago.
And then he died. The end. But while he was alive, he became enlightened with so
many thoughts on how to live life in an optimal way. And his teachings became the
dharma. While these teachings are old, these teachings are timeless. One of the cool
things about the dharma is that it is up for discussion. It’s not a “thou shall’ or “thou
shall not” message but more of a, “if you want to make life more livable and be more
comfortable with how you live your life, try these guidelines instead of what you may be
doing right now.” In addition, when our Sensei gives the dharma talk he doesn’t just end
it and move on; he encourages those of us in the sangha to speak up and provide our
insights on the dharma talk. Sometimes the sharing of thoughts goes on even longer
than the dharma talk itself. It’s the opportunity for each of us to speak out and share
how this information impacts our own lives. During the week, we now have daily
meditations. During these sessions people often share how their lives have been
impacted by dharma teachings and how they are getting along. To me it’s all such a
beautiful way to show how our lives are intertwined and how we connect into a oneness
– as the dharma calls it, “The oneness of life.”
So here I am almost 3 years later. My Buddhist fellowship has become even more
integrated into my life, especially with the introduction of Covid in our world. Now the
fellowship is more important than ever in helping me ground and feel connected to my
community. So, is it still “so easy?”
Well maybe, maybe not. Every Sunday we sit together and say affirmations such as,
“Thank you cruel adversity”, and “Thank you clinging and aversions.” These words are
reminders of the first and second of the Buddhist Noble Truths: “Life is suffering” and
“there is a cause to our suffering.” While there is no god saying, “Stop it you fool! Stop
wallowing in your problems and stop your suffering!” or, “Pray to me and I will protect
you from suffering,” there is a realization that I hold responsibility for my feelings. That
my friends, is a pretty heavy awareness. If I cling to my pain then only I can be
responsible for that pain. Wouldn’t it be so much “easier” to just say, “my life sucks and
it isn’t fair?”
There are others lessons too. Ones like, “in compassion there is no respect and no
disrespect, no responsibility, no judgement.” So to be compassionate I am not judging
you. And I give compassion to everyone and everything, even thoughts I disagree with.
This lesson doesn’t mean I become a doormat or I acquiesce, but I do recognize you
are suffering and I send empathy your way. Is that easy? Well just look at the political
divide going on in our country today. That’s one space you can see how hard it can be.
I could go on and on with the lessons I learn daily in studying the dharma. I realize that
the Bodhisattva vows are spot on when they say, “The dharma gates are endless. I vow
to open them.” As I said in a blog post a few weeks ago, there are an infinite number of
things to learn. After I learn today, I still have infinity minus one things to learn. So I
focus on the value of learning and my heart becoming bigger and bigger. Because my
heart too has an infinite capacity.
So what is my definition of “easy?” I think when I first discovered Buddhism, the
definition of easy was that I didn’t have to follow a dogma or guilt myself into certain
behaviors. Now I think it means becoming aware, awakened to the endless learnings
and openings of life. While that may not seem easy, it suits me so much better than
following rules because something bigger than I am says I, “have to.”