Open Mind, Open Heart

A couple of weeks ago some students from the college that I work at mentioned that they were going to be visiting a local mosque to learn about their culture and religion. This fascinated me because I didn’t even know there was such a place for worship here in our area. Part of the direction of the Only Love Zen Sangha is to build bridges, tear down walls, and spread love and compassion where possible. One of the ways in which I want to try to achieve this is to visit/study other places of worship from all different faith backgrounds. My Great Teacher is doing this very thing in Michigan, and he has inspired me to do the same.  I thought this might be a place to start.  I went to the website and filled out the information to set up a visit. In my request to the spiritual leader there, I requested information on the proper etiquette for visitors to make sure that I didn’t do anything offensive. I think this is very important to try to appreciate other customs and rules because they are allowing me to visit.


Other religions fascinate me!  I love to study other cultures and traditions, so I was pretty excited about my adventure.  When the day finally came and I realized that I was going, I started to have some unusual apprehension that I had not planned on. It dawned on me when I got in the car that the scarf that I had on my head could might make it appear that I am a Muslim. This frightened me a little bit.  It wasn’t that long ago that a Buddhist priest was mistaken for a Muslim and was beaten.  I honestly looked out the windows of my car, and I pulled the scarf off my head. I realized then what some Muslims in our culture in America have to go through on a daily basis. It made me a little sick at my stomach the fact that certain groups have to walk around in fear all the time just because they have a tradition of covering their heads out of respect.  I realized then that the way people are judged by their looks is terrifying.  Why would anyone assume that all people of any particular background,race, religion or anything should be condemned or hurt or worse? So I decided that I would drive to the mosque (also more appropriately called a masjid) and honor everything about what they did and how they did it.


I got lost looking for the place so when I finally arrived it was raining, and a lady drove up in her car in full dress and I watched her walk in because they have a separate door for sisters as women are called. So I very quietly walked in behind her and I sat down after I realized I needed to take off my shoes.  I observed the woman in another room bowing in silence and praying. There was something very beautiful about her doing this and it reminded me of why I was there. I was there to find the similarities not the differences.  I bow in my practice as a Buddhist.  I do prostrations in my practice as a Buddhist.  I pray and chant in my practice.  There was absolutely no difference between her and me.


About that time a lady who was walking with a crutch came into the room where I was sitting and was very nice and asked me if she could help me. She identified herself as the Admin there and asked how I knew the teacher there.  I said that I had talked with him earlier that week via email and that he had told me that I could come to the class. She was very gracious and said that she had seen that email and made me feel welcome.


The first lady who came in before me told me what to expect and just told me to have a seat and make myself comfortable. She asked me what was my reason for being there, and I said that I was there studying different religious paths because I was a Zen Buddhist priest and I wanted to get to know a little bit about other traditions and other religious values and other places of worship so that in my quest to build bridges I would be able to speak with a little bit of knowledge about each and every place that I visit.  We chatted for a few minutes about looking for peaceful connections in things rather than creating opposites.


After I saw where I needed to sit, I sat beside her on the carpet in this big room very sparsely decorated. There were no statues, no crosses, no deities of any kind.  The man at the front of the room was dressed in a long, white robe with beads around his neck and white cap on his head.  He was standing next to a whiteboard and a few books on a little stand and he introduced himself.  


The next hour was filled with the beginning history of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandfather and talking about the history of Islam as it relates to the Prophet Muhammad, his grandmother and Medina and Mecca and how all of that kind of tied together. He said that this was like the beginning of a 6 to 8 week course; just a very generalized history of the Prophet’s life and his timeline.


The whole hour went by so fast because I was captivated by all the stories I had never heard before, a beautiful story. I was enthralled and really enjoyed listening to everything.  People came in during the class to sit and listen or just take notes.  It was very relaxed.  People could ask questions and comment about things that he was talking about.


After the class was over I sat and talked with the lady that walked in before me and we just talked about different aspects of the class and then she asked me what my purpose was for being there. My answer: “LOVE”, and she smiled.  We chatted some more about similarities and that people want peace and love in their lives.  Nobody wants to hurt and suffer.  I want to spread peace in the world and I want to figure out ways to do that. She shared with me some more about her Buddhist background and how she could relate to what I was doing.


After the class the teacher and I talked for a little bit about why I had come and my purpose.  I shared with him that in the past I was an activist with anger and how that never solved anything.  It never made anything better.  He seemed to understand and opened the book he had in his hand called “The Book of Wisdom”.  The very first few lines of the first chapter says, “One of the signs of relying on one’s own deeds is the loss of hope when a downfall occurs.  Our desire for isolation, even though God has put you in the world to gain a living, is a hidden passion.  And your desire to gain a living in the world, even though God has put you in isolation, if a comedown from a lofty aspiration.”


He invited me to an interfaith dialogue dinner later this month where 12 different religious leaders come together and eat dinner and talk about their paths. He asked if I would come as his guest and then he gave me the book that he had been reading from.  He said that in the past he had not found a Buddhist to participate in this gathering before and he said that he quit trying much like the passage in the book had said and when he did, I came to the class.  


This meant so much to me.  I went with an open heart and an open mind and I feel as though I made new friends.  I wrote him after class and asked him if I could continue to come to classes so that I can continue to learn. He said that I am very welcome to come and continue to listen to his classes and that he was excited that I was coming to the dinner.  
This was a beautiful experience!  When we go out in the world with an open heart and an open mind, beautiful things can happen if we are willing to listen and trust that moment.  We find good if we are looking for good.  We find peace if we are willing to cultivate it.  We spread love if we can be love!  The choice is ours!  Peace, Saij


Zen Ragamuffin

Zen Ragamuffin: 3/19/15
A ragamuffin is usually described as being a small child, usually female, who is dirty and wears torn clothing. I am not a ragamuffin in that sense, but after watching the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins, I feel that I have found a new direction in a ragamuffin way. Rich Mullins was a Christian singer/songwriter who was a sad, lost man trying to find his own truth. He ultimately found it in his music and helping others. He was just himself. He didn’t care what other people thought about him or how he dressed, what he said or whether it was a typical Christian answer to typical Christian questions. He answered from his heart and a lot of the times it was a very profound answer that was real. He smoked cigarettes and drank.  He wore old t-shirts with jeans that had holes.  He always wanted the approval of his father and finally got some peace with his father just a short time before he was in a car crash that took his precious life at the age of 41. He was just a peaceful, loving guy with a lot of inner turmoil. He had a lot to say and he said it through his music that moved people all over the world. People could relate to him so much because he seemed to speak to that part of the human condition that doesn’t feel good enough about themselves.  He became famous, but that is not what he wanted and that is not where he found his happiness, his true spirit. He found it within himself, through accepting the circumstances he had with his father, his music and the choices he had made.

I can relate so much to Rich Mullins in a lot of ways. I have always had some sort of calling. I have always been a seeker. The thing is I didn’t know how to just be myself and say what I needed to say without fear; fear of rejection, fear of condemnation, fear that I wouldn’t be liked or that I would be judged or that I would be wrong about what I say and not know how to defend what I had said in the first place. I have done this for most of my life.

In the past, if I said what I wanted it usually wasn’t very skillful. I never used to think about what I said. I would just blurt it out and not think about the consequences or who it might hurt. I didn’t have any thought of what it might do to someone else. I just thought I was “right” so then I must say it, but what I know now is that I was using this as a way to hide who I really was and I also didn’t know who I was. I knew that I hurt inside and that I was lost. I didn’t fit in anywhere and I felt very different. There was definitely something missing in my spirit, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted more always. I wanted to be accepted, but I also wanted to be different from everything I saw around me. There was an ache inside, a sadness, but a drive to figure it out. That’s what I have been doing for the last 25 plus years. One thing I know more than anything else about myself is that I was supposed to be a momma. My boys are the one true thing in my life. They are me, and I am them. I couldn’t breathe without them. I don’t know what I did before them. But I also knew there was something more about me that I had to find out.

The part of my spirit that had been missing was a sense of who I was besides being a mom to my two boys. All of that changed when I found Buddhism back in the 90’s. I knew when I evolved into Buddhism that I found my true self-calling. I just didn’t know what that looked like and all the studying I did or meditating I did didn’t seem to answer the questions either. They made me feel better, but the more I studied, the more I meditated and hung around with like-minded people the more I questioned. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what the force was that was pushing me forward and I still had so much to learn. I had many more trials to go through, relationships, parent problems, personal traumas to deal with, but once I got through a lot of that stuff, I still had a hole to fill. That’s when I found seminary or seminary found me.

I have been in Zen seminary now for a year and a half. I have studied hard, read tons of stuff, meditated more than I ever had before and with a new mental attitude toward it all, but what would I do with it? I knew I wanted to be monastic. One of the things I thought I wanted more than anything was to live in a cave somewhere in India or Tibet and meditate until I die, but being a mom and having responsibilities didn’t seem to push me in that direction.  Part  of me longed to be alone, to just have quiet, to sort things out….what things I am not sure. I just knew that there was not enough time, space or quiet that could help me figure that out. Then my Great Teacher said something to me one day that made me rethink things. He said something like, what good could I do people if I was stuck in some cave or monastery in some far-off land? I honestly didn’t know and nobody had really asked me that before. I just knew that what he said made sense. I wanted to help people. I wanted to teach people, but what could I teach them? I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t like anything I really had to say, but I had so much to say. I didn’t feel good about my art, but I had so many drawings and paintings in my head. I had so much to write but I never wrote. I was just frozen, just stuck. I didn’t feel good enough to do anything with anything I was learning or building. The closer I came to ordination, the less worthy I felt with each passing day. I just wanted to do something.

I kept thinking that maybe I was supposed to open a Zen center and teach meditation and teach the Dharma, but how? I don’t have money to buy a place or even the cushions to sit on. And besides I wasn’t good enough to give a talk, teach anyone, and even if I did have the balls to teach something, someone would just question it and I wouldn’t have a good enough answer. I was never more stuck and unsure in my whole life. Then I ordained…..

The first time I would get angry after my ordination or say shit or damn or get frustrated with my little one or have an argument with my partner, I would feel more and more unworthy. How could I be a Zen priest who couldn’t control her own emotions? I wasn’t worthy. I didn’t fit here either. What was my direction? How could I help someone else if I couldn’t help myself?

So one night I was talking to my Great Teacher, and he told me about the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins. I thought to myself, what could this possibly have to do with me? The answer is everything!!!! I truly think this movie has helped to set me free. What this movie is about is learning how to be free, be myself just like this..HOW TO BE ME…JUST ME…..JUST ME!!! REGARDLESS!!!!  Being me just the way I am is Zen, Zen in the moment, whatever that looks like.
So I am sitting here listening to some of the best damn music ever…kirtan by Krishna Das, smoking my e-cig and finally writing about what is going on, saying it freely without too much worry.  I still have doubts, but I am working on it slowly but surely, and it starts right now.  I have a whole lot to say, and I am going to say it regardless. It doesn’t matter if people don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if people don’t understand it. It just is. This is what it means to me to be a Zen Ragamuffin. Being myself, with all my flaws, just being my hippie momma-vegan-eclectic-Zen priest self, making mistakes, saying things that matter to me but taking other people’s feeling into consideration the best way I know how and just helping all the humans and non-humans to the best of my ability with love. I don’t know if what I have to say will ever help someone or not.  If it does, that’s awesome!  If it doesn’t, that’s cool, too.  But from now on, I am going to put it out there.  I am going to at least have the courage to try so that I don’t look back when I am taking my last breath and say I sure wish I had tried.  That’s a Zen Ragamuffin!

Only Love and Peace

The Zen Ragamuffin

Rev. Jachong Charama

My blog…

So why am I blogging? Really, I am not totally sure yet, but I think I need to say stuff. I have a lot of ideas about what I am “supposed” to say and how my blog should look, but really it’s about stepping off the edge and diving in, being vulnerable and letting others in. It’s about saying what’s on my mind and saying it not for approval, but because it’s part of my creative nature. It’s about helping and sharing.  It’s not about if someone likes it or not, because quite frankly there is a lot I have to say that a lot of people probably won’t like, but I can’t write for them. I have to get out what I want my legacy to be, my fingerprint on this life, what my children will someday look at and say to themselves, “Wow! my mom was pretty kick-ass.” My grandbabies will hopefully say, “I wish I could have met her” or “Can I hang a piece of her art in my room, Dad? What? She made jewelry, too, and she was vegan?  That is way cool.”

Yeah, I am vegan. I could write an entire book on my food journey, but I won’t because how way boring is that? Let’s just say I WILL write about veganism and animals…that’s just who I am.

I am also a Zen Buddhist in seminary studying to be a priest. That’s a huge part of my life and my journey.

I am an artist. I make stuff. I paint. I decorate. I do murals. I create. I love to create all sorts of things, and I guess this blog is just another outlet for creativity.

But most importantly, I am a mother. This is one of the main reasons I was put on this plane of existence was to be a mother. Talk about a book!!! Well, my two boys are the most important, awesome two boys a mother could ever have. I will write about them all the time.

I like to say things bluntly and to the point. I don’t like to sugar-coat anything. Say it like it is. Why waste time with anything less? Life is too short for guessing games.

Really I want to blog about stuff that may possibly help someone, too…help them to think outside the box, outside the matrix.  I want to use the matrix to educate about the matrix….stay tuned.  I want to empower people. I want to show them that they can do things that they don’t think they can do.  I want to share my life in the hopes that it could give hope, encourage, and give determination to those who need it.

So if any of the things I write about bring up emotion in you or give you something to talk about, great.  If you want to talk about any of it with me, that is cool, too.  I would be happy to chat.  I want what I say to create dialog.  This is me diving in.