One of my favorite Sunday activities is to join J & N at their villa compound for a few hours of relaxed meditation and conversation. It’s actually a couple hours’ worth of meditation (sitting, alternating with walking), typically followed up with an audio talk or video clip about Buddhism, after which we indulge in a feast for the eyes – and palate, a colorful vegetarian potluck lunch.
A pleasant driver named Gusti drove us up. K1 whom I’ve known a long time sat in back with K2. I’d never met K2 before, but was interested to hear how this American woman, a practicing artist, had lived for nearly 20 years in Japan, bringing up a daughter in a foreign country, immersing themselves in the Oriental culture and learning the language. Though now based in the US, K2 frequently travels abroad to give workshops, lead tours and teach classes. She is a longtime friend of V, another frequent visitor at J & N’s.
When we arrived, N greeted us looking rather sprightly in a black pair of wildly patterned baggy pants, while J begged off citing a cold. Cool dude, that N, you’d never guess he’s in his 80’s. Then we met a Canadian couple spending this school year in Bali with their teenage son, then moving to Germany in a few months to continue their work and school adventures abroad.
After initial introductions, we contemplated the brilliant green rice fields laid out in front of us, and handed off to the staff various dishes we’d brought along for lunch. We moved into the guesthouse to place our bags and gather in the meditation room. Wrapped in a scarf (to ward off AC chill), I entered first and nestled down into my regular position – lying down on 2 large flat cushions in the corner.
You might wonder why I appropriate that much space. Unlike the others, I can’t sit. So I lie on my back, stretch out my legs or lay them, cross-legged, across the top of a pillow. Ever since I joined this group (more than a year ago), it’s been a non-issue Then again, I’ve happily shimmied away from the wall in order to accommodate a person who’s wanted to sit on the cushion beside me. When N pipes up about how lazy I am, I smile with my eyes closed because it’s a familiar and innocuous refrain.
So I was startled when K2 entered and, upon seeing me lying on the cushions, said in a loud and firm tone: I sit in that corner, that’s my place. Her place? She went on, saying she always sits in the same place, and has to face the Buddha. A quick glance around assured me that she could have sat in two other spots that would have given her an equally unobstructed view of the revered Mr Gautama.
I quietly said well I lie in this corner too, I guess we haven’t been here at the same time. But she didn’t make eye contact with me and I don’t think she heard me either. She was pretty adamant so I thought it best to avoid an escalation to unnecessary conflict (in front of the dear Mr Gautama, I might add). I got up and moved a few inches over to another pair of flat cushions (more closely situated, I might add, to the lovely Mr G, who remained seated, of course, with eyes closed, utterly unmoved by our exchange).
As I settled down again, wrapping the scarf tightly around my shoulders and arms (unfortunately finding myself also in the AC’s direct line of chill-fire), here’s what I thought: How strange was that… she’s an ordained Buddhist nun.
That interaction remained in my frontal lobe for the better part of the first meditation. What happened to her sense of non-attachment? Why wasn’t she even willing to listen to me, engage in a (brief) dialogue? It was a foregone conclusion that she would have her way. The only way. Is that the Buddhist way, I wondered? Or just her way…
More than two hours later, after we’d heard the last of Stephen Batchelor discussing Buddhism in our daily lives and action, we were ready for lunch. With a plate in hand, I perched myself on top of a large pillow at the table (alternating between that perch and doing a stand-and-sway beside the table). K2 joined me next, and we were alone for a few minutes.
I was still curious and puzzled about our earlier interaction, mostly because her attitude made me feel as though she’d been coming for years and it was just happenstance that our paths hadn’t yet crossed. How long, I asked, have you been coming to Bali? Many years, she replied. And, I continued, to Sunday meditations? Since January. Which January, I asked, do you mean last month? Yes, she answered. Oh…
Here’s my take-away from that experience: Just because someone wears the robes of an order, takes vows, assumes a Sanskrit name, is extended a certain amount of respect (and, god forbid, obsequiousness) due to his many years of spiritual studies and journeying; just because she may have sat in silence for a year or more, does not make that individual anything more or less than human. Love, controlling tendencies, warts ‘n all.
I would wager that the all-knowing, silently seated Mr G would likely agree.