Ji Hyang PadmaAll of us change after college. Some of us, for example, head off to  seminary with the intention of becoming a Presbyterian minister and then graduate several years later, neither Presbyterian nor a minister.

Not that I’m speaking autobiographically or anything.

But I’m not the only member of my college class who made a significant religious shift after Commencement. A classmate I knew as Bridget has, for many years, been known as Ji Hyang Padma, a Buddhist teacher in the Korean Zen tradition. She spent fifteen years as a Buddhist nun, headed up the Cambridge Zen Center for a time, and has taught workshops at Esalen, Kripalu, UCLA and other places.

And now she’s written a book: Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times. It's an introduction to meditation for people who are attracted to the serenity they sense in Buddhism but are intimidated by the actual "practice" part of practicing Zen.

In it she describes her own initial foray into Zen Buddhism, which started through her college practices of aikido and shiatsu. “My greatest mentors in shiatsu and aikido had active meditation practices,” she explains, which made her want to try meditation too. After college she took up residence at a Zen center and devoted herself to meditation and compassionate action.

Ji Hyang on YouTubeThat spirit of compassion pervades the book she’s written, which aims to help people like me with little or no meditation experience begin on the path. If you’ve read Flunking Sainthood, you’ll know that the practices I failed most miserably were the contemplative ones, especially Centering Prayer, which has many things in common with meditation. I sucked at it, to tell the truth. So I appreciate compassion a great deal, as do many people who try meditation or contemplation and then beat themselves up for not getting it “right,” and not progressing quickly enough. It’s hard to remember that these are practices for a lifetime.

The book is organized in a wise and beautiful way around the seasons of the year, each of which has a gift to offer on the road to understanding.

  • Winter: Finding light in the darkness
  • Spring: New life beginning
  • Summer: The blossoming of true nature
  • Autumn: Everything changes

There are simple exercises (walking meditation, sky gazing, even cleaning the house) to heighten awareness and train the mind in its ability to “rest in the present moment,” as Ji Hyang puts it.

And she reminds the reader often that it's not perfection we're after, some ideal final state of nirvana, so much as the "journey to wholeness" itself. The means are the end and not merely the ways to get to the end. Keep a “try mind” and “give yourself completely to this moment.”

5 Comments

  1. I got a good chuckle out of your first paragraph. Quite a few good Methodists and Wesleyans entered my seminary and were Greek Orthodox by the time they graduated. I don’t know yet what the final effect on me will be. I’m pretty confident I won’t be Greek Orthodox. And since I too really suck at meditation, centering prayer and other such “contemplative” disciplines, I feel pretty safe concluding that I won’t turn out to be Buddhist either.

  2. Wanting to delve into the inner me, I read a wonderful book by Eknath Easwaran called Meditation: A Simple Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life. For me, the word “simple” was the overriding reason for buying the book. I hungrily devoured it, memorized the St. Francis of Assisi prayer and got down to business. Sitting on a comfortable pillow alone in my bedroom, I tried to still my body and mind by slowly reciting; “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace”…hum…when is that biology paper due again? “Where there is hatred, let me sow love”…well I still have plenty of time to write the paper. I don’t think it’s due until next week. “Where there is injury, pardon.” How long have I been at this? Oh just one minute and thirty seconds, only 13 1/2 more minutes to go. Where was I again? Drat! “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace”… Maybe I’ll take a second stab at meditation and the contemplative life by reading “Living the Season.” I’m older now, and my mind is definitely slower, so it might not be as hard keeping it on track. If I can just stay awake!

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