Crossing Spiritual Borders

Posted By William Coleman on Aug 3, 2014 | 2 comments


When I was in high school, my church (United Methodist) would have an annual pulpit exchange with the Jewish temple down the road. Our pastor would give a talk at their Friday night service, and their Rabbi would give a talk at our Sunday morning service. I always enjoyed this, the Rabbi had a wonderful sense of humor and was a brilliant, enigmatic man (http://www.cleveland.com/obituaries/index.ssf/2012/01/rabbi_bruce_abrams_led_temple.html). I even started going to temple on some Friday nights and attended a Passover Seder Meal at the temple. I loved the rich history of the Jewish people and their tenacity in the face of so many trials and tribulations.
At my school, I was deeply absorbed in the book \\\”Siddhartha\\\” by Herman Hesse; the main character traveled many paths through life–even after attaining enlightenment–and eventually came full circle, finding peace and contentment by a river which served as a metaphor of his entire life\\\’s journey.

In college, I had a professor for my Asian Masterpieces class who brought alive the literature of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam and Hinduism. I was fascinated by the many forms of worship and how eloquently these stories reflected this devotion. I spent my Junior Year of college in England and had the opportunity to perform in a Japanese Noh drama (http://noh.manasvi.com/noh.html) in a dance adaptation of \\\”Madam Butterfly\\\”. We studied the history of this highly stylized form of music, dance and theater, and how the worship of Buddhism was an important influence.
Years later while living in Chicago, I was a shopper in the \\\”spiritual supermarket\\\”, meaning that I sought out different spiritual traditions and tried them on for awhile–but this approach kept me from being fully immersed in any one tradition. Landing back in Cleveland, I found myself in a Tibetan Buddhist sect and practiced in that tradition for several years. A meeting with a zen priest changed my direction yet again. Soto Zen (http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/what/history/index.html) focuses on formal sitting meditation, and how this practice can also be applied as mindfulness in all our daily activities. While there are many philosophical similarities with zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the actual practices differ.

My meditation practice has allowed me to go into a youth prison and teach mindfulness meditation to the inmates, it\\\’s hard to tell how much impact it has on their daily life while incarcerated, but there have been studies that show the recidivism rate is much lower for those inmates who continue to practice meditation and/or yoga once they are released from prison.
My zen teacher told me a story: he was heading to a temple to give a dharma talk and stopped for gas in a rural area. A man wearing bib overalls and a ball-cap was filling his pick-up truck asked why he looked the way he did (i.e.–formal robes, shaved head), to which he replied, \\\”I\\\’m a Buddhist priest.\\\” The man then said, \\\”You should believe in Jesus Christ.\\\” And the priest said, \\\”Well, I do.\\\”
This wasn\\\’t merely an exercise in being contrarian or flippant, my teacher was pointing out to the man that ALL spiritual paths have truth, and many teachings of Jesus overlap with teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.

There are still aspects of Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) that I incorporate into my regular practice, as well as some Taoism and teachings of the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Through yoga I discovered Kirtan, a chanting practice that uses repetition of mantras in call-and-response to raise our energy and cleanse the chakras. But I don\\\’t consider myself a wanderer through the \\\”spiritual supermarket\\\” these days. These spiritual practices/teachings all have many commonalities–most importantly, that I treat others with love, kindness, compassion, and that wisdom is realized through the understanding that all beings are interconnected.

Perhaps, like Siddhartha, I have come full circle in my journeys of the spirit. The river is always inside me, flowing.

Eric Vogt