|Vol:III Number: 1
||Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
The Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist Nexus
An Introduction by Sam Trumbore
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open you mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Bringing in a Well Known
In orthodox religion, no one likes a syncretist!
As Unitarianism and Universalism have expanded their identity from being exclusively Christian to a free religious identity, each generation resists the innovations of the next. We struggle to hold on to an enduring center as we continue to include more and more, testing the limits of our acceptance.
The UUBF Board struggles with this identity question too because we are one of the forces pushing the limits of our inclusivity. While threads of Buddhist thinking may have been available to Jesus via the Greek Cynics or very speculatively, by Jesus' contact with India and/or Asian thought, the lineages of Unitarianism and Universalism have little historical contact with Buddhism.
While Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism are two distinct traditions, we find UU's attracted to Buddhism and Buddhists attracted to UUism. In ways we are beginning to explore, there is a nexus, a connection or link.
The nexus is complicated by the variety of Buddhist UU's. There isn't just one form of Buddhism we embrace but many represented in our membership from Zen, to American Vipassana or Insight meditation, from Pure Land to Tibetan. To represent our diversity, the UUBF board includes people from different traditions (listed on the masthead). To discuss the nexus, we must first identify our Buddhism.
The UUBF board thought it would be helpful to use this issue to begin a conversation to see if we can articulate our nexus. The board members each bring a different perspective to the nexus. With reader response, hopefully the winter issue will be composed of your ideas about this nexus.
Here are some of the questions we are pondering:
- What is the purpose and mission of this organization? What is our role in the UU Buddhist nexus?
- Is one particular Buddhist lineage most compatible with us? Are their ones that are not?
- Should there be - are there now - UU Buddhist congregations?
- Could someone become a UU Buddhist teacher and take on students?
- What about UU Buddhist retreats?
As you will read, each Board member has different answers to some of these questions. We want your thoughts about this too. So please think about what you read and respond via email or postal mail to your editor!
Buddhist Speaker for GA
To advance the Unitarian Universalist Dialogue the UUBF Board has been discussing inviting well known and popular Buddhist speakers to come and speak with us. Some names we are considering include Charlotte Joko Beck, Jack Kornfield, Sandy Boucher and others.
If we are able to get one of these or another well known Buddhist teacher to come to GA this summer, it will probably cost lots of money. After this issue arrives at your door, our bank account will probably be around $200 dollars.
Inviting well known Buddhist teachers outside the circle of Unitarian Universalist minister who will speak gratis will cost us money but will also raise the profile of UUBF within our movement and connect us with fellow journeyers following the Buddhist path and adapting it to the Western mind.
This is one excellent reason to sit down right now and send in your $20 dollars membership dues to support this organization. Please check you mailing label for your renewal date.
UUBF Web Site Needs You!
James Ford commented recently on the lack of fresh material on our web site. Part of that has to do with the lack of time of your editor to update the site and also a lack of material to be posted. If you would like to become our web weaver or if you have material to post please contact Sam Trumbore.
UU Sangha Needs Submissions!
This issue addressing the 'nexus' between Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism is an ongoing conversation. I hope after you read it you will take the opportunity to answer the questions yourself on paper or at your screen and send them in for possible publication. And if you have other topics, written something or have given a talk or sermon lately on a UU Buddhist theme, send me a copy!
Hope everyone enjoys this issue!
Faithfully yours, Sam
by Robert Senghas
First let me describe both my Buddhist practice and my involvement in Unitarian Universalism. I am a senior student of John Daido Loori, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY in the Catskills, in the Mountain and Rivers Order founded by Daido Roshi. Daido Roshi is an American and Dharma heir of the late Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and he has received full transmission in both Soto and Rinzai Zen.
My practice, then, is Zen in one of the lineages which preserves, more than most American groups, the traditional rituals and sesshins of Japanese Soto Zen, with most of the rituals in English. Here in Vermont, I am an active part of the Zen Affiliate of Vermont (ZAV), a group affiliated with Zen Mountain Monastery, with regular sitting groups throughout Vermont. As a senior student I officiate at various ritual services we hold in ZAV, and I go to the Zen Mountain Monastery for sesshins and for koan interviews with Daido Roshi. I would estimate that perhaps one-third or more of our ZAV participants are UU's from various congregations throughout Vermont.
My Unitarian Universalist history includes graduation from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley in 1963 and service as a UU minister in our congregations in Davis, California, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, and Burlington, Vermont. From 1974-79 I served as Executive Vice President of the UUA in Boston. At the present time, I represent the New Hampshire Vermont District on the UUA Board of Trustees and am a member of the NH-VT District Board. Since 1989 I have been retired. I live in Burlington just a mile from Lake Champlain, briefly the Sixth Great Lake.
Although I had had some contact with Buddhism before, my Buddhist practice really began in 1982 at the Zen Mountain Monastery. At that time and until I retired my UU congregation here in Burlington was quite aware of my growing Buddhist practice. I was careful, though, not to proselytize or "push" Buddhism in or out of the pulpit. I continued to use Christian, Jewish, and Humanist sources and points of view as alternative approaches to the questions of life, death, and morality. I did lead adult groups which explored Buddhism. There is no question that in my sermons and services my views about life, death, justice, and morality were founded upon my Zen practice. I do not see that as a problem, thoughI believe that every mature UU (minister or lay) needs to work out personal beliefs and commitments. I believe that is especially essential for ministers, in order to show with one's life what belief and commitment mean. But also required is a fundamental respect and dialogue (in pulpit and elsewhere) with other alternative religions and philosophies.
We UU's are committed to a non-creedal and nonexclusive practice in our congregations. That means that we need to avoid moving toward "Buddhist" congregations. Even though Buddhism is non-creedal, it would be a mistake, I believe, to institute predominantly Buddhist readings, rituals, and symbols. There is no reason we cannot celebrate various Buddhist holidays, just as we celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays. I think that one of the tensions we have to live with as UU's is that each of us is part of a congregational community (or collection of communities) on the one hand, balanced on the other hand that we offer a real acceptance of varieties of belief and spiritual practice within our communities and the use of symbols and rituals from those varieties. I know that we have UU congregations we can characterize as "Christian" or "humanist." In many cases those congregations welcome "minority" practices and points of view, but unfortunately in too many cases those who have such minority points of view are dealt with as "heretics" and are not made to feel welcome.
I do not believe we can recognize any lineage we can call "UU Buddhism." I agree with James Ford that probably Vipassana in its American form is one of the easiest for UU's to practice; Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings are also most appealing to many UU's. But we have such a variety of UU Buddhist practices that I cannot, at least at this point, see any particular UU lineage emergenor do I believe a UU lineage should emerge. That would be another kind of orthodoxy. Let's just go with the flow, and see what happens.
For the same reason I would oppose some kind of official sanctioning of UU Buddhist teachers. That would for me be an attempt to move toward a UU Buddhist lineage. One of my real concerns is that many UU's (including, unfortunately, some UU ministers) believe they understand and practice the essence of Buddhism, when in fact they haven't even begun to get to the personal experience that underlies Buddhist practice and which deepens with continued Buddhist practice. They don't realize what they don't realize! Buddhism involves a serious and committed spiritual practice. In my mind that practice (in whatever authentic lineage) needs to take place alongside one's Unitarian Universalism. And if a UU wants to have a spiritual practice that is a mixture of Buddhism and something else, or is not related to Buddhism, finethat should take place alongside that person's Unitarian Universalism. A particular spiritual practice and UU practice can nourish each otherwhen they are not conflated!
I do believe that UU Buddhist retreats would be a good thing. We could have fruitful discussions among UU's from various lineages, with an opportunity to participate in rituals from various lineages, as well as discussions of how we live as both Buddhists and UU's. Retreats would also give us opportunities to inform UU ministers and laity of what Buddhism is, and what it is not.
Robert Tokushu Senghas is minister emeritus
of the Burlington, Vermont, UU Church, and senior Zen student of Daido Loori Roshi.
On Being a UU Buddhist, Without Hyphens
by Yvonne Groseil
I offer two analogies, with explanations, to describe what I mean when I call myself a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist.
1. Identity and Belief System
These were the first words that occurred to me when I began to try to verbalize my feelings on this topic. My identity is Western, American, female, and so on for age, ethnicity, profession, and other markers by which we categorize ourselves and others. To this extent, my identity is rather a fixed thing, and it is both a mirror of what everyone else believes and sees in me as a member of those categories, and it is the framework within which I act in everyday life. My belief system is more inward, more of my own choosing and creation: born into the Roman Catholic faith and receiving early education in parochial school, I chose Unitarianism in college, and some years after merger I became a member of a UU church that had originally been a Universalist congregation.
In some ways my Buddhism follows from my Unitarian Universalism, in that it was UUs who got me involved in Buddhism. Although I had heard about Buddhism both through college readings on religion and later through the work of the Beats and the writings of Alan Watts, my first experience with practice was with Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation guide as part of the UUA's packet on constructing your own Credo. Henry Wiemhof, a fellow member of the Fourth Universalist Society, led some Sunday morning meditation sessions. Through his work with the UUBF and the New York Buddhist Council, Henry opened to us a wider realm of Buddhist thought and practice both among our fellow Unitarian Universalists and in the varied ethnic Buddhist community of New York City. By that time, of course, I was very interested in Buddhism and trying to find my own way in it. It was Ed Clifton, a member of the Fourth Universalist Society and now a member of the UUBF Board, who introduced me to Tibetan Buddhism. Today my Buddhist belief and practice are grounded in the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, through my teacher, Lama Pema Wangdak.
In Tibetan Buddhism, I find a belief system that is good to think. My own long held ideas are in accord with a cosmology that does not need a creator God. Karma is a very satisfactory way of explaining why "bad things happen to good people", at least as good as any of the Christian, Jewish or humanist explanation I have heard. Reincarnation is a great source of hope to me, as well as an encouragement to keep working at my spiritual development: if I don't get it now, there will be other opportunities, so I don't need to feel effort is futile even when I don't see much progress. By the same taken, I must keep trying or I will only have to face the same difficulties again in the future, maybe under less auspicious circumstances.
The central teachings of the Sakya tradition are known as "The Path and its Fruit," and stress the on-going effort to grow in wisdom and compassion. It is truly mind training, teaching our minds to perceive events and people within the framework of the dharma teachings on impermanence and compassion, and we gradually learn to react differently, more in accord with Buddhist principles of compassion. Our weekly sessions consist of prayer and meditation and Lama Pema's explication of passages from a text, such as Shantideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, or The Beautiful Ornament of the Three Visions by Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrub.
2. Two languages
Like someone who is bilingual, I find in the "languages", the vocabulary and theorizing of both Unitarian universalism and Buddhism rich resources for expressing both my identity and my belief system. In terms of my identity, I define my political commitments and my social obligations as an American of liberal politics aiming at social justice. Belief in human liberty, individualism, political democracy, equality, freedom of religion and thought, these developments of the Western Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western thought are among my basic values. I find these commitments expressed though many forms of UU social action, such as GA Resolutions, local church activities, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Yes, it is possible to come to many of the same practical actions through the Buddhist Peace Fellowship or other forms of "Engaged Buddhism," but that has not been my path. Political theorizing and activism engaged my attention and shaped my intellectual and moral development long before I had begun to practice Buddhism and I still find the vocabulary of the Western liberal tradition to be the most efficient in these matters. On the other hand, in my inner life, Buddhist teaching and practice inform and support the ethical positions inherent in my politics.
If it sounds divisive to speak of being a UU Buddhist, and I know there are people in our denomination who criticize all forms of labeling of sub-groups and feel that it undermines our unity, I can only say that in my experience they have been mutually enriching. Those of us who belonged to either a Unitarian or a Universalist Church before merger learned to adapt to being both Unitarian and Universalist without a hyphen that would indicate one as being derivative or less important than the other. I like to think there is a parallel in the case of those of us who define ourselves as UU Buddhist, or UU Christian, Humanist or some other shade of the UU spectrum.
When there is talk, as there often is in recent years, of the development of a "Western Buddhism," I like to think that UUism and especially UU experience with the UUBF will be a strong voice in that development. In our UUBF, we have representatives of many traditions of Buddhism, and we bring to our Buddhist explorations a grounding in Western religious thought.
Last Sunday. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see "Sacred Visions: Early Painting from Tibet." The Tibetan exhibit was on the first floor, about the center of the Museum, and in order to get to it I had to take a circuitous path that led me through a room of medieval European religious art and through the courtyard of 18th century European sculpture, past marble busts of bewigged marquises and vicomtes. I was thinking about this paper as I walked, and I was struck by how appropriate this was to follow a path from medieval Catholicism through European enlightenment to reach Tibetan religious imagery. My walk through the museum recapitulated my own spiritual journey.
Yvonne Groseil is the Coordinator of the New York City Chapter of the UUBF. A student of Tibetan Buddhism and a member of the Fourth Universalist Society of New York City, Yvonne is also participates in the activities of the New York City Buddhist Council.
DREAMING THE DHARMA
by James Ishmael Ford
I find myself dreaming the Dharma. Or, perhaps, it is the Dharma is dreaming me. Where it is going, I don't know. How it will turn out, I have no idea. But, the dream continues, and I am following it wherever it leads.
My decision to take up Zen came in the late 1960s, when I had figured out that psychedelics probably were not going to save the world. I had learned some important things. Still, out of this I had a vague intuition, actually a vaguely articulated, but driving urge, that I needed something more than visions and tingles. I wasn't at all sure what that more should be, or could be. But, I knew grave dissatisfaction, and deep longing; and began that searching.
I was lucky, and that search took me to the San Francisco Zen Center. In those first tentative formative Zen years for me I considered Shunryu Suzuki my teacher. But, in truth he was simply someone I would occasionally go over from Berkeley to San Francisco to hear talk. Sort of. He was a very small figure, sitting very far away; speaking in what my friends assured me was English. Still, I began to learn the Zen way.
My first genuine Zen teacher was Mel Sojun Weitsman, who quietly led the Berkeley Zendo where I sat. But, I was too young and foolish to know it at the time. Everyone knew Suzuki was the teacher. And because he was so far away I longed for a teacher I could know more intimately. I wanted to learn more.
As they say, we should be careful what we pray for. When the colorful English Zen master Jiyu Kennett blew into town I was very excited and became her first student in America. This was a bad choice. At least, by my standards today. She did teach me to sit, really sit. And for that I can only be grateful. But, she also taught me a bit about cults and the nuances of abuse. For this my gratitude is somewhat more shaded. However, one other very good thing in this encounter, was that at some point I was thrown out of the monastery and onto my own.
While on my own I explored much of the spiritual marketplace flourishing in the 1970s of the west coast USA. Learned lots. Got burned a few times. Learned more. One thing I learned was that it is important to think for oneself. At some point in anyone's spiritual journey, we must come to this realization. If we don't we'll always be eating someone else's meal. And, it will not satisfy.
About the same time I stumbled upon Unitarian Universalism. I was working in a bookstore and found a reprint pamphlet copy of William Ellery Channing's Baltimore Sermon. I loved it. And, I thought, I could be this kind of Christian. That Sunday I went to the local UU church. Of course, there was no Channing coming from that pulpit. But, there was something intriguing that I hadn't actually expected. And, after long investigation eventually I found myself a Unitarian Universalist. As well as a Buddhist.
Today I guess I would have to call myself a liberal Buddhist. Like many in the forming western Sangha, I'm marked by four things. First, I feel a deep need for a lay emphasis. I have no doubt there needs to be a place for monks and nuns. But, the monastic way is not for me. And, not for most other western Buddhists. Second, western Buddhism needs to be washed through the insights and criticisms of feminism. This is a great gift of our contemporary west, and it would be very foolish to ignore. Third, the Buddhism I practice needs to pay attention to questions of social inequity. And, fourth there needs to be a critical appraisal of the traditional teachings, particularly karma and rebirth.
All these perspectives led me to feel a deep compatibility with Unitarian Universalism. What I saw in the UU congregations I visited and later joined, was a sense of welcoming, of open arms, but also an engagement with questions attached. Those questions tend to bring up these four points. At least they have for me.
In the Unitarian Universalist churches I've belonged to, I've found an open while critical opportunity to explore not only the shape of my Buddhist experience, but also to explore and feel deeply and truly the questions of my spiritual origins. I was raised Baptist, and I continue to feel the stories of Jesus and the Marys and all the scriptures as being my stories, the legends of my people, the stuff of my dreams. I'm also deeply an heir to Enlightenment and all that has followed in the course of western civilization. And because of all this I will never check my head at the door, no matter where I go.
Of course, all these things Unitarian Universalism encourages and fans and cultivates.
On this spiritual journey I've learned quite a lot.
So, what have I come to in all this learning?
Well, in the midst of these explorations I was lucky finally to find a spiritual director who could accept this material I brought, and show me how to use it. In the mid 1980s I met John Tarrant. John is the first Dharma successor to Robert Aitken the renowned western Zen master and social activist. John is a poet and a psychotherapist and a father and, way, way too wild to fit into any monastic community. He accepted my rationalism, and the dreams of my childhood Jesus, and showed me how to dream bigger, and bigger, and eventually to not even need the dreams.
At some point studying with John I lost all my learning, I forgot all the lessons.
Like the ancestors of old, I've found the great way is right here. I'm sure we need to learn the lessons. But, at some point, if we want to really be free, we need to let go. We need to let go of every thing, including all our very good ideas. At this moment the ancient sages and modern thinkers lean close together, so close that as Wumen says, their eyebrows tangle. We can know an intimacy that denies nothing that is, but places everything in its perspective and relationship with all else that is. We forget and we know. The Dharma has dreamed us into being, we modern western Buddhists. Here we are.
Now, I find I'm fifty, overweight, and pretty happy.
I serve a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the Sonora desert of Arizona, where I also am privileged to guide a small sangha of mostly UU Buddhists. Here we're finding what it might mean to be Zen practitioners in an ancient lineage while also completely westerners and moderns and, most of us, Unitarian Universalists. Here the questions of ordinary lay life, of feminist insight, of social inequity, and of critical analysis are all the stuff of our practice. And when we forget, our other UUs, Christian and Jewish and pagan and old-fashioned humanist, are perfectly willing to remind us.
Where it is going, I have no idea.
But, every day there seem to be a few more of us dreaming this Dharma into flesh and blood lives. Or being dreamed into existence by the Dharma.
James Ishmael Ford is minister of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler Arizona. He is the author of This Very Moment: A Brief Introduction to Buddhism and Zen for Unitarian Universalists.
The UU Buddhist Connection in My Life
by Dorrie Senghas
I was born and raised a Unitarian in Concord, Massachusetts. I was raised to have deep admiration for some of Concord's greats from the 19th Century, most particularly Henry David Thoreau. Looking back now, I believe my openess to Buddhism may have been formed by my early and earnest reading of his works. But that's getting ahead of myself.
I was very fortunate to be able to show my husband the path to Unitarianism. He returned the favor by showing me the way to Zen. I have been a practicing student at Zen Mountain Monastery since 1986. John Daido Loori, Roshi is my teacher. I am an active participant in the Zen Affiliate of Vermont, affilate of ZMM. For a number of years all our once-a-month all day sittings were held at our house. (Now we vary the setting, going also to central and southern Vermont.)
Nothing in my strong and active adherence to UUism is precluded by my Zen practice. However, Zen has brought to me some important aspects of life that Unitarian Universalism does not emphasize. Especially important to me is the hard and good discipline of meditation. The centrality of mindfulness is a strong part of my life. No longer is cooking or cleaning or pulling weeds something to be done, to be rid of, but things to be done with thoughtfulness, concentration, and mindfulness for every moment of every task. The Evening Gatha is of special importance to me:
Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death of supreme importance,
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken, awaken!
Take heed. Do not squander your life."
While I am very happy to see the formation of the UU Buddhist Fellowship and am very pleased with the work it is doing and of the opportunity it gives to meet UU's in other Buddhist groups, I do not think that joining the two institutionally or liturgically is desirable. I like my church with its variety of spiritual views. I am not a Buddhist UU nor a UU Buddhist. I'm a Buddhist and a Unitarian Universalist. They each feed different parts of my life.
Dorrie Senghas is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vermont; she is also active in the wider UU movement and is chair of the UU Fund for Social Responsibility of the UU Funding Program. She is a devoted gardener and a hiker in the mountains of Vermont, as well as someone who delights in her children and grandchildren.
Some Nexus Musings
by Wayne Arnason
I find my UU heritage and beliefs create little friction with Buddhist practice and philosophy. Whether we look to the Pilgrim congregations that are the institutional antecedents of our churches, or to solitary Transcendentalists walking in the woods, we find a central belief in our UU tradition that is shared by Buddhism: the importance of personal realization of relationship with the holy. The experience of God's grace that came to the Puritan, the insights into natural spiritual law articulated by Emerson, and the ultimate faith in human insight and experience advocated by Deitrich, all have echoes of the Buddhists belief that we must realize the Buddha dharma through our own effort in our own lifetimes. Reliance on the forms, and rituals, and scriptures of religion is not enough. I find myself as a UU Buddhist regularly preaching the injunction that was inscribed on the plaque on the wall of the Chapel at Harvard's Divinity Hall -- "Acquaint thyself at first hand with Deity!" - the words of Emerson from his Divinity School address. Although "Dharma" and "Deity" are not exactly interchangeable, I think Emerson and Buddha were in the same ballpark, and my spiritual baseball team includes both of them. (Forgive me, it's World Series week as I write this!)
Wayne Arnason is minister of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, in Charlottesville, North Carolina.
On Building Bridges
by Sam Trumbore
I have come to Buddhism through four men: James Baraz who taught my first meditation class in Oakland, California; Jack Kornfield who led the first retreat I attended in the mountains of New Mexico at 9000 feet (Lama Foundation); Joseph Goldstein who wro te the first book on Vipassana meditation I ever read; and Larry Rosenberg, the teacher at the Vipassana center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What I have learned from these men has deeply shaped my practice, my access to the wisdom of the Theravadan tradition and the practice of insight meditation.
While I studied Theravadan Buddhism in seminary from an authentic Sri Lankan monk, the Buddhism I received from my American teachers has been filtered through the perspective of the West. And not just any Westerners - liberal thinking Westerners (not that much older than I am) of the Baby Boom generation. These American teachers ordained in Asia are in the process of adapting the monastic oriented Theravada tradition for Western consumption.
I have no problems with this adaptation process. Every global religion must be able to shake its cultural particularity and adapt to new surroundings. I have every confidence the Dharma will root very successfully here. Yet should it be absorbed in some fashion into Unitarian Universalism? This is a particularly perplexing question for those of us who are Unitarian Universalist ministers and also members of a Buddhist sangha or community. Where is our primary allegiance?
One solution is to separate out the practices from the religious tradition. We can harvest the 'spiritual technology' of meditation and leave the saffron robes, bells and smells behind. This wouldn't be the first time we've done it. Unitarian Universalism might be accused of harvesting the ethics and morality of Christianity while abandoning the resurrected savior, the symbol of the Cross and the Kingship of God. And it is also true that every religion steals from every other religion as it adapts its wisdom to the eyes and ears of its followers.
At some time in the future will there be something called 'Buudhism' that looks like both traditions and has its own institutional identity? I think this is very possible. I can imagine it being rejected by Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists as heretics. I suspect many of us are already practicing this new religion but haven't yet organized it much as Unitarian Christianity was practiced for a number of years before William Ellery Channing's famous Baltimore sermon.
The reason I expect this kind of institutional procreation is our openness to being the incubator for such a movement as the Transcendentalists were for the New Thought movement. We are currently incubating the Earth Centered Spirituality or Neopagan movement.
I expect to see fully credentialled Buddhist teachers appearing in our seminaries and getting Fellowshipped as Unitarian Universalist ministers. Several UU ministers are working the other direction right now. I expect to see congregations gathered who have Buudhism as its core practice. I expect to see interest in having UU Buddhist retreats that have a unique flavor unlike any other Buddhist retreat. There will be similarities to be sure but there will also be innovation which we can only guess at.
This will not come because the UUBF decides to do it or not to do it or because the UUA suggests it. It will grow up from the grass roots.
And of course there are forces which will resist the idea of Buudhism. One which we've already discovered on the UUBF Board are the varieties of Buddhist practice we represent. There is much more variety within Buddhist practice than there is within Unitarian Universalism. Trying to sift out the common elements and practices may not be possible.
My strong interest in all this is to see the integrity of the Dharma transmission be protected. While the truth discovered in meditation may have a universal quality, the process of preparing the student requires great skill, purity and dedication. A few momentary tastes of satori do not make one into a teacher.
The UUBF is building a bridge which will allow Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism to have greater contact with each other. As we cross the bridge and return, we will be changed and bring something back of which we have found. Our understanding of the importance of the individual, democracy, and addressing systemic violence and oppression are great gifts we offer to Buddhism. We have much to learn about the mind from Buddhist psychology. Buddhist spiritual technology is far superior to ours.
The creative synthesis which occurs from both meeting on the bridge and crossing to the other side has much fruit for both traditions.
Samuel A Trumbore serves the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Remembering Norma Cordell
Norma Cordell was an amazing women, a wonderful UU minister, a person honored as one to carry on the wisdom of the grandmothers in her native American tradition and a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who was recognized as one of those able to teach from the heart of that tradition, as well.
After fourteen years of dealing with an intestinal malady perhaps caused by being struck by lightening while leading a group of people on a vision quest Norma died as the result of surgeons being unable to stop the seepage into her abdominal cavity of infectious fluids from her bowels. It was an ordeal, the kind of worldly suffering of which the Buddha often spoke. But Norma bore the ordeal with courage and finally asked that she be allowed to pass over into the next stage of her life without further attempts to halt the process. Throughout her time in the hospital she was surrounded by those who loved her and an altar was erected for her in the hospital room in which she passed on and rituals done for her until she died. She moved on surrounded by the kind of love she had always shared with others.
In a sermon she gave on facing death not too long before she died, Norma said:
The idea that those whose love forms the center of our lives will simply abandon us forever at some unknowable date is not only terrifying, it is insupportable. Surely our loving deserves to come to something better than that.
I personally believe it does. [An African] poet writes: "Those who have died have never left. The dead are not under the earth. They are in the rustling trees. They are in the growing woods? Our lives are continually shaped by those who are no longer physically with us: what we believe, what we know, our choices and are dreams are shaped by those we knew and loved, and by those we knew only through their words and their works? The lives they lived hold us steady. Their words remind us and call us back to ourselves. Their courage and love evoke our own. We, the living, carry them with us. We are their voices, their hands and their hearts. We take them with us, and with them choose the deeper path of living.
Norma Cordell was one of those who chose the deeper path of living.
After her death Norma's body was laid out in traditional Buddhist fashion. Prayers were said to help usher her into the next place she would be, surely a blessed reincarnation.
A memorial service for her was led in the Marin Church by her friend and colleague, Dave Sammons, climaxed by a procession to the top of the hill at the church where there is a memorial garden. The participants in the service were led to the hilltop by the bagpiper who had played for both Norma's ordination and installation. After they arrived at the top of the hill people were invited to pass through the smoke of burning juniper that had been sent to the ceremony by friends of Norma's who are on their three year, three month, three day, three hour, three minute retreat at a Buddhist monastery that Norma would have entered with them if she had not chosen to be a UU minister instead.
As she always said at the end of comments: "go shining." May we always let shine through us the presence and spirit of people like Norma Cordell.
Norma is survived in this life by her husband Brad, also a Buddhist practioner, and her children Amy and Alex. Because of preexisting medical problems, she was one of those left without insurance when the UUA plan folded. If you would like to help cover the enormous medical expenses for which her family is responsible you can send a check made out to the UU Congregation of Marin, 240 Channing Way, San Rafel, CA, 94903, marked "Special Fund."
David Sammons serves the Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek, California <firstname.lastname@example.org>