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Lions Roar : November 2013
The Curtain Lifted BY DONNA M. JOHNSON There came a time in childhood, a brief time, when I was forced to spend hours at a stretch outdoors alone. It seems a harsh sen- tence for a kid of four or five. Yet when I recall the felt experi- ence of those days, it’s with a kind of awe at what transpired. I passed the time playing a solitary version of hopscotch, scratching panoramas into the dirt, and constructing rambling internal narratives to which I routinely added new chapters. Each day I came to a point where the responsibility of the made- up world exhausted me, and my attention turned to the world around me. I became a fierce watcher of rain, clouds, insects, birds, airborne tufts of cottonwood. When I watched something long enough, the curtain that separated me from it sometimes lifted. An odd expansiveness rushed in, and I experienced a sense of connectedness. With my next breath the curtain fell, and I was once more a discrete entity, bound by skin and senses. These experiences continued, though I never spoke or thought of them. I couldn’t because I didn’t posses the necessary vocabu- lary. That changed in my teens when I first encountered Bud- dhist thought. The emphasis on interconnectedness caught my attention, and I wondered about my early experience and what it might mean. Someone gave me a copy of Zen Mind, Begin- ner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a book I studied for years. I meditated and extended my reading to other Buddhist thinkers and to Christian theologians influenced by Eastern philosophy. All of this happened a long time ago, and it is still happening. Over time, Buddhism has helped me construct a spiritual framework deeply rooted in my direct experience, thus encouraging me to trust my own perception. It inspires in me a confidence that hearkens back to childhood—to that radical knowing rooted in the immediacy of the real world and the wild imagination of beginner’s mind. DONNA M. JOHNSON was the organist for the apocalyptic tent preacher Brother David Terrell. Holy Ghost Girl is her memoir of grow- ing up amid miracles and human frailty. Doctors of the Mind BY PICO IYER I’ve never been eager to be part of any group or to figure out what kind of forces are at play beyond our comprehension. We all have enough to worry about right here, right now, with our loved ones, our bosses, our trials, and our joys. But part of the practicality, the universality of Buddhism, as I understand it, is that it’s never been a religion. It doesn’t insist on a sense of God (or no God); it doesn’t necessarily concern itself with ideas of nirvana or the hereafter. It simply offers a training of the mind that encourages us to wake up to what is and, as the Buddha did, to see things as they are—not without metaphysical supplements but with open-eyed awareness and compassion. I’ve never had a Buddhist practice. But I can see how and why this training in realism could be a help and companion to anyone, even if he or she still decides to identify as Jewish or Catholic or nothing at all. (Half the friends I have these days seem to style themselves “Buddhist Catholic” or “Jewish Bud- dhist.”) To me, the Buddha and many of his later students—the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, for example—are really doctors of the mind, offering diagnoses and prescriptions. You don’t have to share their fundamental assumptions to accept their diagnoses. They’re simply suggesting one response to the confusion and predicament of life, and whether or not you take to it has nothing to do with ultimate matters. A Buddhist can be spiritual, religious, or—absolutely—none of the above. A British-born essayist, PICO IYER is the author of The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2013 51