In the summer of 1999 I met a Cambodian Buddhist monk. I was working at The Elements of Life bookstore on State Street in New Haven Connecticut. This was the typical metaphysical kind of place. Newage music, crystals, books, all manner of spiritual tchotchkes, Goddesses, Gods, jewelry, prayer beads, the amorphous scent of every incense rolled into one permeating through out the space…. there was a diverse clientele of seekers and the curious. Any day could be a social/retail mixture of unmedicated mental illness, the true confessions of personal experiences, ghosts, weird pictures of blurry things, revenge seekers & spell casters, pagans, Wiccans, and the occasional scholar looking for resources. I called my three years working there bootcamp for the woo. I heard every kind of weird, wacky, and unhinged concept and story on everything thing from aliens to doomsday. And just when I thought I had heard everything someone would walk through that door and enlighten me with some thing new and fantastic.
I enjoyed the retail environment of the place. It was a magnet for the fringy folks but it also was a hub for interesting conversations and meeting people who I might not have in another kind of setting. The environment disarmed people enough to feel comfortable and open up about their inner workings about “God” and mysterious things.
New Haven in the late 90s was going through a growth spurt. The East Rock area was a pleasant place to live. I rented a first floor apartment on corner of Orange a Bishop streets. The area had just about every thing one would want within walking distance. I live three blocks away from the Elements of Life Book store. I work there 3 days a week.
It was a July day when I was at the back of the store talking with my boss when door jingled and in came the current Abbot of the New Haven Zen center. I started to make my way to the front of the store to help him and as I came around the CD case I nearly bumped in to a strange looking man who had come in with the Abbot. He was wearing a florescent orange wool hat, wrapped in orange fabric. We smiled at each other and then he busied himself with finding small gifts to bring to Washington DC. This monk was in route to go see the Dali Lama speak. As he moved about the store I could not stop smiling. I felt this joy coming from him. It was infectious… this odd looking orange wrapped being was truly embodied with a sense of purpose and presence.
That my introduction to the venerable Maha Gosananda ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Maha_Ghosananda ) He was the spiritual leader of Cambodia. After the fall of the Khemer Rouge government (1978) he when into the refugee camps and taught/ reintroduced Buddhism to his people.
I read his book Step by Step ( https://books.google.com/books/about/Step_by_Step.html?id=_tAKAAAAYAAJ ) which I highly recommend as a simple yet affective way to define and practice non violence.
I’m thinking about Maha Gosananda this morning because I wonder about this country and the traumas that are being inflicted on us by this current a government. What we are experiencing will make for a long recovery. The compassion needed for the grief and humanitarian repairs are going to be costly. Who will rise to the occasion? Who will have what is needed be needed to heal the inner emotions of loss this country will face once this is over.
It not about savior(s). It is more about leaders who can unite and guide us to not hate but find compassion. The ways to reconcile our understanding of self and the consequences of past/current actions. How to build from that knowledge as lessons for recovery and reconstruction that creates an inclusive environment for peace and quality of life for everyone.