On June 8, meditation bells reverberated across the country—and, this year, across the Atlantic—heraldingTricycle’s ninth annual Change Your Mind Day (CYMD), an afternoon of free outdoor meditation instruction. This summer marked the advent of CYMD into Europe, with the inaugural event held in Dublin, Ireland. Thirty Dubliners braved the rain to attend the proceedings, which included T’ai Chi, a dharma talk, and a guided meditation. Coordinator Courtney Kirshner remarks, “It’s not every day that you get to stride down St. Stephen’s Green with a 6’1″, half-Irish, half-Native American Nichiren Shu novice Buddhist priest.”
In New York City’s Central Park, where CYMD was first held in 1994, record numbers gathered this year, from zafu-toting practitioners to bikini-clad hipsters basking in the Buddhist rays. A Taiko drumming performance roused the crowd for a series of yoga stretches led by Cyndi Lee of Om Yoga in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. While dharma talks from a variety of traditions provided an international Buddhist perspective, Soren Gordhamer, a peace activist and meditation teacher, addressed more local concerns, speaking about the Lineage Project, a not-for-profit service organization that teaches awareness practices to incarcerated and at-risk youth in New York City. A new addition to this year’s program was a Spanish language meditation workshop, making the event more accessible to New York’s Spanish-speaking population. Under a tree not far from the stage, a chipper staff from the T Salon and Emporium, a local business, proffered tea, sandwiches, and the occasional fig.
CYMD in the West
“CYMD in Seattle started with a rainbow,” Steve Wilhelm writes, “Not one in the sky, because this was a typical overcast Seattle day. Rather, the rainbow was made up of monastics’ robes—the golds, maroons, saffrons, blacks, and grays of robes from many different cultures and nations.” The day included a children’s play based on the Jataka tales—stories of the Buddha’s former incarnations—and a stirring talk on Buddhism and ecology by Rev. Don Castro of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist temple.
Alaska hosted three events this year. Participants at the fourth annual Anchorage CYMD enjoyed “a day of dharma for the mind as well as the belly” with food donated by members of the Wat Alaska Yanna Vararam. Another highlight was listening to a Thai monk deliver his first dharma talk in English. Children in Valdezalso enjoyed a dharmic repast as they participated in a mindful eating session and tried their minds at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Pebble Meditation. As a result of the Valdez event, participants decided to establish a weekly practice session at a local community center. Perhaps to be expected in rural Alaska, attendees at the HomerCYMD consisted of twenty-four adults, ten children, two nuthatches, and one moose, who listened to a “Smoky the Bear” sutra as the “gale-force wind” nearly blew away the prayer flags.
From Salt Lake City, organizer Shirley Ray reports, “CYMD was a pleasant and positive experience. Days later, at least one sangha reported newcomers drawn from CYMD.” In Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lama James Kalfas teased a dharma talk out of a Shakespearean sonnet. As a burst of rain descended, Qi Gong and “Breath of Fire” yogic breathing sessions warmed the crowd gathered under the canopy. While there weren’t any talks, performances, or guided meditations at the CYMD in Nevada City, California, meditators sat alone or in groups for a day of “simple and nourishing” silent contemplation.
CYMD in the East
In Brattleboro, Vermont, CYMD coincided with the town’s annual “Strolling of the Heifers,” a celebration of the town’s cows and rural life. Cheryl Wilfong quips, “Meditators had a chance to hear some ï¿½dhar-moo,’ enhance the Buddhist-bovine connection, and meditate on the Zen koan of Mu.”
Vincent Cangiango reports from New Haven that about forty people and one dog took part in “a beautifully simple gathering: a teacher sitting under a small tree and a small group of people listening to dharma talks and practicing meditation. It was a great opportunity for people to meet teachers and others who are interested in Buddhism and meditation.” In Philadelphia, Scott McBride’s lovingkindness meditation “moved outward from silent participants, through the car horns, marketplace, city streets, and into all the universe.” Attendees sang “Songs of Milarepa,” learned mudras—symbolic hand gestures—and practiced a Tibetan yogic exercise called “drawing back the bow.” “Next year it will be bigger, but it won’t be any better,” commented one participant.
CYMD in the Middle
From Houston Lynda Caine-Barret writes, “This event marked a new beginning for Buddhists in the Bayou City. It initiated a drive to contact as many sanghas as possible to establish an intrafaith fellowship; we’ve only just begun to meet and greet each other.” Traditionally a conservative Christian enclave,Bradley, Michigan hosted ninety attendees at its second CYMD, quadrupling last year’s attendance. “Sitting with such a large group was a moving experience,” writes Gabe Konrad. “It was a marvelous day, imbued with kindness and openness. Spirits were rejuvenated, and minds were changed.”
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama offers words of encouragement to participants of the 2002 Change Your Mind Day—themed this year “Now More Than Ever.”
Technology seems able to address many of our problems. But as the terrible events of September 11 have demonstrated, it is how we use that technology, with what motivation and with what understanding of the needs of our fellow human beings and the environment in which we all live that matters. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made clear that when people allow their human intelligence to be led by negative emotions like hatred, even technology that was intended to help could be used to do great harm.
Hatred thrives on the idea that others are not like us. Yet, fundamentally, human beings are all the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. This idea of the basic sameness of human beings is as simple as it is true. Nevertheless, many people find it difficult not only to believe in the equality and basic sameness of all people, but also to behave accordingly.
Often it is the differences between us that we emphasize. If someone is different from us, we easily fall into thinking that he or she is somehow inferior or bad in some way. We either attempt to change them and their behavior to fit in with our values and way of life, or we simply oppose or pick a fight with them. However much we praise diversity in theory, we often oppose it firmly in actual practice. Our inability to embrace diversity is one of the major causes of conflicts in our world, both at the local and international levels.
We seem unable to reconcile the manifest diversity of human society with the fact that at root we all remain the same human beings, sharing the same fundamental needs and aspirations, the same basic difficulties and limitations.
Everyone wishes to live in peace, but we are often confused about how it can be achieved. From a strictly practical perspective, we find that on occasions violence indeed appears useful. We can solve a problem quickly with force. However, such success is often at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. As a result, even though one problem has been solved, the seed of another has been planted.
We cannot distinguish violence from nonviolence by external factors alone. If our motivation is negative, the action it produces is, in the deepest sense, violent, even though it may appear to be smooth and gentle. Conversely, if our motivation is sincere and positive but the circumstances require harsh behavior, essentially we are practicing nonviolence.
The essential qualities we need are compassion and forgiveness. These are the qualities that form the basis of human survival. I believe religion reflects that fundamental nature of our minds. Religion actually strengthens and increases the positive aspects of our nature. But it is compassion rather than religion that is important to us. Therefore, in sending my greetings to everyone participating in Change Your Mind Day, it is far-reaching compassion that I urge you to cultivate—now more than ever. ▼
June 7, 2002
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