01/07/2004

Importing Loving Kindness to Minnesota

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- Rochester abounds with ethnic treasure. It's got
restaurants
from 16 countries; three Asian, two Mexican and two Middle
Eastern groceries; and retail shops selling every exotic goody from Danish porcelains and Norwegian sweaters to tooled-leather Mexican boots, Swiss watches, Indian curries, Russian vodka and Somali scarves.

Now there's a place in Rochester to get some bodhicitta, if you are running low. It's not a typical consumer item but it's really useful, nonetheless -- something you'd love your spouse and kids to have.

Bodhicitta is loving-kindness. It's the essential quality of the Buddha. It literally means "Buddha heart," but its essence has been translated as the qualities of "compassion," "altruism" and "tenderness for life."

It's said to be made of two equal parts: wisdom and love. These two parts work together like the wings of a bird, the Buddha said, allowing men and women to rise above suffering and to be an inspiration to others.

"If it looks like wisdom but is unkind rather than loving, it's not wisdom," Buddha said. "If it feels like love but it's not wise, it's not love."

You can directly experience bodhicitta for yourself at the new temple of the Buddhist Support Society, out on 29th Street Southeast in Marion Township, a half mile east of Marion Road. Just park under the American flag that's flying in front and knock on the door. In a moment, you will be greeted by one of three young Cambodian monks who run the temple.

The True Goal

No matter how cold it is outside, they will be dressed in a simple orange robe that covers only one of their shoulders. Their feet will be bare. They will greet you pleasantly, they will let you in and listen with an utterly open attitude to whatever is in your heart.

You may feel an oddness, a strange kind of neutral feeling, because the monks sort of float by, listening carefully when you talk and taking every care to make sure you are comfortable but not saying much. They will answer questions, of course, and what they say will likely be simple and wise, maybe even childlike. But mainly, they just listen.

This gives the flavor of bodhicitta, the very quality that no less an authority than the Dalai Lama has said "lies at the heart of all spiritual endeavor" and can even help a person understand "the true goal, the true meaning of life."

The monks don't give you bodhicitta directly; rather, they embody it with their very being. It's what they are trained to do. It's in their job description to welcome all people with absolute openness and to impart by their being this feeling of simplicity, purity and calm.

The three Cambodian monks at the temple -- Sokhom Roth, Synat It and Sopheab Loeung -- have all spent more than a decade following 227 strict moral rules designed by Buddha to cultivate bodhicitta in human beings.

Every Being

"Not just the Buddha but everyone can have it," explains Sokhom Roth. "You fill your heart with kindness and compassion and don't allow thoughts of greed, hate or delusion."

That takes practice, which is what the daily rituals and meditations of Buddhist practice are all about.

"People may be from America or Cambodia or any nation on earth, but if they have developed bodhicitta they are like one," Sokhom said. "They become like water in the ocean. Each person comes from a different river but the ocean is one water, and you can't tell which river they come from."

The one thing that has always puzzled me about Buddhism is that it does not speak about God. It speaks only about life on this earth. To me, the vast beauty of this world inspires a feeling of awe and gratitude. The patterns of a snowflake are complex enough to make, for me, an ironclad case against randomness and for God. In my prayers I want to thank God, greatly.

Sokhom and Synat told me the essence of bodhicitta is to "try to live for the benefit of all living things in the universe." The Dalai Lama goes even further. He says the first step to developing bodhicitta is to imagine that "every sentient being in the universe" is our "dear old mother."

How's that for an exercise in developing gratitude?

So maybe my Christian God is in Buddhism, after all. Words aside, I feel him there.

At any rate, Sokhom and Synat showed me a potent tool that anyone trying to be a global citizen can use to make a deep human connection with people who live far away, in foreign lands.

Here then is a suggested list for your next ethnic shopping trip:

Swiss Chocolates: $2

French Wine: $12

Mexican Boots: $150

Bodhicitta: Priceless.

Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report