Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Just Your Average Airplane Conversation

I would like to share a recent experience I had returning from a vacation in Arizona. As I sat on the last leg of the flight to D.C., I had a window seat next to a woman who glanced over at my left wrist containing sandalwood mala beads. After the third time of glancing, I looked at her, made eye contact, and smiled. This gesture definitely broke the ice. She then proceeded to ask me what the bracelet meant. I told her they are prayer beads. She replied, “I am a devote Roman Catholic and I collect rosaries from all over the world. What kind of prayer beads are those?” I stated they are Buddhist prayer beads. I bought them in Hawaii at the Honolulu Dharma Center when I was in the military. Somewhat shocked by my answer, she asked, “I thought Buddhism was a peaceful religion. Pretty strange to have a pacifist go to war.” I quickly replied, “Well if more Buddhists went to war then I guess there would be no need to fight over anything and then there would be no wars and everyone would be happy!”
We both joined each other in laughter.

After a short moment of silence, we were served our meals. When I was asked by the flight attendant if I wanted chicken or beef, I responded chicken. My fellow flight mate could not resist to make another comment about my choice. She said, “How can you be a REAL Buddhist if you eat meat?” I could tell this was the beginning of a long conversation in which would occupy the rest of the flight; but I gladly accepted. I love conversing with people on anything from philosophy to different cultures. I responded that not all Buddhists are vegetarian. In fact, throughout Tibet, a devote Buddhist country, their diet consists mainly of meat coming from Yak, milk, and other high protein foods such as chicken and sheep. By her expression, she thought this was interesting. I followed by saying that I always say a short prayer before eating meat so it tastes that much better! After smiling at my humorous nature, She then asked, “What makes you a Buddhist?” I answered, well I was hoping you could tell me because I’m a meat eater that served 10 years in the military and I don’t fit your description of what you think a Buddhist should be.

While enjoying our lunch meal, I begin to dive deeper into explaining my view of Buddha nature. What mainly makes an individual a Buddhist would be accepting the four truths. Meaning that life involves affliction, one should live to rid oneself of attachment, the cessation of anguish is attainable, and the way to end suffering is through the Noble Eightfold path. She said “Well basically your saying that life is filled with pain, so don’t attach yourself to anything, just accept it and you will rid yourself of suffering? Well, that doesn’t seem that hard.” I responded well either are the Ten Commandments but many practitioners have issues with them also. “So the Eight Noble thing is like the Commandments?” she asked. I said, Well that is a lesson for another flight. I’m getting off in D.C. so maybe the next time we sit together on some other flight you’ll get an answer. We laughed again.

Actually the Noble Eightfold Path pertains to wisdom, personal conduct, and mind development. It focuses on having the correct view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. She responded, “Interesting. How can a person have the right intentions or actions in the military?” I stated that being pure of heart and living towards cherishing all life is a prime universal concept. She said that if more people just followed that concept, then the world would be a better place. I stated that one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to believe that. She added that her son is in Iraq right now and he was always curious about Buddhism. But being raised in a Roman Catholic Family, she steered him away from it. He started to meditate to clear his mind from dealing with the hardships of being in Iraq. She also mentioned that the next time she writes to her son, she will tell him about me. I stated to tell him that there is a Buddhist Chaplain in the Navy and soon there will be one in the Army. So not to worry, the Buddhist Community is well on its way to clearing up misconceptions and serving those Buddhists in the Military.

Thanks for allowing me to share!



Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...

Thanks Rocco for your thoughtful responses to this lady! In a real way we all are required to educate others about what is a "REAL" Buddhist (if there is any such thing)! To find the "real Buddhists", just ask your neighbor, co-worker, or just maybe, a returning veteran. Buddhists are like any other human beings - we just try to follow the Dharma the best we can!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rocco. I had some similar questions when getting ready for a deployment to Iraq. It's hard for people to understand that you can be in the military and be Buddhist. I asked him how he could be Christian and follow the commandments and still go to war. He understood and was happy with the explanation I gave him. I seems that people are more accepting lately and only want to know. So it's a great opportunity to be able to answer questions.

Chodpa said...

Many thanks for your post ... it's interesting how we all have views on what is 'other' to us, and how so often when we meet the 'other', we discover something very similar to what we are ourselves!

take care, and best wishes in the Dharma .....

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