This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts where I'll undertake a new and exciting pilgrimage journey to a local religious, cultural, or historic landmark in my immediate area. The purpose of these mini-expeditions is to deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. I hope you enjoy the series and feel free to join the discussion in the comments section below.
A Dharma Destination
I first learned about the Dharma Center of Oklahoma when I was in my initial year of recovery from alcoholism. I had been attending AA meetings regularly and was working my way through the 12 steps with a sponsor. Somewhere around step 11 ("Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out"), I discovered a new world in spiritual life. I started regularly going to the library to check out two or three new books and devoured them like a hungry ghost who was starving from a lifelong lack of soul food. I had stumbled across a few intriguing books about Buddhism, and then I found one that would change my life completely. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's classic, "A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life" was like nothing I'd ever heard of or experienced before. Jack's depth of wisdom, kindness, and humor, together with systematic practices for healing and wholeness, picked up where the 12 steps left off and launched me into an entire universe of rich inner life to explore. That book is what my soul had been waiting for.
“The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training.”
As I worked my way through the depths and delights of the book, I searched online to see if there were any Buddhist temples in Oklahoma, and sure enough there were. I looked into all of them but felt like the Dharma Center was the place for me to start. Their secular approach and blending of eastern and western cultures was really appealing. From the first few times I visited, I knew this was part of my homecoming. For most of my life, I had felt like an outsider and a stranger even to myself. In recovery that began to change, and when my wife and I moved back to Oklahoma City where most of our immediate family lives, the sense of homecoming was even more tangible. I wasn't raised religious, but had attended Christian churches starting in junior high (off and on), and tried for years to find spiritual enlightenment in the bottom of a whisky bottle. In the end, I found my Divine Home in smoky AA meetings and in the teachings of the Buddha, which then showed me how to commit my life to Christ. Who knew? I couldn't have planned it that way if I tried!
Many Paths One Truth
It wasn't long before I became a member of the Dharma Center. It was so encouraging to find a deep spiritual tradition that also embraced a variety of different paths. As the old Chinese proverb goes, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same." Or, as the Japanese say in the Lotus Sutra traditions, "Many in body, one in spirit." Other members were Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist, New Age, None, and other traditions or combinations. At the same time, the teachings were profound and connected strongly with the Rissho Kosei-kai tradition, which originated in Japan in 1938. It was inspiring to play a part in meaningful rituals, wise and timeless teachings, and practical understanding learned within the context of daily life. I felt that most of this had been missing from my experience with the Christian church up to that point, so it was refreshing to find a truly connected spiritual life which was being lived out in community together.
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same."
The bell, mokusho wood block, and taiko drum used in chanting services
The Dharma Center street sign, the Buddha, and Kannon (bodhisattva of compassion)
Gone But Not Forgotten
After being a member of the Dharma Center for a few years, I left to join my wife and kids at a local Christian church where it was more practical for us to attend as a family. It was one of the most rewarding times of my spiritual life, and I've made some friends that will last for at least one lifetime. Last year, I was motivated to revisit the Dharma Center by foot in order to set out on my first urban pilgrimage. And I wanted to take along some compelling questions with me for Kris Ladusau, my friend and the Reverend of the Dharma Center, to answer in her own words. The purpose for my journey and these questions was to help me deepen my faith while broadening my horizons of what it means to live an embodied and committed spiritual life. Here's my interview with Reverend Kris:
Me: How do you personally practice living an embodied or committed spiritual life?
RKL: I try to raise conscious awareness daily to realize that every single interaction I have with other people is a chance for enlightenment.
Me: What is the most important thing that people need to know about the Dharma Center?
RKL: I would like people to know that the Dharma Center is an inclusive, welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for anyone wanting to practice the Buddhist tradition, either by itself, or in conjunction with another spiritual path.
Me: What do you think people are looking for in religion or spirituality today? Why?
RKL: I think most people are either looking to maintain a healthy, relevant, spiritual connection or to reestablish one.
Me: What does "life's a journey, not a destination" mean to you?
RKL: I think that hooks back into the earlier mentioning of the continued development of awareness and appreciation.
Me: If you could change one thing in our world today, what would it be? How?
RKL: For me, it's not about focusing on anything changing (because that will occur naturally in this realm). It's more of a wish for all people to acknowledge interconnectedness, and develop insight and compassion to deal with the changes in a healthy manner.
Above: Reverend Kris Ladusau and me standing with the central mantra "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo"
May you be free from suffering.
May you be well in body and mind.
And may you be filled with peace.
What does it mean to you to live an embodied and committed spiritual life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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