Settling in a bit. Very different experience this time. Drawing energy from the Nagaloka students, which is good. Doing a 2 ½ hour class each morning, then eating and talking with them. Talking is sometimes hard, with limited English on their side, and no Hindi on my side. They want to know about Buddhism in America, and about this strange thing called Zen. Their own practice — meditation and puja/chanting every morning and afternoon — is modeled on FWBO or TBMSG (the Indian branch) so it includes various schools and teachings.
As I mentioned, I am pretty much on my own. Where last year I seemed to travel with a pack to each activity, even teaching, now I am left to my own devices, which is good and bad. I feel trusted by staff to be with the students, and the students — from 18 to 29, but most of them in their early 20s — are trusted to take care of themselves and each other. On the other hand I miss some of the dynamic give and take of peers.
At any rate, I am here in this mode today and tomorrow. On the 5th I will fly to Mumbai and meet about twelve or fifteen friends from all over Asia and the West. Our Think Sangha study tour will begin.
We had an interesting class yesterday. I presented the background and story of Mahapajapti, Ananda, and Buddha—the founding of the bhikkhuni order. Lots of understandable controversy about the 8 Garudhammas, or special rules for nuns — is this Buddha’s teaching or a latter accretion?
Last night we had the first of two sessions watching the dvd I brought of a Dr. Ambedkar Indian biopic. You could hear a pin drop. We will conclude tonight. It’s a long film — three hours.
At today’s class we talked about the film a bit. I sang a song as promised — “Down in the Valley To Pray” — after the men and women each sang a filmi yesterday. Then, to expand on the question of gender in Buddhism I read an edited version of the “Goddess” chapter of the Vimalakirti Sutra, somewhat acting it out. It was both perplexing and enjoyable for the students. Magic, as in the transformation of Sariputra into a woman, is a little outside the rationalistic approach to Dharma that Dr. Ambedkar taught. I responded about the power of myth and the truth contained in it, so long as one does not take the stories literally. I said: do you want to see some magic? Put my hands together and bowed to them. How did I do that? It’s a mystery.