WHY DOES GOLD MOUNTAIN HAVE SO MANY CEREMONIES?
By Sramanera Heng Sure
"Randy, how you doin', man?"
"Hey Jason; How you been? How's Jenny? Last time I talked to you, you were off north to that cabin—gonna live off the land, right? Granola and oil lamps?"
"Yeah, well, the rain got our crop of yams and then the county engineers put a lock on our door; you know for a free country there sure are a lot of laws. The hills are full of rules."
"I know what you mean."
"Let me tell you something. Before somebody tells you how he's goin' back to the land you better make sure he can handle all that silence. I found out that I'm a city boy—wasn't cut out for solitude. Man, there's nothing to do out there but work and eat and sleep. If you don't work you don't eat, and when you work you get so beat by the end of the day all you can think of is falling into bed. I mean, its' really hard and it's really dull."
Say, what have you been doing since I saw you? Let's see, it was after the Airborne's reunion in the City and you were going back to school on the G.I. Bill, right?"
"Right. I'm still studying. Gonna graduate this summer if I can hold onto my job. Looks pretty good too. I'm driving trains for BART since September. Four days driving, three days of classes and evenings we take off to the Monastery."
"Yeah, Gold Mountain Monastery. It's the Buddhist Temple in the Mission. See, here's one of the posters for a meditation session."
"Oh, right, I heard of the place. Wasn't there a couple of peace monks from there who walked to Seattle through the rain last year?"
"Not walked, bowed. They bowed to the ground every third step while praying for world peace."
"They passed right by my land up there. It was in the papers for weeks. Pretty far out... so what do you do at the Buddhist place? Learn to walk on your knees?"
No, man, it's like a church only it's like no church you've ever been to before. It's a monastery for monks and nuns, but it's open to the public. I became a layman there last winter along with my old lady. We go about three times a week and Sundays, too."
"No kidding, I never knew you were religious."
"Oh, I am, and I'm not. I mean, I grew up a Christian like everyone else, hut you know how after a while the whole thing lost its meaning? Deep down inside, I really enjoyed the rules and the training part of church. I always dug the rituals with the incense and all but I gave up trying to get anywhere in the church. It was too big and rigid. I was a believer then and I still like to live righteously, you know what I mean? Anyway, once I got past Sunday School I was on my own, spiritually speaking. Nobody around me was living a high life or seemed to know how to grow in the spirit. There was no way to get closer to my own mind, no space for it. So I just stopped going after a while."
"I hear you. I never told anybody about this but for almost two years I was in the seminary preparing to become a priest."
"You? Old roll-a-joint Jason?"
"Yes, that was my life."
"My folks moved out here about then and I got caught up in the change, lost a little ground, started to mess around with girls and cars—you know—just wasted time, and by the time I got it together again it was too late to return, so I bagged the whole idea and went to public schools. Anyway, tell me more about the Monastery."
"I don't know where to start except to tell you what happens every night. We go at about 6:30 and have enough time to put on our robes..."
"Yeah. Look, see this robe? It's a Buddhist lay person's robe."
"Look at those sleeves, wow."
"Really. And then over the top of it we wear a precept sash called an 'yi."'
"Right—but that's another story in itself. Basically we all made vows not to kill or steal, tell lies or play around with sex and not to get drunk or use any drugs. I stopped eating meat at the same time and I haven't had a cold or been sick once since then."
"I can dig it, especially the no hanky-panky part. These days it's almost like people expect you to be fast and loose. It would be a relief to have a reason not to mess around, cause that's the way I've felt for years. This precept stuff sounds like reality again."
"Really. It feels natural and good. So then the service starts at seven and we all stand up in front of the Buddhas and bow three times. I had a little trouble bowing at first because you know we were always taught that in America you never bow to any many or anything, right? Well, the Buddha is a different story. It's not like you're bowing to a graven image or a false prophet or another god. Instead, I guess you could say you're bowing to and worshipping the highest evolution of the race. The Buddha is the ultimate expansion of the human mind and you know, he was just a person before he became the Buddha only he knew how to live right and that made all the difference."
"So we bow and we sing a Sutra, a holy text about a Buddha named Amitabha who vowed to take you to paradise if you really want to go."
"What does he do, run an airline?"
"Come on, man, this is for real. The old Buddhist books are full of stories about people who called on the name of Amitabha Buddha really sincerely and who later at the end of life their faces would light up, they'd cry out, "Amitabha's come for me!" they'd get this blissful look and now, you just know there's something going on here.
Sounds like' the gospel to me.
Well let me finish this thought. What I like most about the bowing and the chanting in the ceremonies is the quality of entertainment—there's no other word to describe it.
What, like the movies?
No, it's the opposite of the movies, it's not empty and passive, a Buddhist ceremony is a real event. It takes a little bit of concentration and a little bit of energy and it's completely absorbing. You do it yourself, see? It's not that hollow, spectator syndrome like t.v. and parties, there's just much more to it than that. For instance, when you go to a party any more, what happens?
Not much, I can tell you. You stand around and make small talk or stuff yourself with chips and dip and you watch and wait for the magic moment to arrive and make it all meaningful and fun.
And It doesn't make It, precisely because the benefit is supposed to come from outside. Now look at this Buddhist service. It supplies space for everything the parties fail to produce: involvement; more energy, not less; and beyond that the singing changes your mind--it purifies your heart and you just feel so clean afterwards that the whole world shines and reflects the light you generate from inside and those waves of holy sound...
Hey, hold on to your do-rag, brother.
Yeah, I get carried away just talking about it. You know what I’m saying, singing in that Buddha-hall your mind expands everywhere and it’s pure, since you do it yourself, how does all that sound to you?
To tell you the truth, it sounds a little heavy but I think I’d like to try it myself. My life could use a little heaviness in the right places.
Right on, my man. See you at seven.
What was the name? Cold Mountain?
Gold Mountain, and be sure to dress warm.