Jack Kornfield has said that every once in a while he spends a day imagining that everyone else is a fully enlightened Buddha who has been sent to teach him something. It’s a useful practice, even if you can keep it going for only an hour or so.
I’m grateful to all of my teachers. That includes the minister who, when I was president of a congregation, submitted his own performance evaluation to the denomination’s director of ministerial settlement over my name, without my having seen it. It includes the rabbi who, when I was 18, gave a homily during a solemn service complaining about people like me, who came to the synagogue without being members and paying dues. At the time, my mother and I were barely scraping by and could not afford membership.
That minister and that rabbi each taught me a lot, as did some of the wonderful Unitarian Universalist ministers I’ve known in my 30-some years in that religion. I won’t attempt to name any of them for fear of leaving someone out. There have been many.
Buddhism is my primary spiritual home, and I especially thank Lama Surya Das, Thich Nhat Hanh, Anh-Huong Nguyen, the Dalai Lama, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, James Ishmael Ford (who is a UU minister as well as a Zen priest), and some great teachers of the past, such as Marpa, Longchenpa, and Milarepa, as well as the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and the earliest disciples who carried his words to the next generation.
But the teachers contributing the most to my spiritual growth were not people. They were events. They were my personal tragedies, the mud from which my lotus has bloomed. I list them here not for your sympathy, but so you may see them as my educators:
- Growing up with a frigid mother and a sick father, who died when I was 11.
- Learning over the phone that street thugs had stabbed to death my dear friend, my virtual big sister, hours after she had left my apartment.
- Learning, over the phone again, that my uncle and aunt had been shot to death.
- Figuring out that my cousin Barry, who had been a great kid until his paranoid schizophrenia set in, was the killer of my uncle and aunt, his parents.
- Hearing that Barry had hung himself in his prison cell 10 years after the murders.
- Suffering an emotional and financial crisis that led me to re-frame who I was, how I saw myself.
- Answering the phone once more, this time with the news that my sister and brother-in-law had an automobile accident that took their lives.
- Getting the ultimate shock, this time delivered by deputy sheriffs at the door, that one of my two sons had died at 29 in a fall from his skateboard.
We all have pain in our lives. That we suffer is the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. My list may have more dramatic traumas than yours, or it may not. If I could start over again and omit some of those, of course I would. But they happened, they pointed me toward spiritual healing, and they are my greatest teachers. For what I have learned from them, I am grateful.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine