yellow citizen

temple diaries

I realized I’ve never truly diary recorded my thoughts on leaving amerikkka and the opportunity to leap out of the dream and the rationalizing. Maybe writing this biography for the senior nuns will be an opportunity to do that.  Somehow being in the middle of the transition while writing xin meant I wasn’t able to write that layer as vividly. 

That phrase 保留 has been making me think on this day of shookness during the thrilling lunch dharma talk. This self respect as a 道人 is so different in relation to the 心, to go via 道 and not 心。it blows past the 傲慢心 of identities…and I wanted to shout amen. But this isn’t a Black church. And I really think we should consider letting amen or hallelujah versions in Buddhism to be exclaimed. Cuz maybe the road would just be a bit less lonely. I ran after 大師父 today to ask him why people were so contained and if he had ever seen the thrills of a pentacoastal church.  He laughed and said, “not yet. But the joys of a practitioner are more subtle, more inner.  As a lotus first grows by depending on the water source from outside, eventually the water is able to be purified and sourced from within the lotus stem.  That is the joy you will experience as you travel this path.”

Still I found some collective joy in sharing how thrilling it was to hear the truth–one of the shifus I’ve been working on kitchen duties with has been tense with me due to her friendship with the jingren that left.  I’d responded to it all by keeping to myself, in my own sort of tense discomfort. Yet in the wake of hearing such brilliant truth, a wave of joyful gratitude opened up my xin, and I apologized to her in front of our crew of aunties for my own self-preservation and mistakes during our work.  She somehow was taken aback but laughed and said we were all doing a great job for our first times serving 60 some people.  Her tension also abated some, which is wonderful to see.

Yesterday I was too late to go to 2pm meditation, and hearing the chanting start, I snuck back downstairs and slept. Woke to hear 覺觀 Shifu, one of the older nuns also from Pingtung encourage me to pick up my xin with more 精進–that it takes everyone time to adjust but that urgency would be a strength of habit for continuing in the future walk. 

temple diaries

Today I’ve been feeling under the (very rainy) weather on the first day of moon time. The precious rainfall of heavy clouds rolling off the mountains reminds me of standing rock, and the special time that we were told our bodies were a ceremony unto ourselves, thus to stay away from the morning rites. My roomie has been caring and reminding me to drink congee and an auntie monk is telling me to drink 黑糖熱水♨️ I’ve been listening to the dharma talks of the monk and learning the method and xin to chant 南無阿彌陀佛 from examining a sage’s poem. The 道理 from self examination, not the 感應 that gives a confidence as an outside guarantee. I’ve told many of the senior monks that I won’t chant it to go to some mythic heaven as this chant has been treated by many self-soothing practitioners, monks and lay people alike. It’s that memory of this chanting as an empty artifact that repels me. For example, we praise Weito Bodhisattva each morning, yet how often does his spirit enter our daily xin as we go about acting in ways that don’t protect the dharma? I see more and more how distracted I am by the foolish vageries of an unsubstantial nature. I’m grateful to have relations to dialogue with and learn from. After all, my friends and I are in hell of individual and collective delusions and ignorant bliss seems to be a shallow hell masked as heaven. neither seem liberatory. What I’m learning is that focal point allows for examination of faith. My questions remain: why this 佛號? why not any other blessed chant? As it prepares us for a place beyond death, how does it shape our ethics to our current world?

temple diaries 佛30

佛 30 (a month of studying and practicing 念佛法門) has begun at this mountainside country spot in this rural township.

The night before, Rei Shifu returned to 🇹🇭泰北/n. Thailand, where Zhen Lun 長老/Senior Monk Zhen Lun left her this 育幼院/orphanage-school for the third generation descendants of Yunnanese KMT soldiers-refugees.  “A Home Too Far” is a movie that was released in 1990 that spurred many Taiwanese to seek to support this lost colony forged during the forgotten Sino-Burmese war.  Han Shifu organized a small movie screening a few weeks ago, which I attended with 3 Chinese Shifus and the twin sister of one of the Shifus.  They exclaimed at Andy Lau’s bandit character because he looked so young and handsome.  We were all quite astonished how we didn’t know of this history at all. Additionally, I felt deeply repentant that I’d never ever considered the suffering of the KMT soldiers, who were the cruel and violent antagonists in many stories I heard growing up in a community with very pro-Taiwanese/anti-KMT Chinese politics.   Only in the last few years, I’ve made conscious effort to question this inheritance.  Watching this movie based on the diary of soldier Bo Yang, we saw how many KMT soldiers were conscripted into a protracted war that left them perpetually at the mercy of greedy generals, unfamiliar and dangerous terrain and on the run with their entire families.  Even to this day, many of them lack papers, but thanks to globalization and pressures from imperialist bank policies upsetting the agricultural based economies, these villagers increasingly have to go seek work in the cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  Rei Shifu has talked extensively about how she hopes to teach these kids to not forget their Chinese heritage and grow a strong moral foundation while also being Thai.

Since taking on the leadership two years ago, she’s also led 地藏超度 deliverance ceremonies for the passed on ancestors to ease the xin of the living and dead.  Given the vast number of unaccounted deaths and lost people while moving across the Chinese border and then Myanmar border, they set a large blank 牌位/ancestral tablet for all those so they would not be forgotten.  The rest of the 牌位, they wrote down all the names remembered by the villagers and the KMT ledgers.  During the ceremony the first year, the storm clouds and great thunderclaps shook the entire hall, but afterwards, many of the villagers felt much more tranquil, saying the unsettled corners and buried troubles hidden in their hearts were finally relieved. The second year, the environment (within and without, quite connected thru xin) were much more tranquil.

I wonder if their education currently works with the kids to learn how to organize for their communities’ cultural safekeeping and elder care.   There’s something so profound to hear about this kind of community work that takes care of the spiritual levels and material needs of the people.  It makes me think of my friends doing the decolonial work of unlearning, remembering and re-imagining in their various networks and lands. 

I was sitting in my room when I heard someone lightly call out “顯和!伊凌!” and was so astonished to hear my worldly name. (She learned it from  my application and after I told her how my friend wants a dharma name now, learning mine.) Rei Shifu had come to see me after meeting with auntie SuTzu and reminded me to cherish my great merit to train in these next 30 days. 

Rei Shifu: “Your head shape is quite similar to 地藏菩薩/Ksitigarbha’s.” 

I demurred: “Shifu, I wish I could do that Ksitagarbha ceremony like you one day for my friends.  There’s the Rothko Chapel in Houston/Karankawa land I’ve always envisioned a ceremony there.”

Rei Shifu: “Then vow to do so and it shall be.”

I felt the shame of past unaccomplished visions well up.   “Shifu, how can I vow to do that when I’ve failed so many times before?”

Rei Shifu smiled: “It all starts with a vow.”

I joked: “Ok.  Maybe the next time you see me in March, my hair might be shaved off.”

Rei Shifu: “Can it really grow so quickly?”

I thought for a minute. “Well, it’s almost at donation length, so maybe in another month or so I’ll be ready.”

Rei Shifu: “Good, with your last hair, do something good and then vow to do more in service to people without it.  Practice well these next few months, dedicate the merits to your ancestors as they have always supported you to arrive here today.  You can deliver merit to their paths now.  When I come back, I’ll come along to help you find your father side relatives.”

And suddenly my stubborn back wanted to bow to her for understanding, for gratitude, for doing her utmost to 成就我的心願/accomplish the desires of my heart。  Some cement of rage and resistance shook loose at the base of my spine, calcified scars from arguments with monastics about their colonial and patriarchal denialism of socio-historical causes and conditions.  But what is pride but insufficient emotion in the face of exponentially accumulating harms suffered by my dear communities?

So I asked her to teach me to bow, her will and self-discipline legendary and praised among many of the sangha.  She took me before the smiling Amita Buddha, my hair askew and with my head to the cool ground, I vowed the vows of my xin, thankful to my teachers, family and friends and fellow travelers.

temple diaries

I got “promoted” to “jingren” a candidate for ordination. Though under slightly awkward status because this previous person here was telling me all this shit about the elders here and how they weren’t shit for not having superpowers. She also talked a lot of weird voodoo stuff like “you have heart troubles cuz you butchered hearts” before and don’t go to the stupa because it’s too yin. All non legit stuff. I pointed this out and they had a mediation process and asked her to leave after a year. Watching her left me to reflect a lot on the grandiosity I engaged in and what I was truly trying to accomplish. How it’s harmful even with good intentions to people’s paths. And the necessary reverence to have for teachers or else learning is impossible. How often I used to grouse about how we don’t have elders–I want to treasure this opportunity to learn well!

I had to write all chinese for my application (still gotta write my bio for the seniors *stress*) which took hours but I’m very proud.  Though my mother always warned me from being too political, I decided not to hold back.  Rei Shifu, the community organizer professor nun really enjoyed it, which made me happy.  As she said, “colonization was wrong, it shouldn’t have ever happened. this isn’t too political at all.”  I’m in the right place ❤

(On my history with Buddhism)

My mother prayed to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas when I was in her womb that I would become a monk and help many beings. She sent my sister and I to Tzu Chi Chinese Cultural School as well as to live in monasteries. That summer before 9th grade, I took refuge in the Triple Gem and 5 precepts, but once I got to college, I started seeking other religions because my mother’s interpretation of “karma” left her without fight in the face of troubles. I hoped that faith wasn’t a way of denial or suppression but a way of liberation. Thus, I didn’t restrict myself, trying to understand different worldviews; philosophy, economics, politics, Christianity. But facing friends/family/self/society’s loss and changes, I reconnected to Buddhism. I participated in a 10 day Vipassana retreat, returned to the monastery I stayed at in 8th grade, even met a Tulku earlier from Tibet, but I wish to find a homegrown practice, in the process understanding a worldview that does not fall into western colonization.

(On my ambitions with Buddhism)

When I envision the future, I imagine a safe and tranquil and welcoming space for beings to come together to heal and take care of their hearts. In this sanctuary, people can practice, grow in dharma, participate in rituals and ceremony to honor elders and ancestors, dedicate this space to diasporic and refugee people. For their cultural preservation and growing in the dharma, people need a place free from white supremacy, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy. I hope to decolonize the dharma so Buddhism returns to the hearts of many young people and connect liberation from hearts to the collective body.

temple diaries

Made texas style jalapeño apple pie for the sifus! The buttery flakey crust was a huge hit haha.

The visiting girls make me think of my past and Audrey…terrible to hear of their loss of their father. Light convos about baking pies in London and podcasts for English acting training. Curious convos about religious mothers and discipline vs. 被約束 of the 5 refuges.

懺悔/Repentance. This was extremely challenging to start to work on because of how my mother weaponized this and my general millennial/living in the south aversion to catholic’esque guilt domination tactics. But starting to see how this is also a matter of turning the xin with wisdom, not flagellation…

Now during a few weeks of very long days, I notice my propensity for falling asleep lessen.

temple diaries

It’s one of those days when my life changed and it feels so good and natural. Bless 地藏菩薩. Woke up because auntie kept snoring thru the night and wanting to go before Buddha to repent for my capitalist misdemeanors—greed and delusion for an illusory me living an illusory life. Asked Bodhisattva to bless me to have a way to 出家 with all my failings. Morning outing with Master DaHeng and HuiKeng to the cow farm. Never saw a cow take refuge before until today.

Great 4 hour talk with Rei Shifu and then with Sheng Shifu joining later. Appreciate the questioning around respecting tradition—we haven’t really brought care or xin into modernity, nor was it perfect in older times forming tradition, yet informing can be critical.

Then stinky tofu and “he zi” courtesy of Master DaHeng. Then hospice talks with Master HuiKung

Along with my carrot potato hash browns—which Jiaqing and Han Shifu asked for seconds :)—I’m excited to offer Texas jalapeño apple pie Wednesday. Going to make a salty one for Juehua shifu cuz her glucose regulation isn’t amendable to sweets. She’s like an ant, tiny and totally able to lift.

New word learned today: 足弓 zu gong—foot arch (learned from Sheng Shifu when conveying I needed arch support for my flat feet)

temple diaries

From the hills of east Taiwan now 🙂 I’ve moved to the “women’s” practice center. Had a moment of affirming in queerness when the master said to my mother that he couldn’t expect to teach me like a woman because I thought in vaster/“more masculine” ways. Capricorn influence perhaps? Experiencing reconfigurations of queerness in spirituality. I’m mostly studying, everything is in Mandarin Chinese so I feel left between languages most of the time. The lucky thing is quite a few of the monks are younger 20-30ish and from other countries like Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, and one of them is Taiwanese who lived in New Zealand and Japan (she’s so funny and able to speak with me in English and had a career in psychology in Japan before taking these vows. She empathizes with my doubts of whether or not this path is out of our childhood vocation/family influence/Buddhist organization participations or true calling). I enjoy asking and hearing how these women came to this lifelong commitment while re-understanding what it could look like for myself. I don’t see myself here sealed off forever, definitely thinking daily of my friends in the west who could really benefit from being able to connect with this vaster cosmology of Northern Chinese, more progressive Mahayana Buddhism with deeper methods that emphasizes the Bodhisattva practice compared to the shallower capitalist commercialized forms of western Buddhism.

Today learned that monks don’t bow to emperors or kings or parents…radical. And mowing the wide fields and lawn, carrying the machines, badass nuns.