Jun 23, 2013 Experiencing BuddhaFest with Sharon Salzberg and Bob Thurman
Before going opposite Ann Coulter last night — she supports domestic drones to catch terrorists who get through U.S. borders — I attended a great sell-out D.C. BuddhaFest morning with Bob Thurman (Uma’s dad, and a start in his own right) and Sharon Salzberg.
I came to law school in D.C. in part interested in the idea of working stints both in government and private practice. However, I got jaded on government not long after arriving in D.C., worked only one stint in government as a law clerk during college with the then-named Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the savings and loan scandal, and never returned to government (I do not see public defender work as government work). I also noticed the heavy concentration of military and other national security personnel in the Washington, D.C., area, soon after arriving, and was not particularly comfortable about that; that was a given that I had just not anticipated.
At the same time, one source of numerous excellent taijiquan teachers in the Washington, D.C., area is the tutelage of former CIA employee Bob Smith, who spent substantial free time while stationed in Taiwan in the 1950’s learning from some of the island’s best internal martial artists, most importantly from eternal taijiquan legend Cheng Man Ch’ing. Mr. Smith returned to the Washington, D.C., area, and at some point proceeded for many years to teach taijiquan at the Bethesda YMCA parking lot.
I also learned long after arriving in Washington that many great spiritual teachers come here, whether or not it is to try to help put the government on the right path of humanity and wisdom, for any belief in spiritual grids in the capital, or for any other reason. In and around Washington, I have had the privilege of experiencing Jun Yasuda, Claude Anshin Thomas, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Ihaleakala Hew Len, Sharon Salzberg, Wayne Dyer, and Tara Brach.
Sharon Salzberg, based in New York and Massachusetts, takes the train several times a year to Washington, D.C., to lead evening meditation sessions and dharma talks at the Campaign for Tibet. She gives so much of herself to our gatherings, and then arrives home in New York past midnight. After a very challenging childhood, Sharon visited India early on in college; opted off the bus that by divine coincidence found Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba; and, instead of joining the many others who found Neem Karoli Baba, met her extraordinary Buddhist/lovingkindness (metta) teacher Dipa Ma, and spreads Dipa Ma’s message of lovingkindness.
When I first was in Sharon’s presence, when she joined Krishna Das on stage in 2011, I was floored when — during Sharon’s guided meditation — for the first time I was able to see both me and the universe as limitless in time and space. Ever since then, both with and without Sharon, I often have been able to summon back that feeling during meditation.
Bob Thurman grew up financially and academically privileged, but experienced an "emotionally turbulent family". (I also grew up with financial privilege (and much preferred the financial independence and success that I achieved) and academic privilege but found a need to find my own spiritual path that nobody revealed to me, particularly moving to the point of no return with my teacher and friend Jun Yasuda.) While at Harvard, he suffered physical turbulence when he lost an eye while trying to change a tire. (How many times do parents warn about activities that "can take an eye out"?) Then he dropped out of school, divorced when he and his wife(with whom he already had a child) did not see eye to eye on the path he had been moving to, traveled to India, Iran and Turkey, and met his now good friend the Dalai Lama. He became a monk, later returned to the lay life, remarried, had four children including his famous actress daughter Uma, became a professor, became an authority on Tibetan Buddhism, and co-founded Tibet House.
Neither Sharon nor Bob took the path of assured financial earnings. Instead, they decided that they were going to put their spiritual practice first. Sharon, who apparently has never been an employee for anyone, became a widely read author on spirituality and meditation and co-founded the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. Bob Thurman ultimately became a key Western authority on Buddhism in general, Tibetan Buddhism in particular, and Tibetan language.
Sharon and Bob are good friends, and sometimes hold retreats together. As advanced as they both are, they are very skilled in conveying their thoughts without overly burdening their words with scriptural doctrine. Bob can be hilarious when talking about serious matters, including pointing out how much humans are mostly hairless monkeys, who lack even tails for hanging from trees. Sharon bridges such undesirable experiences as being stuck on the runway in a plane without air conditioning to the spiritual practice of lovingkindness and connectedness.
At yesterday’s session with Sharon and Bob, Sharon started and closed with two great meditation sessions, and Bob also did a meditation session. Sharon pointed out the importance of feeling lovingkindness for ourselves and all others. She underlined the importance of being neither unrealistically rosy nor harsb to ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if one says something very ill-advised at a business meeting, the speaker should neither ignore the error nor beat oneself up too much over the error. Sharon advises to find at least something to be kind to oneself about. She also advises to try to find something good even in those we find the least likable, and, if we cannot accomplish that, to at least wish them happiness.
I think I figured out where to take Bob with a grain of salt (for instance, when he said so many are miserable, including himself), and where to take him more seriously, for instance, when he said instead of trying to find freedom from misery, it is even a better goal to seek happiness.
How does all this tie into my professional life? The more one feels fulfilled, the more that s/he does better in his or her work, and inspires his or her clients to feel more empowered and powerful.
I thank and deeply bow to Sharon and Bob.