Last week as I walked towards Federation Square I noticed a reticence and some doubt creeping in to my plan to hand out a buddha. I hadn’t done a metta walk for a couple of weeks as I had been at Naganaga on retreat.
I reminded myself that there was nothing in my experience of the last 6 months so far that should give rise to fear or embarrassment about initiating engagement with a stranger.
All of my communications handing out buddhas had been enjoyable and had enriched my life. With that thought, trust emerged and I continued on my way.
I walked once around the area where many people sit at Federation Square and knew where I needed to sit. Sometimes it happens that simply.
He was leaning into his mobile phone intently engaged in scrolling and texting.
It was one of those times when I intuitively sensed that I could start straight away by unfolding the 12 buddhas in my bag.
I laid them out on the handmade purse and dived into contact with him.
“Hello, I have been given little buddhas from people all around the world to give away…..would you like to choose one?”
“Yes, “ he replied smiling and then added “ I am a Buddhist”.
He picked up a small metal buddha. I asked if he was waiting for someone so I could be sensitive to whether he might have the time to talk further. He was indeed waiting for a friend to arrive in about 30 minutes so I began to ask him a little about himself.
He was of Tibetan origin and his family was off wandering and shopping in the maze of city streets whilst he waited for his friend.
I pulled out my kesa from under my shirt and told him I was a Buddhist, too.
I was transfixed as his story unfolded.
I learnt that he had only arrived to live in Sydney a couple of years ago.
His childhood was spent in Tibet. At 18 years of age he was arrested along with some friends for writing ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘Go back to China’ slogans on walls in Lhasa.
They managed to do it a number of times before someone informed on them and they were caught and put in prison. This man saw friends die in prison and he experienced many severe beatings.
As he talked about his time in prison I found myself listening with a particular energy that needed no response from me, no words, just a heart felt sense of connection and care.
After four years he was released. He then did all he could to get money to arrange an escape to India.
It was a harrowing journey made with 64 countrymen and women.
They were caught at the Nepalese border and would have been sent back to Tibet. However, they had the good fortune of being with a man in their escape party who had a connection that he was able to activate which culminated in their release.
He then spent years in Dharamsala before meeting the woman who was to become his wife. They were able to be sponsored to come to Sydney.
Now he was working in an aged care home. I was very touched as he made the link between what happened to him in prison and the level of compassionate care he was able to give the elderly residents of the care home.
He told me that when he first used to be beaten by the Chinese guards he was very angry and wanted to fight back. His face and eyes ands fists momentarily showed me the intensity of that past anger.
But over time he remembered what the Buddha had said about meeting hatred with love and compassion. And he learnt to go inside himself and find refuge and stillness.
He recognised what he learnt in those awful years had given him the gift of access to compassion under any conditions. He told me he can now easily meet with compassion the aggressiveness and difficult behaviours of some residents who might be struggling with dementia.
“Always,always compassion,” he said.
He showed me a picture of his two young children- a girl and boy.
It was very beautiful to hear about his morning meditation practice and how he is encouraging the practice of compassion in his children’s lives.
Yes, he missed his country, he missed the beauty of Dharamsala but he had strong connections with Tibetan communities in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Then he said emphatically, “ Also here in Australia I have freedom. Freedom to do whatever I choose as long as i follow the laws of the country. I have freedom to pray and follow my religion. “
He talked about family and friends in Tibet who can’t have pictures of their teacher the Dalai Lama on display. Their devotion has to be an inner journey with no outward expression.
We shook hands and I walked down the steps of the square, again feeling blessed and enriched by a connection with a stranger.
I smiled at the thought of his quiet, open compassionate heart connecting with people facing the difficulties of old age and suffering.
And I felt slightly embarrassed at the resistance I had felt in the first few days of wearing my kesa in public over 6 months ago.
Here, where I live, I won’t be arrested for wearing something that depicts the deepest of my beliefs and values.
Here, I am unlikely to be beaten and imprisoned for publicly expressing my faith.
In fact, since I have been wearing my kesa every day on the streets I have been met, with curiosity at times, but mostly kindness and warmth.
And I know that is still not the case for everyone…. even here there is hate directed at people due to skin colour, ethnicity, economic situation, other faiths, lifestyle, gender etc etc.
And as I sat on the tram gazing out of the window, the way our government deals with refugees in detention came to mind, and I felt sick in the stomach.
And I know I am not personally doing enough to try and make my voice heard….to say this is not okay, to say we should not treat human beings this way.
The effect of the man from Tibet’s conversation with me is still unfolding.
This Buddha was donated by Anna from Adhisthana.
It was the first one of over 170 buddhas I have been given.
When I initially had the idea for the Buddhas in my Pocket pilgrimage I was on retreat at Adhisthana and Anna was one of the first people I told my idea to.
It must have sounded a little crazy…… leave my job, wander around handing out Buddhas, offer my help at Buddhist centres and ask for financial support from others. But within a short time she had collected this small buddha from the kitchen, where it has stood on a windowsill watching over the team of cooks, and placed it in my hand.
A heartfelt moment of encouragement….go on do it, I know you can!
When you get in touch with a creative, mythical space and an idea unfolds and then somebody encourages you rather than only pointing out the potential difficulties…that is a true gift.
So Anna your gift has been passed on to this lovely compassionate man who now has the freedom to openly practice his faith.