By Dewain Belgard
In reading the articles in Issue 9 on the spiritual roots of various people in our extended community, I came to realize how much power is acquired by practices we've been involved with since childhood. I was raised in a devout Baptist family in which we read the Bible and knelt in prayer together every night I learned from an inspired Bible study teacher to keep a prayer list to help me remember those I knew to be suffering. This habit has stayed with me even through the toughest of times. I eventually came to call this list a "mindfulness list." And it is no longer necessary for me to keep it written down. I've learned to combine conscious breathing with recalling the names and situations of those on the list. I do this in a quiet ceremony along with incense and the bell. I sit on a zafu instead of kneel as I did when a child, but the core of the practice is the same.
I was traumatized as a child by witnessing the slaughter of farm animals, and I stopped eating meat at any early age. So it was natural to start adding animals to my prayer list along with people. The practices of mindfulness of suffering and refraining from eating flesh evolved out of my Christian roots long before I encountered the teachings of the Buddha.
Yet I did not feel a great deal of support for these practices from many Christians. I remember being shocked, for instance, when one of my religion professors in college told us with pride how he had killed a deer on a recent hunt! This was a man whom I respected greatly, who had sat on my ordination council (I had become a minister by this time), but I couldn't help but wonder, "Would Jesus have done such a thing?" I remember He said that not even a little sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Father. So even though aspects of my practice has roots in Christianity as much as in Buddhism, the support and encouragement I need comes mostly from my Buddhist friends.
But I was reminded in Thay's article that the "one true person who permanently comes in and out of our being" can't be described as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, or anything else. What can be said about that bright, clear, loving awareness that is the essence of us all?
Dewain Belgard is a social worker living in New Orleans, Lousiana