“Interfaith service is a verb, a verb of interconnection and universality, and its time is now.”
I arrived to interfaith studies after being grounded in over three decades as a student and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. I had a deep and proven trust that my spiritual practice was, for me, a perfect fit. I felt whole, complete, and happy, and could look back on my life and see the transformation resulting from this dedication not just in myself but also in how the outer mandala of my life had constellated. The practice was doing me and I was greatly satisfied.
Everything shifted for me one morning in 2008. As I visualized the expanse of sentient beings whom I was vowing to help, I was slapped with the realization that there was so much more to do. For nearly 20 years I had spent my time with Tibetan Buddhists-and mostly Tibetan people at that. I had no clue how to actively live the Bodhisattva vow to the mostly Christian community I live in, much less serve spiritually, aside from just trying to be a good person. Great, but the Vow says “…all sentient beings…”
My thoughts turned immediately to my main teacher, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Consistently over the 3 plus decades I’d taken teachings with him, he had encouraged us to cultivate compassion, understanding, a warm heart, and the importance of building of bridges through developing an interfaith education and dialog. In that moment I saw where I needed to go. My bags had been packed for this journey a long time, but only now was I ready to take the first step.
Over a series of events that involved me seeking guidance, a friend’s husband dying, and me being redirected to chaplaincy once again, (see my sermon “Falling Fruit”) my interfaith studies at the Chaplaincy Institute became aerobic experiences.
As I poured over the sacred books of different faith traditions, my heart pounded and sweat rolled as I saw the teachings of Buddhism in the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah. “That is Bodhicitta! The Four Nobel Truths! That sounds like the Six Perfections! There, right there, that is the Bodhisattva Vow! Wow!
It wasn’t until the Protestant Christianity module that my bliss boat ran aground. I had turned my back on Christianity well over 40 years ago, taking with me only my mother’s deep love of Mary. By the time I was 14 I was solid on my path of Dharma and never looked back. The healing and reconciliation that took place in my relationship to Christianity during this module was profound and easy. The spiritual floorboards of my life had been pulled up, reset and resurfaced.
Around this time I began my practicum for CHI, sitting with the street community of Marin in a weekly healing circle led by Interfaith Chaplain Paul Gaffney. One day after circle, one of the homeless women came up to me, held my hands, and said; “I know you are a good Christian, because I can feel the love of Jesus when you sit by me.” For an instant I wondered if I should tell her I wasn’t really a Christian, but I didn’t flinch, looked into her deep, warm eyes and knew in my heart that being a good Buddhist meant being a good Christian, too.
Today, as I stand before you about to take vows of ministry, I believe more than ever that creating bridges of interfaith understanding and dialog is a direct path towards achieving healing and peace in ourselves, our communities and our planet. Interfaith service is a verb, a verb of interconnection and universality, and its time is now.