The Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism
with William Pennington
I first saw "the man" at Sakya right away. At first I thought he was one of the Master Buddhists, because he was up behind a decorated pulpit and was looking down towards his desk. I thought maybe he was reading an ancient text, in prayer, or zoning out on a computer screen. The monks start singing. I came on a day where they're practicing. A Thursday.
The overall vibe I got from the place was very respectful, laid back, and with a slightly disheveled feel to it. A corny glass stone that sells at Spencer Gifts for $14.95 sits in front of the man, spinning slowly and lighting up in different colors. It looks out of place. Or maybe it isn't when you notice the Yoda doll below him near the floor. Besides the dozens (hundreds?) of mini Buddhist statues scattered about like an old antique store, there was a stuffed toy dog next to Yoda, curling underneath as if they made a bed for him. A Budweiser bottle lay open on the front table is a bowl full of what appears to be potato chips. They are placed here intentionally, perhaps for Buddha in the sky. I'm already in love with the place.
The singing continues. It's more like monotone chanting with many different words, not quite cult.
The more I look at the man up behind the pulpit, I realize that he hasn't moved since they started singing thirty minutes ago. What was he looking at so intently? Wait, was he even moving? Thoughts creep into my head that he may not even be a real person. But a lifelike statue, in a Buddhist Monastery?
I notice a few plaques to my right and left, and realize I gotta pee. Forty five minutes into the singing, I wonder if I can even stand up and go. Will they look down on me for being so disrespectful? I don't care because I gotta pee. Down in the basement, I find the bathroom after wearily walking through a dimly lit room filled with glass cases of Buddhist figurines and small Buddhist trinkets.
I sit back down on the pillow and realize how much I truly love it here. The place feels real. The monks feel real (except for that one guy). The singing seems real. The building itself seems like what you'd expect a Buddhist Monastery to be like. And it's a block off Greenwood and 83rd? I wish I had known of this place before.
After an hour of sitting and listening and wandering, amid a few more singing pauses, I got up to leave. They kept singing. I must've stared at that man behind the pulpit for half of that hour. He never blinked, never moved, and only seemed to twitch the closer I looked, like one of those living human statues you see at Pike Place. But no, I don't think he was real. That was the only thing that wasn't real, I believe. But the more I visit, the more I realize how much I need this place, and how lost I really am.
Tonight I felt much more prepared and relaxed, even though my tall lanky frame with bad posture needed two pillows to sit on, instead of the traditional one. Last week there was a sign out front that said "Chenrezi at home! Special Practice tonight"...which I took to mean "Beat it kid, scram!" Not knowing what Chenrezi really means and not understanding it made me feel even more out of the Buddhism loop. I have studied Buddhism a little over the years, but actually going to a temple is freeing. During the chanting I sat and sat and sat, no knowing why I was there. Then the negative thoughts came pouring out like a flamethrower, freeing my mind of the negativity that had engulfed me over the last few days.
I was no longer enthused at the Yoda doll, or the man statue. I did learn that he was the founder of this place, many years ago. I wonder if those were the glasses that he wore in real life. This time I did not see a bottle of beer and bowl of chips, but a jar of candy. I do believe these are offerings to Buddha.
I asked a few friends if they wanted to come sometime, and they all said yes. So some day they may or may not come, it's up to them. Now I feel weird that I even asked them, because coming here is a personal choice. It's not like asking a friend to a restaurant for dinner. Coming here, for me, has been a culmination of my interest in Buddhism, and also where I am as a person right now. I kinda need this place in my life, as I'm tired of the negativity that I'm noticing all around me, and I'm tired of the negativity within myself. I would always expel this in various ways, with my anger, punching a punching bag, writing...but I feel like that was different than finding peace. Expelling the negativity I had absorbed was not a solution. Hopefully coming to Sakya will help me learn to be less negative, and if my brain learns the value of kindness and positivity, perhaps my body will follow.
Good luck with your own journey
It's hard for me to sit cross legged. You'd think a preschool teacher could handle this, but I've always been a leaner, so my back and body isn't made for cross legged sitting. So it's good that I'm going, cause I need the flexibility. The singing these Buddhists do can't really be called singing, in my opinion. The notes they reach aren't musical. They seem constantly off key or too monotone to be considered "music", but this is just a personal opinion. Perhaps chanting is a more accurate word, but then again all the other chants I've heard are in key. There seem to be no more than five notes they reach. Chantsing? As a non Buddhist who goes to a Buddhist Monastery to meditate, I love it all...and my ignorance is showing right now.
When I arrive, there is often a nervousness in the air, or a anxiousness among half the people sitting. I don't really know what they do, or need to do, but they get up and bustle until the singing starts. Even then, it takes a good 10 minutes for everyone to get "in the mood" to settle down. I guess I expected more silence and less movement while the Buddhist monks were speaking and singing. One lady passed out mini water bottles during the evening.
On the table in front, entirely full, lay dozens of cookies, treats, fruits, a wine bottle, more water bottles...I didn't stay around to figure out why. Also, there was a photographer walking around during the singing which creeped me out a little, and almost ruined my evening. A sign out front says "No Photography". He must've gotten permission. Then again, a few people had cell phones out, including a 12 year old girl who was with her mom. I saw her quickly turn around and take a quick SnapChat video of the place. An older woman next to me took a few pictures of the inside of the temple. The picture I used for the front page of hereinseattle.com, was of the outside because of this very sign. I guess I don't understand the rules of things anymore. I forgot to mention this last time, but the lead Monk was on his phone while walking in to the main room. Then, during the announcements that were held shortly afterwards, he clicked a link that played an ad for audible.com. He's happy though, and that's what Buddhism is about, finding inner peace. The rules here are very different than my Methodist upbringing, and I love it. In my personal life, I feel so much more at peace with everyone, and the decisions I make are ones that aim to increase my overall sense of happiness and fulfillment. Already a passive loving guy, I notice angrier people more, and want them to feel what I feel, and I can't understand their constant anger over things they can't control.
On a Friday, middle of November, I visit after walking for hours from Myrtle Edwards Park, following a secret path along the railway, bus to 85th, walked to Sakya, then afterwards walked home...good day to walk, maybe ten miles.
My visit this time was my first on a Friday, and found out that the guided meditation is downstairs, with a guy who resembles Bob Ross and sits perfect Buddhist meditation posture...I always wonder if that exact positioning is really necessary to achieve real Buddhahood or if people want to imitate him as a form of flattery. I'd like to study Buddhism in a scientific way, but I'm sure someone has already done that. What is Nirvana? And do you really have to sit exactly like that? Can scientists answer these questions?
This visit I find 5 children trying to meditate in the basement, along with their parents who have tried to open their child's minds to something new. Kudos to those families, I wish my parents did that. They didn't stay long, but they gave it a try. Kids don't have long attention spans anyway, and sitting quietly is really hard for them. It was much better without them, actually, because I prefer fewer distractions, and I could hear them moving and whispering and giggling. Also, I keep my eyes open during meditation, because I don't want to fall asleep. Sri Chinmoy taught me that, which is the one thing I agree with him on. I focus on a piece of dirt on the carpet, usually. I can look at that dirt for hours. One thing keeping your eyes open does is that lets your mind not get so "dreamy", or imagine scenes or images that you may not otherwise picture with your eyes open. I just like it better, but the Bob Ross lookalike says it's up to you. Even Buddhists rugs need vacuuming, by the way.
So just to recap, Thursdays at 730pm are the Chen Rezi chanting, while the guided meditations in the basement are at 7pm. I love both!
Volunteers are needed as well, and memberships are available. Everything is free, but donations are accepted.
Tonight was the Thursday before the New Year of 2018. I arrived a little late, and already felt bad for interrupting. Fortunately, this night was a night of interruptions for the everyone, as it was offering night. This meant that halfway through, snacks were passed around, and it was impolite to say no. Two white American gentlemen came around with plates filled with Doritos, beef jerky (or maybe pork? I thought they were vegetarian), a little wine in my palm, those layered wafer crispy sweet cookie things that always taste delicious, and some cashews.
Now, I love snacks. Snacks are my game, and while they lacked originality and freshness, they were still snacks. So, during the chanting, I'm glad I wasn't the only one munching away at the crunchy potato chips. How can they do that? I was all ready to meditate the night away, and they bring a plate of snacks that I can't refuse? This may have been the best night I had at the temple, and I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to my favorite hilarious snack podcast, called Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (or MATES). Snacks are really their game, not mine, as they are professionals, but I too hunt down local snacks wherever I travel, and feel I am kind of a connoisseur and snack junky. So, when these two worlds collided tonight, I was in a extra special trance like state.
I've heard about the pork before New Years, and I believe its a Chinese custom. The pig always snorts ahead, to end the year. Then, shortly after the new year, one must eat chicken because it scratches backwards. I think I got that right, and if you don't believe me, look it up for yourself. I'm not an expert in the Chinese Tibetan Buddhist New Years ritual.
WP - Fall/Winter 2017