Putting 45 people in a room 23 ft. x 26 ft., not much bigger than many people’s living or family rooms, would normally feel crowded.
But last night at the Losel Shedrup Ling of Knoxville, a Buddhist center in Bearden, it felt spacious because everyone there had let go of their personal space, the spatial bubble we all put around ourselves that forms a keep out, don’t come any closer, zone.
Everyone had come to hear the wisdom of Lama Rod Owens, a prominent Buddhist teacher. Lama Rod, as he invited everyone to call him, is a 40ish black man, big enough to be an NFL offensive lineman, but with a spirit as gentle as a mountain breeze.
He laughs easily. His whole body smiles. Lama Rod was raised in the tradition of the Black Christian church. He was never the most popular boy. As he grew up, he suffered from depression. People he trusted told him to just take medication and learn to manage it.
But a voice inside him told him there had to be another way. Eventually, he found a healer who made him sit, just sit. In time, it stabilized his mind. Over the course of a year, the depression went away and hasn’t returned. He also gained an understanding of the basics of meditation. It changed the path of his life.
In classical Buddhism, there are three sources of refuge: the Buddha, the fully enlightened one; the Dharma, the body of teachings expounded by the Buddha; and the Sangha, the community of Buddhists and the practice of Dharma.
“Learning Dharma is kind of like stumbling around in the basement in the dark, with rats,” Lama Rod said. “Liberation starts when we fall apart and just let ourselves be wounded in the world. It’s important to understand that I am not the only one in the world who is hurt.”
Lama Rod advises opening up the sources of refuge. “There’s no reason we need to make this unnecessarily difficult,” he said. “Who are the teachers and advisers in your life that you run to when you need wisdom and advice, those people who demonstrate basic goodness? Include them in your source of refuge.”
“There is something in Buddhism to show the rest of the world,” Lama Rod said. “We just need the courage to tell the truth, especially when it comes to what is good and what is not.”
The second part of Lama Rod’s presentation was a process of leading everyone through the process of meditation. “The first step is to ask my body what it needs to be cared for,” he said.
The goal of meditation, as Lama Rod teaches it, is to find ways to make a space for yourself in your mind. Then clear out all of those things that cause you pain and hurt, that affect your state of inner happiness and peace.
“There are always going to be people in our lives who are not nice people,” he said. “It’s important to understand that no one starts out to be a horrible person. There are causes and effects.
“If we can separate those things in our thinking from the person themselves, it’s easier to find room for them. As we succeed in making this space within ourselves, there’s room for people like that, so they can still be in our lives, but not right in our face.
“Among the additional sources of refuge is ourselves. We can become a source of refuge in the world if we honor ourselves. Another source is our ancestors, those who created and nurtured the practical, spiritual and familial lineages each of us come from.
“There is also the sacred earth. Not just the physical earth. But also the environment that serves as a home that sustains our practice and forms the foundation of our experience.”
In Lama Rod’s explanations, he took much of the mystery and intimidation out of learning how to meditate, the process of finding peace within ourselves. Through small, logical steps, beginning with focusing on a part of the body, it’s possible to learn to pull the earth into the body so that it becomes energy that stabilizes the body and mind.
It sounded so much like watching a child play in a sand box, becoming one with it, not really making a distinction between themselves and the sand they are playing in.
The second and third of Lama Rod’s presentations will take place at 6:30 p.m. at The Church of the Savior, 864 N. Weisgarber Road. Tuesday evening’s talk will focus on how to find and share peace in a troubled world. Wednesday evening’s talk will focus on ways to achieve social justice within the context of Buddhist practice.
Both evenings are free, although donations to cover the cost of Lama Rod’s visit to Knoxville will be welcomed.