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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
66 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 1 3 “Yes, yes,” he replied, as if I were stupid. We wrote for three years before he passed me on kong-an practice and told me to stop writing him. In the short notes he wrote me, he was bril- liant and profoundly compassionate. By this time I had been practicing for twenty- five years, with almost no sense of community. My pain was also becoming generalized, in every joint system of my body. On a scale of one to ten, the pain was pretty much at a six or seven all of the time. I spoke to some close friends and made a decision to commit suicide. A friend suggested I try vipassana and gave me the name of Joseph Goldstein, who lived nearby in western Massachusetts, at the Insight Medi- tation Society (IMS) in Barre. I visited him and felt an immediate connection. When we first sat together in his apartment, I had an experience of deep samadhi. I formally asked Joseph to be my teacher and the following month I took refuge and received the precepts in a Pali ceremony he led under a tree at IMS. I began to work intensively with Joseph. He started me on Buddhaghosa’s Visudhimagga. It was Joseph’s belief that deep jhana practice would enable me to stop experiencing pain as the central reality of my identity. He was right. Vipassana and jhana meditations saved my life. I attended a two-week immersion course in the dharma at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (the scholastic campus of IMS), where I experienced sangha for the first time and made dharma friendships that endure to this day. The two-week intensive culminated in a three- day sit. This was my first experience in years of sitting with “strangers.” It was agony. I watched my body twitch with pain. My joints became so aggravated by the sitting that walking meditation became a limping travesty of movement. I went to A Sangha for Every Body Jim Willems knows what it’s like to feel unwelcome at programs because of his disabilities. He offers the following advice to help sanghas initiate a dialogue between those who are healthy and able- bodied and those who are not. To the person who is differently embodied: 1. Know your limitations. Find out what you can and cannot do with respect to sangha, such as sitting with other people. 2. Speak directly and honestly about your condition with members of your sangha. If you can’t do this, you are in the wrong place or you need to do more personal work. 3. Insist on the right to participate but remain compassionate and respectful of the impact your presence may have on others. Your presence during a meditation session may not always be skillful. Accept this reality. 4. Find a teacher or dharma friend who can stand with you and support you. You will need a dharma companion whose wisdom can help you in your practice. Recommendations for the sangha: 1. Be honest and direct about your response to the differently embodied person. For example, if the person is constantly having tremors or spasms that make it difficult for you to practice, say so. Remain present to and responsible for the impact you have on the differently embodied person. 2. Create a space that allows the differently embodied person to practice. Be imaginative in thinking about the possibility of a sangha that includes all people. 3. Recognize that people are different and so are their experiences. Do not use the clichéd responses, “We are all one” or “Your oppression is an illusion” to dismiss the other’s experience. You may have little sense of what it is like to be a differently embodied person. Many people have been mistreated or not included precisely because of who they are. Deal with it. 4. When possible, make sure your teachers are representative of diverse communities, including people with disabilities.