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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 15 |summer 2007 that the street, much like a meditation cushion, has put my issues on parade. A week later, back home again, I’m delighted to be sleeping in my own bed. Bathed, shaved, fed, dressed, I take a walk on the mall with a friend. He looks at me askance as I press a dollar into a pan handler’s palm, and then, seeing how browbeaten the man looks, peel off another two and chat with him for a while. I won’t claim I’ve evolved that much. Not in a week or two. Sure, I help out, sometimes, at the local soup kitchen and kick in for the anti homelessness coalition. But I do feel as if my inner pockets have been turned inside out, shaking loose some small change in my life. I’ve developed an ineluctable soft spot. I can’t help but notice the people at the margins, the ones who used to be the extras in my movie. Knowing a little of how they feel makes me an easy touch. The money I give out sometimes mounts up, $20, $30 bucks a month, unburdening the wallet, filling the heart’s purse. Until I figure out what I can do to really change things – or until the world becomes a dif ferent place – this feels better than okay. from “whY do we wAlk on BY?” puBlished in the fAll/winter 2006-07 issue of greaTer good And AdApted from BArAsch’s Book, field noTes on The CompassionaTe life. a truth Worth Walking for Mendicant walking practice, sometimes lasting weeks or months at a time, can be physically and psychologically grueling. But those who do it, says Ajahn Sucitto, receive a powerful teaching. Mindfulness gets a workout in the wilds. Being attentive to the ground beneath your feet, to the kind of weather that is brewing up, means you have to drop a lot of your inner chatter and pre occupations. Rather than rehashing the past, you have to look where you’re going and take care of your gear. You don’t want to get halfway along a vaguely defined trail and discover that you left your compass or map behind when you set out that morning feeling a little groggy. However, tudong [a mendicant wandering or walking practice] isn’t just about exploring external terrain. The territory is internal. Like many other monks and nuns, I have done tudongs in the soft green landscapes of Britain and Ireland, where a main theme of the practice is making oneself available for almsfood and shel ter. Standing on a village street, feeling like a freak and wondering if anyone could possibly guess that you’re in need of food, let alone be inclined to respond to that need, there’s a fundamental boundary to cross – that of one’s nervousness of strangers or awkwardness about being exposed and vulnerable. kATHERINESTREETER to results” but we were shouting for joy, deliri ously happy, riding the crest of the wave! from Turning wheel, spring 2007. Spare a little change? Author Marc Ian Barasch joins a street retreat to experience how the “other half” lives but ends up exposing his prejudices, insecurities, and an ines- capable soft spot. It’s a spiritual truism that trading places with the less fortunate, psychologically if not literally, can be a powerful motive for doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you. The swapping of self and other, says the Buddhist sage Shantideva, leads to genuine compassion: “An attitude of wanting to protect others as oneself, and to protect all that belongs to them with the same care as if it were one’s own.” The Confucians of the Sung Dynasty compared not feeling compassion for a stranger to not feeling that your own foot has caught fire. Yet too many of us seem to have gone numb. If Bernie Glassman hadn’t recommended it, I’d be hard put to justify my week of taking to the streets in a bum costume. I find myself living on the streets of Denver, dressed in ratty, stinking clothes, a toothbrush in my pocket and a week’s worth of stubble on my coldreddened cheeks. I’m hoping to discover some way to be a little less full of myself, to see if more kindness might arise if I persuade Mr. Ego to move out for a week. I supplicate downtown pedestrians, dauntingly busy on their way from here to there, clutching purses and shopping bags and cell phones and lovers’ waists. I recognize the filmy bubble of self concept that surrounds them, that protective aura of specialness. How often do most of us secretly say to ourselves that we’re smarter, stronger, taller, more charming than average; have a cooler job, a more lovely spouse, more accomplished chil dren; that we are (somehow) more spiritual, even more selfless? Anything is grist for the mill of self hood verses otherness, of the gourmetflavored me verses plainvanilla everyone else. I, too, have achieved my differentiation at some cost and con siderable effort; even here, hugging the ground, I resist inhabiting the same universe as the fulltime failures. But I’m already there in one respect: My pan handling talents are nil. Each rejection thuds like a body blow. I can see the little comic strip thoughtballoon spring from people’s brows – Get a job; I work! It occurs to me to just forget it. I begin to realize there’s more to “begging practice” than meets the eye. Roshi Bernie Glassman has explained it with disarming simplicity: “When we don’t ask, we don’t let others give. When we fear rejection, we don’t let generosity arise.” I realize