An Invitation to Transcendence
by Still Point Dharma Student Jeong Gak Eric L. Wilkins
I am just now coming home from our temple’s half-day silent retreat. I look forward to these monthly retreats at my beloved Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple only a stone’s throw away from Wayne State University in mid-town Detroit. The atmosphere of us as a handful of dedicated spiritual practitioners is very akin to the reverence I experienced a week ago at the presentation of the International Buddhist Relics Tour in the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I imagine that hundreds of people of various religious traditions attended.
How strange it is for me to think back to when I first experienced the Relics. I was in the middle of completing close to 3 years in a California prison. My previous addiction and consequent lifestyle led me to become the middleman in countless small time drug sales. It was near the beginning of the summer of 2008 that I began my time at Donovan State prison just outside the city of San Diego where I had been running amuck for almost 30 years. When I finally arrived at the prison yard where I was to do all my time, I came across the yard chapel & discovered a flyer in the window promoting Buddhist Services every other week. I could hardly believe my luck since I had just decided to not only read Dharma books but also practice twice daily meditation. It was about a year into my sentence when Lien, one of the Buddhist volunteers who came regularly to inspire & support our practice, went out of her way to have the Relics brought into the prison for us, the inmates. Imagining myself to be a no-nonsense Zen student, I felt this Relics ceremony to be far outside the realm of my spiritual needs. However, since having anything beneficial or positively productive happen within the prison compound is so rare, I decided to attend anyway. I was unexpectedly moved by being there, participating in the circumambulation of the Relics and receiving a blessing by the visiting monk in traditional robes. Once it was over and the routine of prison life came rushing in, I felt the air to remain spiritually electrified by simply having been in the presence of the Relics; but how?
Why do so many people of so many faiths flock to stand before the Relics? Perhaps it is due to the core need of most human beings to connect to that which transcends a mundane world stained by greed, hostility and delusion. Perhaps it is because we intuit this transcendence as being the fundamental substance within fabric of reality as we carry on with our daily lives through the stresses, joys and traumas. As one stands before the Relics with others also called to be there, that transcendence is literally palpable. It floods the air, fills the heart and lungs and comes to life in the vary faces of all in attendance. My words cannot capture the beauty and the mystery of how such a miracle is possible in these modern technological times in which we crave a solid definitive answer for everything we experience.
Having been in the presence of the Relics this last time has reaffirmed my commitment to maintaining diligence in my daily spiritual practice as a link to sanity and for the good of all living beings. At the late age of 55 I am currently a senior in Wayne State University’s Bachelor of Social Work program as I work my way towards becoming a clinical therapist specializing in substance abuse, anxiety & depression. My devotion to regular spiritual practice easily connects me to the core values of this helping profession. The Relics remind me, within the brilliant full force of their holiness, that transcendence does not lay outside my everyday human experience or anyone else’s. The Relics remind me that moment-to-moment the preciousness of life is a priceless gift, even when my emotions or appetites may scream otherwise. The Relics radiate the very depths of a sacred silence that continues to welcome me home and they sing an ineffable unified chorus throughout my blood, bone and tissues.
(My dream of volunteering during the Relics time in Grand Rapids was nearly thwarted only days before the planned departure. The kind intervention of the Volunteer Coordinator, Trisha Gosling, set the tone of this event as she supported the tireless efforts of Venerable Norbu and Amanda – the Relics Tour attendants and all the other selfless volunteers. I would also like to thank Victoria Coleman, the Maitreya Loving Kindness Relics Tour Director. It was her reply to an email I had sent back in 2011 that notified me of the Relics Tour coming to Michigan. She put me in touch with Theresa Pearce of the Fountain Street Church whom then connected me to Trisha Gosling overseeing the volunteers. I also need to thank Julie Schullo of the Dominican Sisters Retreat Center at Marywood for generously providing my wife and I with lodgings so I could volunteer for multiple days. Finally I would like to thank my darling wife Margrit whose support and encouragement has steadily been present as the movement of the Dharma has transformed my life from selfish addiction & apathy to insight, clarity, positive community involvement, and the attainment of many educational goals.)