Take a full belly rendering me unable to board the crazy bus that would take me back to the ferry, add a cute, smart, funny guy with whom I was having a great time, and you have one date turning into two, bringing me to..... Key Spot Number Three!
The Time: Sunday, June 13th, roughly 3pm.
The Place: Staten Island Buddhist Vihara, 115 John Street, Staten Island
The Guy: Tim, still....
What Creative Time Says: This Private Garden Welcomes Everyone As a Guest.
I was both excited and nervous to visit the Buddhist Vihara in Staten Island and was glad when Tim and I decided to embark upon this key site together. I've been fortunate enough to travel a decent amount in Asia and have visited more Buddhist temples than any other religious structure in the world and my feelings are always conflicted. On the one hand I am almost always without fail filled with a certain sense of peace and calm (I feeling I often struggle to fine) as I walk amongst orange robed monks, beneath the shadows of religious icons. On the other, I feel as if I am imposing upon a secret I should not have uncovered, that was not quite meant for me. I deeply respect Buddhism but I generally feel discomfort around organized religion and fear that my constantly churning mind will be discovered as I tip toe around temples and monasteries I have visited. Thus, I only wanted to visit this site with a second date, someone I already felt comfortable with. I was lucky enough to find Tim so soon!
The Vihara, which, I learned, is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a Buddhist monastery, originally meaning "a secluded place in which to walk," lay on the end of what would otherwise be a very ordinary road. Family Barbeques, piles of plastic toys, and American flags dot the lawns of neighboring houses until you reach the end of a lane. There, two sculptures guide your entrance to the sanctuary. Tim and I immediately followed the directions leading us to a locked gate to the left of the house which opened into a garden "maintained by the monks". The gate, unfortunately, had been left open (secure those locks explorers!) but a plain typed faced sign invited us into the house for meditation and tea when we were ready. As the rain was drizzling and the garden wouldn't be nearly as fun to explore without the obstacle, we fastened the lock and headed inside.
Shy as I always am around monks (and yes I realize what an odd statement that is) I awkwardly followed in a group of high school aged children to the main building. Peaking into what looked like a small classroom, a man in faded orange robes approached me. After we just smiled at each other and not knowing what to say I blurted out "we have the key to the city, we saw the sign, can we have some tea?" Of course, he replied softly, and a woman went downstairs to prepare our snack.
The monk led us into a low-lit room where a statue of Buddha lay to our right and colored lotus flower lamps decorated the ceiling. A man was in the back painting glue onto lamp-parts where, paradoxically, a high school baseball game played outside the back window. I began asking questions about the key project and the monk went to get another, more senior monk, who could better answer my pestering questions.
I still couldn't decide, however, if we were a welcome intrusion or a nuisance to the daily lives of the temple. Sri Lankan students came in and out studying Buddhism and math alike, preparing for an upcoming talent show and discussing upcoming meetings of the youth counsel. The men taught us about the temple and said that, because of the project, more people came to meditate. I told him I was bad at meditating, he said that everyone was. Which, in my mind, meant, "no excuses, when in Rome...." I asked to be guided through a meditation. Tim squeezed my hand signaling he had been hoping for the same.
This was, perhaps, the best part of the day. Tim and I sat next to each other, cross legged, perched on pillows on the floor, while the man lead us through a series of silent chants. I wish I could remember the words but with each phrase of "family, friends, unfriendly beings, and everyone" different people from my life floated through my head as I wanted to wish each of them well. Part of me wanted to reach over and hug Tim for sharing such a lovely moment, hearing the rain beat down on the roof, waving the rhythms of the man's voice, settling into the chime from the gong he struck. As we ended our short session, a bird began to chirp; the rain had ceased to fall.
After delicious ginger-infused black tea where I congratulated myself on having made it through the entire five minute session (did I mention this busy mind of mine?) and Tim told stories of a Japanese tea class he took in college involving meditation, we went out to explore the garden. The man showed us around, pointing out vegetables and flowers, but mainly just watching us interact with the space. I wish I could have been inside his head.
Tim and I walked back onto the bus and were noticeably more quiet as we rode back to board the ferry. The boat ride back was lovely as gray ships passed in the distance and Manhattan's skyline faded into the fog.
Overall this experience was perhaps the most unique and yet, perplexing. Though I loved the garden, it was the first time in this project I was interacting with others in their space and I was not sure exactly what they were getting out of all these people coming to their spot every day. Though perhaps the point of the project is not about gain or loss, but about each individual moment at a site generating into a collective human experience.
Oh yes, and I'll be seeing Tim again this Sunday.
Love and Peace,