On Sunday at Bodhi Path, Stillness Enters the Room

By C.K. WOLFSON, Vineyard Gazette, Nov 23, 2004

Martha's Nineyard, Massachusetts  (USA) -- The people, mostly women, quietly greeting, welcoming, dressed in all manner of comfortable clothes, settle onto one of the square floor cushions, zabuton mats, that form straight lines across the width of the shiny wooden floor.

Swathed in maroon robes, Lama Yeshe, a slight, smiling woman with closely cropped gray hair, sits on the floor in front of a low table on which a vase with a single flower is placed.

After a brief introduction - please do not place prayer books on the floor - she begins leading the group in reciting the opening prayers: "Due to the merit of practicing generosity and the other perfections, may I accomplish enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings."

And stillness enters the room like a presence. Everything - the participants, the message, the arrangement of the room, contributes to the emanating calm.

It is Sunday morning at the Bodhi Path Center in West Tisbury. The theme of the morning's teaching is Loving Kindness, the basis of the Bodhicitta, the enlightened heart. It is an appropriate subject, Lama Yeshe points out, for this, the anniversary of D-Day. She explains that all Buddhist teachings, simple and at the same time profound, need to be practiced with Bodhicitta so the potential for world peace can be accessed.

"The Bodhicitta mind is like a great mirror, the eye of wisdom. If we see our own functioning, we can reverse the process and experience inner transformation," she says.

For almost an hour, she talks extemporaneously, explaining how emotion can make others seem at fault; how our notion of how things should be done makes us think we know the way. But, she says, all living beings want to be comforted, loved, respected, extended attention. "May all the others have the happiness I wish to have."

Lama Yeshe is a native of Föhr, a small isle in the North Frisian islands of Germany which she says is very much like the Vineyard. Her voice is light and musical, tinged with a German accent. Buddhism teaches, she explains, "May I have a good life, and my neighbors and my friends and everyone else, all living beings, also have a good life."

"Everything is cause and effect," she says.

The meditation center, a large open space painted like a dream sequence in traditional Tibetan colors - blues, golds, maroons - bounded by tall windows and French doors, is set in the woods behind the contemporary house which serves as a residence for the visiting teachers. The decorative tanka, a richly colored wall hanging depicting aspects of Buddah's life, hangs in the center of the wall behind a shrine with incense bowls and symbolic offerings. Floor vases overflow with pink-tipped roses, baby's breath and garden bouquets.

Once successful in the European fashion industry, Lama Yeshe travels between Europe, the Vineyard and New York, offering Buddhist teachings. The Bodhi Path Center, started in 1999 with a small core group of about 10, now has about 30 committed students, mostly women whose ages range from 14 to over 90. They are educators, therapists, students, doctors, artists, business people, Island workers, entertainers. Everyone is welcome. Buddhism does not require previous religious affiliations be severed.

The room is hushed. Lama Yeshe is explaining karma - one's actions - saying, if you want to know what your life was before, look at your life now; look what you have to endure, then you know where you've come from. Your future life? Look at your actions in this life.

 There is a brief silent meditation. "Sit straight. Be present," she instructs, and you can hear someone breathe across the room. The room is silent to the point you can hear yourself swallow. Meditation, Lama Yeshe explains, brings us to the present, beyond the veils of emotion, conceptual thinking, habitual functioning. "We cannot alter what we cannot discover."

Afterwards, questions are invited. Someone wants to know how to handle feelings of sadness for others, and is told not to become so attached that she ceases to function. Another person asks about feelings of anger, and Lama Yeshe says Buddhism teaches never to suppress, to allow feelings to rise, but not to engage in them.

After a concluding prayer, the group reads in unison a dedication to all living beings. There are refreshments, a chance to look over coming events, examine the CDs that are for sale, and exchange greetings with Lama Yeshe before she leaves for the house.

"All the students I met four years ago were great people when I met them, and they are great people now," Lama Yeshe says, smiling. "But they have changed, and it's a joy to see. Something happens through meditation to be able to understand one's self, to be able to communicate in a different way."

Someone expresses how acutely the morning's teachings seemed to pertain to her, like randomly opening a book and discovering a passage that has particular application. Happens all the time, Lama Yeshe tells her.

Before everyone disperses, the monthly sangha (community) meeting is held, and about a dozen people come back into the large open room. With no designated leader, they take turns assessing the spring art show held at the Chilmark Community Center. This and that person is thanked. Profits and expenses are reported. Questions raised: Should the food which proved so popular be sold elsewhere? Someone mentions "cost effectiveness," and another provides a review of the monthly costs of running the center, referring to it as "an enlivened challenge, rather than a burden." With no perceivable structure or agenda, the meeting has an intimacy, a fluency and respectful exchange, often punctuated with an acknowledgement of Buddhist teachings.

 It was as Margot Wilke, a Buddhist since the 1960s and one of the center's staunch supporters, explained earlier. Buddhism teaches about "affectionate relations with people and trains you not to be so egotistical so you can be much more generous in your feeling about living," she said.

"The more you get centered, the more unnecessary things drop off," she said. "Not everything matters, and not everything should worry you if it doesn't comes out the way you think it should."

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center hosts a session on Advice from Gampopa, the Great Buddhist Sage, on Sunday, June 13, at 10 a.m. on Laurand Drive, off Waldron's Bottom Road in West Tisbury.