Finding her religion

by Claudia Linsley, Battle Creek Enquirer, Aug 13, 2005

Battle Creek, MI (USA) -- A Richland Township woman recently returned from Hawaii, but she didn't go there for a vacation, instead, Lisa M. Ferworn spent two weeks preparing for full Buddhist ordination precepts, received in a July 2 ceremony at the Tendai Buddhist Mission in Honolulu.

<< The Rev. Jimyo Lisa Ferworn enjoys a Kinhin, a meditative walk, on her property in Richland Township. Doug Allen/The Enquirer

Tendai is a 1,200-year-old Japanese Buddhist sect. Its disciples examine their minds, believing it is the best way to discover their highest potential for spiritual awakening and realization.

The Tendai sect is relatively new to the United States, and there are only a few registered Tendai priests in the country, Ferworn, who as a contract job at Pfizer Inc, said.

As a Tendai priest, her new name is the Rev. Jimyo Lisa M. Ferworn. Jimyo means "light of compassion," and compassion is the highest teaching of Buddhism, she said.

The ordination ceremony, or "Shukke Tokudo," was conducted by Archbishop Ryoko Nishioka, the sect's second highest official, authorized by Archbishop Ryokan Ara of the Hawaii mission and witnessed by a number of Tendai archbishops and priests.

"The ceremony was awesome. The temple is gorgeous and it is hard to describe the feelings to it," Ferworn said.

The event formally recognized the Rev. Jimyo as a registered Tendai priest.

In that role, she conducts services each Sunday morning at Mitsudo-Ji, or Hidden Path Temple, a dharma center at her family's wooded 10-acre property between Richland and Kalamazoo. The services focus on the Tendai daily devotional service, Shikan meditation, Lotus Sutra, mantra practice and discussion.

The Sunday meetings have helped Thomas Phillips of Portage to better follow Tendai Buddhism, he said.

"You just can't interpret things the way you want to, because you may be interpreting them wrong. That's why monks and priests can steer you on the right path," Phillips said.

He and Ferworn were friends who discovered Buddhism about the same time, but independently explored it.

"I was surprised to hear she was a reverend," Phillips said. "That's when I decided to attend her services."

The Rev. Jimyo "teaches you techniques on meditation ... in the Buddhist concept, she helps us through our thought processes," he said.

Ferworn's journey into Tendai Buddhism began more than eight years ago.

"I had walked away from my Christian roots about 14 or 15 years before that ... and during that time I was an agnostic. I knew there had to be something else, but wasn't sure quite what it was ... . When I read Buddhist material, I thought that it made sense. It just clicked."

She formally became a deshi, or disciple, of Buddhism six years ago. She found a Tendai teacher, the Rev. Jion Prosser, through a contact at a martial arts class. Her instruction required a number of trips to Minneapolis, where Prosser's family lived.

"One of the things I thought was so awesome about the sect is that it had a lot of things to offer," Ferworn said. "In Tendai, we believe ... that all Buddhists are good." The Buddha taught different messages because he was talking to different people groups at different times, she said.

"There is nothing wrong with somebody who does a devotional practice or meditation practice like Zen. But we also do esoteric practice and devotional practice, which is a little different."

Her rituals and devotional and meditation practices, which she sets aside more than two hours for each day, have made her a more patient and compassionate person, Ferworn said.

"I used to be a very impatient, rude person," she said. "You have to have some belief to start with that the teachings make sense. But then (as you do more practices), more of them come into place for what you do."

To become a priest, Ferworn had to complete numerous week-long private retreats. Structured by her teacher, they included a vow of silence, rising at 2 a.m., a series of rituals and time spent in self-study and reading.

"It was a very strict regime," she said. "You have to kind of wear yourself down physically."

She will still need to go through Gyo, a time of stringent training for priests, usually done for two months in Japan. Instead, because she is a part-time, unpaid priest, Ferworn probably will complete Gyo during intense shorter periods.

But all of the personal sacrifice is worth it, Ferworn said. "It's all a labor of love."

Her goal is to provide a place where American Tendai Buddhists can gather to gain insight and strength from each other.

"And if someone who is Japanese and Buddhist would like to come, they are always welcome. I would welcome their friendship," she said.

As Buddhists, meeting together is important because "you can learn meditation from books, but the interaction with other people that have gone through it is almost essential ... they have to get some other feedback. And there's a group energy that I can't explain in words, really," she said.

Buddhist terms

  • Shukke Tokduo: A home-leaving ordination.
  • Dharma center: Dharma refers to laws or rules.
  • Tendai daily devotional service: Devotional practices such as prostrations develop faith, gratitude and positive emotions. They allow one to set aside the personal self and express appreciation for one's present condition and the opportunities it provides for transformation.
  • Shikan meditation: A high state of mental concentration while stopping and investigating.
  • Lotus Sutra: The teaching of the Buddha which forms the basis for Tendai philosophy. One of its most important teachings is that all beings possess Buddha nature.
  • Mudras: Hand gestures.
  • Mantra practice: Repeating phrases, generally in Sanskrit, that contain the essence of a particular Buddha, Bodhisattva, or dharma practice.
  • Esoteric practice: Uses visualization, mantras and mudras to connect with a chosen spiritual focus, such as a Buddah or deity ... to recognize compassion and transcend mental obstacles.


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