I go to Washington DC every year for work. Or at least that’s the plan and I hope it continues.
I went in March of 2023. A few weeks before that trip I was reading a book called “How the Swans Came to the Lake,” by Rick Fields. It’s a book about the history of Buddhism in the United States. When I was reading this book there was a reference to the Washington Buddhist Vihara. This is described in the book as the oldest Theravada Buddhist temple in the United States. It felt so significant to read about this sacred space just before taking a trip to the area. So I resolved to go visit while I was there when I had a free day.
A friendly older monk greeted me at the door. He told me his name was Bhante Dhammasiri and he grew up in Sri Lanka. His accent was very light and he was easy to understand. Sometimes when a Buddhist monk has a really thick accent I have trouble understanding them. This was not the case with him. He had taken over leadership of the temple when the previous head monk, Bhante Gunaratana, moved on.
Bhante means “Venerable Sir.” It’s used to denote a high level teacher in the Theravada tradition.
He showed me around the temple. It’s a nice space. So, he showed me around. I’m a statue person, so I asked about a pair of rooster statues that I saw and he said, “These are here because it still feels like dawn for Buddhism in America.” I’ve never heard that before, but I think he’s right.
This old monk from Sri Lanka sat down with me and talked to me for two hours. He didn’t have to do this. He didn’t even have to answer the door, but he did.
Over the years I’ve heard people talk about what it was like to find THEIR teacher. I once heard a woman describe meeting her teacher as like falling in love. I’ve heard about people having a strong feeling of connection with a teacher. That hasn’t been my experience when I’ve met teachers, even when I appreciate their teachings. I’ve tried to connect with teachers and never really felt a strong pull before.
Bhante Dhammasiri was willing to sit and talk with me about multiple aspects of Buddhist practice and to clarify some questions I had about mindfulness and compassion. We talked about distinctions between various branches of Buddhism. I had a mala on my wrist and he told me he likes the practice of reciting mantras like OM MANI PADME HUM, but they don’t do these practices in his tradition.
I don’t think a teacher has been so open and willing to talk with me before. And I was, again, a stranger who showed up unexpectedly.
When I was ready to go he wanted to give me a blessing. He tied a white cord around my wrist and recited something in his language, Sinhalese. At the end of the blessing I asked him what that was and he said it was THE METTA SUTTA.
The Metta Sutta is my favorite text. It’s only about a page so it’s easy to read. But it’s a deep, wonderful, powerful text. It touched my heart when I read it and when I studied the story behind it. It’s the Buddha’s exhortation to practice kindness. You can read a version of it here:
Back in 2020 I was struggling with the uncertainty and isolation related to the things that were going on. And at that time I read the Metta Sutta and realized it was my favorite Buddhist text. I started doing metta meditation too, which is a related heart opening practice. I’ll write more on that another time. The teaching, in my view, is that if we’re busy enough spreading love and compassion, we won’t have time and energy for all the negative and divisive thoughts and feelings that creep into our awareness. That’s my interpretation.
I’m not a superstitious person. But reading about this temple in a book right before my trip, then going, then meeting this friendly teacher, then hearing him recite my favorite text the Metta Sutta while giving me a blessing….
That sounds like synchronicity.
The term synchronicity was coined by the psychologist Carl Jung. He defined it as: “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”
Does the universe conspire to make things happen? I used to think no and now I’m not as sure as I used to be.
It felt like all at once all of this happened for a reason.
I’m reserving judgment for now. I met this teacher once and he may not remember me. But I’m definitely going back to visit Washington Buddhist Vihara next year.
Because I felt moved and inspired. I don’t know if Bhante Dhammasiri is going to be my teacher. I don’t even know what it means if he is. But I’ve already been exploring Buddhist heart practices and I’m deeply inspired to continue to do so.
There is a lot of depth to explore in the Theravada tradition.
If you’re in the DC area, i highly recommend a visit to Washington Buddhist Vihara.
Talk: Love and Compassion June 25, 2023. 10:30am-noon at St Marks Hope and Peace. 3800 Troost Ave. Kansas City, Missouri. During the Rime Center Sunday Service