By Won Ju Sung-Katie Kresek
In January of last year, I was honored with receiving a dharma name from the Won Buddhist Temple. The decision to apply to the temple for membership was one that struck me as being a very serious and important step in my life. I had only begun attending services a little over a year before I applied, and was concerned that I didn't 'know enough' about Buddhism, let alone Won Buddhism, to consider myself at the point where I was ready for a deeper commitment to the practice.
This kind of fear (fear of not being worthy, prepared, or ready) is one that has often invaded my thinking throughout my childhood and throughout my adult life and has often prevented me from fully investing myself in things that I want to do. I kept my fear to myself though, and tried to ignore the knots in my stomach when my friend who first brought me to the temple walked me up to Reverend Lee and said, "Katie would like to apply for membership." Did I deserve that?
I had spent the last year and some odd months developing a meditative practice, attending services whenever I could, reading scripture and literature by Buddhist authors, but in terms of consistency I didn't feel like I was doing all that I could. I've always been a hard worker and wanted to do things well, so would it be okay for me to become a member even though sometimes I would go weeks without meditation? I couldn't help but think this struggle reminded me a bit of my musical studies. In the past I had always been very hard on myself if I hadn't been able to play well, or if I hadn't practiced enough (which usually leads to not playing well), but had spent more time being down on myself than considering what I could do differently. At the time I started coming to Temple, I had also begun a second master's degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. One of the first classes I took there was entitled "Creativity and Problem-Solving" and we read a book called "How Children Fail" by John Holt. I remember one of the main concepts I took from that book was the idea that we fail when we forget to honor the unique processes that we as individuals bring to our learning. If the result of our computations doesn't lead to the right answer, we look all too often at the fact that we ended up in the wrong place, and fail to see just how much of our journey we could have learned from, how much of it was the manifestation of our caring and our trying to understand, and ultimately how much of our mistakes actually make sense and can lead us to the path we want to be on. We are all so different from one another, how can we expect that our mental and spiritual journeys will align with some ideal? So often in schools and in any learning situation, we look for the rights and the wrongs, the simplified absolutes that can allow us to check whatever it is we were trying to do off our lists and move on to the next thing. So where are we to go when we're "wrong"? Should we give up? Should we stop trying because the situation seems hopeless or because we can't give as much to our efforts as we think we should?
What I think I have learned so far is that there is value in any little kernel of thought and effort that we make in our attempts to understand our selves, one another, and our world. Since coming to the Won Buddhist Temple, I have slowly learned through a meditative practice that fear and the idea of failure are things we create for ourselves. Making the time and space to reflect inwardly and examine those elements that create apprehension, tension, and misgivings about oneself can set in motion the process by which we come to know 'the truth about ourselves and others". When we make the space and time for this practice we stop the panic, the urgent need to figure everything out, and allow ourselves to be, sometimes even just for a few moments, but it is through a consistent practice that we can string those moments together into a more compassionate and loving way of living in the world. Meditation creates the space by which we awaken the pathways of our sense to our minds, making it possible for us to notice so much more of what is around us. Through this practice we can understand the infinities in our world, recognizing that there is always something we don't understand, that there is always more, and that our processes, like ourselves will always remain unfinished.
I am grateful to my friend who helped me to realize that being a member of the Temple means engaging with this journey as a part of my life, not attaining a goal or accomplishing something finite. My name is Won Ju Sung, which signifies mastery and music. I think for me it means that music and art are the vehicles by which I have spent and will spend my life learning. I don't see mastery as an ultimate so much as I see it representing the constant growth of ideals and the eternal curiosity and flexibility that comes with being a work in process, which is all I ever want to be.