By Kusa Ivan Mayerhofer
[Kusa has written this blog as a follow-up to the cover story in our winter issue, Haju Sunim: A Patchwork Life.]
One thing you quickly learn about Haju is that she loves walks. On many occasions, when we were having a check-in about practice or a conversation about temple business, Haju would suggest taking it on-the-go, and we would end up somewhere around town — the Arboretum, the law school quad, or the track down the street from the temple. Along the way we would usually run into people who knew Haju since she is something of a quiet presence in town. Old temple residents, long-time members, or just the lone spiritual wanderer who stumbled through the gates a few times and then went on her way, these and more would wave, say hello, and be reminded that they should care for their spiritual selves once more.
What caught me off guard the first time we walked together was Haju's trash patrol. Along the entire walk, Haju would pick up litter. Scrap papers and old receipts? She picked them up. Used red cups? In her hand, with the scraps placed inside. Lonely plastic bag? Now she had a trash bag for the scraps, red cups, and the additional cigarette butts, empty beer cans, fast food soda cups, and whatever else she could find. And me? Well, I did not see all of this on the ground. Or, to be honest, I saw it but ignored it. I definitely did not do anything about it. So there I was, not really looking, letting be instead of acting, all the while Haju was changing the world one little scrap at a time. Walking with Haju is more than walking with Haju; it is a fully embodied Dharma talk.
However, no matter how many times I have walked beside Haju, I forget her powerful yet simple lesson about creating change here and now. Very often these days, I feel helpless and incapable of making change. Back in Colorado, where I live, we suffered two major summers of forest fires after scorching temperatures and dry weather prevailed. Then the rains came and flooded away streets, homes, and towns. Ferguson, New York City, Chicago, and many other cities weigh heavy on my mind. Out on the street in Colorado Springs at a protest organized by the NAACP, we chanted Michael Brown, Eric Garner, too many names, with signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe." Now there is severe flooding in Malaysia, increasing right wing activity in Europe against Muslims, and continued violence in regions like the Middle East and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I care about the world we live in and all of this bothers me deeply. The first of the Four Great Vows is All Beings, One Body, I Vow To Liberate. Those that hurt and those that do the hurting are part of this one body, and so am I. How can I not feel sick at all of this?
So it is like an outstretched hand in a moment of helplessness that I think about those walks with Haju and the wordless lessons she taught me along the way. The world is large, but the piece of ground in front of me is small and knowable. Change on a global scale is difficult and can leave me feeling powerless. Change on a small scale, like picking up the scraps on the sidewalk, is entirely possible and is activism at its bare essentials. Can I change an entire system of institutionalized racism? I do not know. Can I work to uncover my own biased thinking and perhaps inform just one other person to do the same? Yes, I can. Our practice is global in its implications: it is not just some beings, but all beings that we vow to liberate. Yet, it is utterly single and individual in its advice on how to do this: one thought at a time, always uncovering Buddha's light, over and over again.
Whenever I return to Ann Arbor and spend time with Haju, I very much look forward to our walks. No matter the state I am in and how much I have forgotten since the last time we met, she gently reminds me that great things are possible, one scrap at a time.
Kusa is a graduate from the University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. He started practicing at the temple in 2007 and was ordained by Haju Sunim as a Dharma Teacher in 2014. Currently, he is a high school teacher in Colorado Springs. He continues to practice closely with Haju Sunim at the temple in Ann Arbor, where he strives to make regular visits, and online through monthly Google Hangout meetings.