We all have stereotypes, alas — often unfair to living, breathing people. My image of Buddhist monks does not include a cell phone and biz cards, and yet Khedrub, the young monk who gives the meditation class at the downtown YMCA has both of those. Who would have thought?
I passed him sitting in the lobby of the Y as I went toward the small chapel where the class is held, and saw him on the cell phone. He must have caught the expression of surprise on my face, and he grinned. “Have to keep up with the times.”
The biz cards came out after class, when he explained that the YMCA gives the local Buddhist meditation center free access to the chapel once a week as a community service, but in return they have to agree not to solicit. They can’t promote their classes, or sell meditation CD’s,or sign people up for their programs. But they can put out information for people to take at will. That includes biz cards.
Why am I surprised? Khedrub is probably on LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Twitter too. This is how people stay in touch these days — no more writing letters, or chatting by phone, or meeting up for a walk. And modern Buddhism isn’t about an ashram deep in the remote areas of India. Modern Buddhism is here, in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard.
But Khedrub still wears the ancient robes that Buddhist monks have worn for centuries, which intrigues me. Nuns no longer wear habits, and priests wear clerics less and less when they are not on the altar saying Mass. But monks wear robes, as they tap out their messages on cell phone keyboards.
I’m always intrigued by what we let go and what we keep as we adapt old traditions to contemporary times. Are you? Have you noticed any seeming contradictions like this, and what do they say to you?