Interview with ACI-LA Senior Teacher, Lindsay Crouse
by Jason Rosenfield
Jason Rosenfield: So, tell me, how did Buddhism become a part of your life? How did you get started in this?
Lindsay Crouse: How did I get started in this? Just briefly, the seeds for this were planted a long time ago when I was a teenager. I wanted to be a minister. The colleges I applied to all had divinity schools. And I was very impacted by Reverend Sloan Coffin, who I was sent to for a couple of summers for a religious conference at the Mount Herman School, and it took place, and it was for teenagers in the summer. It wasn't endlessly long but it was enough for all of us to get the idea of what a spiritual life really looked like. And Reverend Coffin, Bill Coffin, would have us give sermons, would have us really debate issues of spirituality with each other and at the time, I mean, being in that part of my life, it was fantastic for me to wrestle with issues of, you know, social awareness, issues of how to deal with friends, how to deal with enemies, who I really wanted to be, what I wanted the quality of my life to be. And when I went into college it was 1966 so this was like 1964, 1965, 1963 so the 60's was coming... the 60's was coming. And the kinds of questions that were posed in the 60's were being posed then, were developing then. And they were developing inside me too. So I got some very superb guidance from Bill Coffin and when I went to Harvard, and I was thinking about going to Harvard Divinity School after my undergraduate years, the 60's, really, was in full swing at that point.
JR: Just a clarification, Reverend Coffin, was that Riverside Church [in New York City]?
LC: Not until afterwards. He was the chaplain at Yale at that time and then he was at Riverside Church in New York. But at that time he was chaplain at Yale. And, so, he was in contact with Yale people, so he was particularly attuned, you know, to that age group. So when everything came down, while I was in college, during the 60's, I was observing what was going on at the divinity schools, you know, who was doing what. And it was Coffin who was making a sanctuary out of the chapel at Yale and helped and encouraged kids to burn their draft cards. He was saying, you know, "War does not beget peace", you know, "Let's put our money where our mouth is." And I didn't see that happening at Harvard. I didn't...I didn't see, and it wasn't just Harvard, I didn't see it many places. I thought, "wow", you know, "real spiritual leaders are few and far between here." At the same time I was becoming a dancer and thinking, perhaps, of taking acting as a career. And I saw that by being in the theater, by being in films, etcetera, I might have a more invisible pulpit, I might therefore have a more skillful pulpit. Because I thought, instinctively, that the paradigm of going to church on Sundays wasn't really going to cut it for our generation. Our generation wasn't looking to leaders, to the authorities; we were really in there scrapping, trying to find answers for ourselves. So I made my decision at that point not to go to divinity school, not to become a woman of the cloth, but to set out into theater as my ministry, which I did. And, you know, you marry and have children, and I divorced fairly early on in my marriage and I was a single mother. And as many single mothers find out, it's difficult to keep certain parts of your life going because you're just keeping the children's lives going. So, in terms of church going, or finding a minister, or whatever, a lot of it went by the wayside for my children simply because I was helping them get to school, and get home from school, and putting meals on the table, etcetera. And while I was hoping that I was imbuing them with certain values that I had, I look back on it and I think, "I wish I had been able to ground them in a particular spiritual practice while I was raising them." And years went by, they grew up, and I entered into a new marriage, and I was in my mid-forties. And at that time you're in the middle of your life, and a marriage in the middle of your life is very different. You're not about to build empires together, create careers, and buy land, and, you know, proliferate the race, propagate the race I think is a better word for it. You're going to be involved in renunciation with each other, you're going to be giving up the big house, and you're going to be letting the children go, and you're going to be moving towards your death together. And my husband, Rick Blue, and I were very aware of that as we were getting married and we kept looking for someone to marry us with whom we had a deep spiritual relationship. And we realized that, in fact, we didn't have that deep of a relationship with anyone spiritually and the fact that that was a big missing in our lives. And as we got a little further in our marriage there were some things that happened that were very, very difficult for us, one of which was a legal situation that we were in. And we realized, as we were going through it, that we didn't need legal answers to this problem; we needed spiritual answers; we needed ethical answers to this problem. And one night we were at a meeting for Tibet and there were lamas there, and I looked around the room and I thought, you know, "There are people in this room far more enlightened than I am. I'm going to ask one of them if they know anyone who could help us." And I did. And I went up to, I believe it's Howard Cutler who wrote The Art of Happiness with the Dalai Lama, and he said, "There's someone at the table, actually, who might be able to help you." And this was a man named Lapsong Rapke, who had been a monk and had been an assistant to the Dalai Lama and now works running the neuro-psych department at UCLA. And I went to see Lapsong Rapke and so did Rick and over the next few months we began to talk to him about what we felt our spiritual needs were. And he suggested, at a certain point, that we go see, the man who was then referred to as Professor Brian Smith, who now is Lama Marut, and we started to study Diamond Cutter Sutra with him. We took one of our first ACI courses from him. And the minute that I sat in a class of his I knew there was something very special about Tibetan Buddhism and about that teaching. I felt it was sophisticated, it was challenging, it was full of heart.
JR: Could you explain briefly the Diamond Cutter Sutra?
LC: Well, I think, for me, at that time, the biggest idea that I was learning about was this idea called emptiness in Tibetan Buddhism. That things don't exist the way we think they do, they don't exist in a fixed way, and the way you need to be operating in the world is not trying to shove things around, but to change your mind...to change your mind. And one of the things that had driven me into pursuing the study of spirituality was the fact that I felt I couldn't forgive. I've had enough suffering in my life, but I felt that I couldn't forgive. And I was trying to forgive. But I thought that to forgive meant either I was going to condone behavior in someone else that I wouldn't condone in myself or I was going to have to extract a pound of flesh, I was going to have to become someone entirely different magically in order to accomplish this. And the more I attempted to forgive the more it backfired because I was basically just suppressing the fact that I couldn't forgive. And when I heard this idea of emptiness, that things don't exist in a fixed way, and that we can take responsibility for the world that we see, that we create what they call karma through our actions, that our actions have consequences and therefore our actions force us to perceive the world in the way we do. For me, that was a liberating idea, tough as it is sometimes to accept. We'd rather live in a system of blame; it's easier. It offered me movement, it offered me a way out, a place to go, and I was ready for it.
JR: Question for you. You speak of having had an ambition to go to divinity school, of the theater being your...what was the phrase you used?
LS: Pulpit. Ministry.
JR: Ministry. Were you steeped in Christian dogma? I don't mean that word in a pejorative way, but just...
LC: No, no, well I was a Christian definitely. My father had been a very devout Christian, but it was very interesting, his practice. He was on his knees every morning with the door shut reading the bible and praying. By the time he died in his 70's, he had read the bible three, four and a-half-times. He discovered the bible in the middle of his life in a drawer in a hotel when he was very depressed, a Gideon bible, but he never proselytized about Christianity; he walked his talk. He died when I was sixteen and I really got to know my father through other people coming up to me saying, " I want to tell you a story about your father. Do you know what he did?" And I began to realize that he had been a transparent Christian, that he had really walked his talk in his life. And that lesson stayed with me very deeply. My mother, also, was a Christian and was a churchgoer and had a firm moral fiber, is the only way I know how to put it. My mother would be the person, if I would want to waffle about something and say, "Oh, you know, I know I accepted this invitation but I don't really want to go" she'd be the one to say, "No. You accepted the invitation, and you're going because it's the right thing to do." So my mother, after my father was gone, held the line for me that way, in terms of morality; principles of living. And I felt I was well grounded in that sense. But I had a lot of problems with the way that...with the dogmatic aspects of the church. I felt...I felt that I wanted more actual teaching and less preaching. I wanted to understand things deeply, I wanted, what I eventually got in Tibetan Buddhism, a lama; I wanted a shepherd. I wanted someone who would stick it through with me, but whom I could ask questions, who would be a constant presence in my life, and who would help me to become all I could be on that score. So when I entered into a relationship with Lama Marut, continuing to study and eventually taking vows from him and then initiations into higher teachings, I found that there was someone there. He said to me when I was taking my vows, he said, "I'm going to tell you something. These are more important than your wedding vows. These are more important because this is an agreement between you and God," not meaning that he was God, but meaning that these vows...I was in peril of my soul breaking them. Right? If I broke my wedding vows I'd get divorced, if I broke these I was in peril of my soul. And I took it to heart what he said...I took it to heart. It's interesting because you were asking me earlier, you know, was there a moment when I realized, you know, this is working...this is working? And I'm hard pressed to think of a moment when I thought, "This is working." What I did feel though, continuing to study and asking questions in study, was that there were answers to my questions. I was given answers to my questions, answers that made sense. And that as I was continuing to study and practice, I was becoming happier and that I was gaining a kind of quiet confidence, is the only way I know how to put it, and I've often taught this, that I think that the stories that we hear of the Road to Damascus and Saul on the Road to Damascus and light coming down from the heavens and this huge conversion, of course conversions like this can happen, but I think the bed is laid for them with this kind of quiet confidence that makes you then available to that happening. And that's what I felt was building, a kind of confidence, so that when there came to be a moment, I felt, a real tragic event in my life and I had to make a decision, I happened to be with my lama, he was staying at our house, and there was an evening and we were eating together and he and I were just by ourselves in the dining room and he said to me, "You know, there is a Buddhist principle that would govern this situation...would be appropriate in this situation." And he named it to me and I turned to him and I said, "These are the biggest stakes that I would ever play for" and he said, "Yes. The biggest." And I played the hand that way and I have never, ever regretted it and I felt that I had the courage to do so, to really step forward based on great trust that what he was telling me was true, that I could just, literally, go into freefall and trust. And I felt that at that moment I was really on a spiritual path come hell or high water. You know, they say often when you take vows that you take them... you know, some of the vows say, you know, "May I keep this at the risk of my life"? And when you take a vow you kind of tremble and think, "My God I hope I'll never be in that situation". But that's really the essence of a vow...that's the essence of a vow, is that it's bigger than your life; the spiritual practice is bigger than your life.
This is the first half of the interview.
Please go to /mi-ft_crouse.html on the ACI-LA website to read the entire interview.
The Three Yogas Of The Bhagavad Gita
The Yoga of Devotion
As taught by Lama Marut
Two warriors meet.
Arjuna, a peasant warrior in ancient India, could not manage the internal conflict between his warrior/familial duties and his desire to rise above the mental afflictions that are the result of such attachments to status and fortune. He could not manage the conflict, that is, without the aid of a teacher. He was unaware that one was on the way.
Krishna, with his many arms, was known in The Bhagavad Gita, The Song of the Celestial One, for fighting demons and was greatly beloved in India. He also was a very good friend of Buddha. Krishna emanated as a charioteer, with two arms, to guide Arjuna on his spiritual path. Arjuna's internal battle stemmed from his desire to support his family in battle but also knowing he might kill them and Krishna's advice that he do so with wisdom not anger.To do so, Krishna counseled, would require a strong Yoga practice. Despite Krishna's eloquence, blue skin color and glowing surroundings, Arjuna was not convinced that he needed a Teacher and indeed, this was he.
Life in the fast chariot lane without a Teacher can have dire consequences. Our actions can lead us to a demonic way of life, according to the text. Demonic because in our ignorance we believe that we are allowed to do, say or be anything to get what we want and we believe that what we want will last forever.
In our commitment to ignorance, we ignore the law of karma which reveals that what goes out from us comes back to us. With unrelenting regularity, we live by the assumption that we will not be contaminated by our own wrong actions.
Lama Marut says, "After we hit the wall, we see the need to get to a teacher". Arjuna was conflicted, depressed and confused about the right thing to do especially because it involved some of his kin. We have all visited the place where our moments of most confusion are related to family matters. What should we do in those moments of extreme attachment and distress? Arjuna begged Krishna, after discovering that the Charioteer was there to guide him, to tell him what to do. He surrendered himself to Krishna and asked him to be his Teacher. Krishna said, "I emanate whenever morality declines and immorality increases". He continued by telling Arjuna that he comes over and over again to protect those who do good.
When we get ourselves ready, our Teacher will appear. We know not what or who the person may be but Krishna advises us in how to treat our teacher when he tells Arjuna, "Those who venerate me with devotion are in me, and I am in them". The end result of this veneration is, "that the righteous acquire eternal peace and that no devotee of mine is ever lost"
Call your Charioteer to transport you out of samsara; out of a life of cyclical birth, suffering and death, to help you fight demons and monsters, to one as a new person whose old karma has been erased.
Submitted by Marie Tolbert
Gross National Happiness
Submitted by Jason Rosenfield
The New York Times recently featured an article titled "Recalculating Happiness in a Himalayan Kingdom" - the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan was redefining its national political philosophy as Gross National Happiness (GNH), and using it as the basis for cultural, economic, environmental and governmental development. As I read it, I couldn't help but think that most people I knew - the majority in the entertainment industry - were going to take one look at this and think, "How utterly charming...and how utterly naïve!"
I recall Lama Marut's recent teaching when he quoted Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" refrain, implying it sounded too simple, even simplistic, to most people. Then he admonished us: "Just try it! See how simple it is!" We in modern America see ourselves as so sophisticated, so cool, so unwilling to "risk the dork factor," that such an obvious idea couldn't possibly hold any value.
Buddhists are not immune. I recall a number of years ago, soon after the Rodney King riots in LA, when I was approached by members of a different Buddhist sect to contribute thematic and design ideas to what would be a traveling museum-style installation about compassion. Rodney King had been widely ridiculed in the press and hip watering holes for his seemingly naïve lament, "Why can't we all just get along?" Yet I could not get that question out of my head. Why COULDN'T we just get along? So I drew up plans to create a video installation playing off Mr. King's quote and the subsequent derision he suffered from TV pundits and the like, that would then segue into multi-media presentations attempting to address the profundity of this simple question. Plans in hand, I went confidently to a meeting with the exhibit's design committee, drawn heavily from the entertainment industry, and was summarily ridiculed by one and all for my "naiveté" and unceremoniously shown the door!
Perhaps it would be helpful in reading the New York Times article about Bhutan's GNH to remember that minor sentence in our own Declaration of Independence, the one including "...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We in the West, particularly in the United States, have forgotten what "happiness" is and where it comes from. Driven by consumer capitalism, we pursue bigger cars and houses, ridicule each other on Reality TV, wearing our cynicism like badges of honor. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Jesus, Siddhartha and others offered equally "naïve" concepts that changed history. The Bhutanese are following in those footsteps. As for us, dear readers, we practitioners - "dorks" of all stripes and labels - must treasure the fortune we enjoy to pursue dharma, and the opportunity to, by example, bring our fellow citizens to the quiet elegance of such complex simplicity.