Saturday, August 29, 2009

I just made quinoa tabouleh salad. Quinoa is grown in the Andes by indigenous peoples (Quechuas). I was reading Galeano's "Mirrors" the other night and he writes about the two Colorado university professors who were able to obtain a patent for the grain and after which they told the indigeneous peoples that even though they now legally own the patent, the farmers will be allowed to continue to plant the grain and that a portion of the proceeds will be given back to them. The farmers replied: (i'm paraphrasing)...these people must think we are dumb. Why would we accept your donations to what we already own?...The patent was rescinded.

I write about this only because I've been thinking lately about the free market of spiritual goods. I looked at a website about a famous "visionary and spiritual leader" who doesn't acknowledge no other teacher than his own experience even though his ideas are obviously borrowed from Buddhist teachings. He is received by his followers as an original and he is now a brand name.( or at least for the moment until the next one teacher appears).

One of my students asked the question: if I want to follow the Buddhist path, do I need to find an Asian teacher or seek to practice in an Asian sangha? If Buddhism has evolved to produce "American Buddhism" is there still a need for lineage and transmission from teacher to pupil as is done in the more traditional Buddhist paths? What is the rationale for a meditation center to call itself anything but a Buddhist center even though its teacher was once a serious Zen student? And what if after Zen, one dabbles in other spiritual practices, making one's experiences more eclectic and syncretistic, what happens to the tradition then? These are questions that make for good quinoa salad dinner conversation in my home.

This is also related to a question I get asked often these days? Who is a Babaylan? What is a Babaylan? In conversations, I hear about someone's Lola or Lolo as an indigenous healer and they are convinced that somehow they have inherited this gift but has never acknowledged it. There is no tradition they know of (having grown up in the US), no name to their experiences. Most of them keep it a secret in the family. Now that there are at least fragments of historical knowledge that we know about the tradition and we have a limited (primary or secondary) access to living Babaylans in the Philippines (so we know that the practice is still alive), is it now okay to come out of the closet as a Babaylan?

When I asked Grace Nono if she is a Babaylan, she said that in order to honor the primary Babaylans who have taught her for the last 15 years, she will not claim to be a Babaylan. However, she is willing to acknowledge that she has become a "gateway to the babaylan." Sister Mary John Mananzan said that she is inspired by the spirit of the Babaylan.

So whether it's questioning the Colorado professors who wanted to get the patent rights to quinoa that is owned by indigenous peoples in the Andes or whether it is a questioning of how to be a Buddhist in America or questioning whether to call one's self a babaylan or not, it is always better to do so at the dinner table where we are (hopefully) more consciously aware that it is the Land that feeds our bodies, minds, and spirit. The rest is only discourse.

We Filipinos like to joke about our eating habits. I suspect that we laugh because we know deep inside that eating is sacred because it connects the Land to our body and our Kapwa.. Eating as ritual in praise of the gift-giver...

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