In Pamplona it’s the running the bulls. During Holi in Mathura it’s an explosion of colored powders. And at the Boston Shambhala Center it’s the stacking of the meditation cushion known as the Gomden. Each of these traditions has its own flavor, developing slowly over time.
In 1981 the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche introduced the “Gomden,” a firm, foam core, meditation seat. Not only did this enrich the experience of the meditator, but it made possible “the stacking of the Gomdens.”
Uniform size and stability of the Gomden means they can be stacked with geometric precision. They can be stacked two Gomdens high along the entire length of a wall. Six year old children particularly favor this configuration. They can form higher columns reaching just beneath the window sills. I have even seen intricate Rubik patterns emerging.
In our Boston Meditation Center, one makes the simple request, “could you please help stack the Gomdens” and the magic unfolds. Whim and fancy of the first few people depositing the foam seats and mats establishes the pattern, an entire process accompanied by playfulness and the afterglow of a group meditation session.
My first encounter with this nascent tradition occurred some time ago, when I attended a refuge vow ceremony in Boulder, Colorado conducted by the Vidyadhara. (The refuge vow ceremony is how a buddhist becomes a buddhist.) Three of us drove in from Chicago and were struck by the level of organization in Boulder and the crisp formality of the ceremony itself. We were told that everyone would have a brief meeting with this remarkable teacher whom we had never met in person but whose books convinced us beyond a doubt that compassionate enlightenment was alive and well. Ushered into a room for two minutes of awkward conversation you left thinking that anyone with such complete insight into your basic goodness truly deserved the title Rinpoche, or “precious one.”
Following the interviews we were schooled, in numbing detail, on the logistics for the upcoming ceremony. Seated helter-skelter amid the fields, the devotees and monks of old listened to the words of the Buddha, but that was not the Boulder plan. Specific rows at the front of the shrine hall were designated for those taking the vow, and each Zabuton and Zafu was alphabetically assigned. It was a delicate operation. (The Zafu is from Zen and was the meditation seat used by Shambhala in the early days.)
Calligraphies were created for each name and would be stacked on a table next to the Vidyadhara. Once the ceremony was underway he would simply reach down for the next sheet, and you had better be lined up in the right order.
Following the ceremony there was a request for volunteers. The dozens of Zabutons and Zafus blanketing the expanse of the pinewood floor had to be taken up and stacked. Once I volunteered that fateful day in Boulder, the hallowed silence, modulated movement, and hushed solemnity disappeared in an instant. A motto of “easier to throw than walk over” soon emerged. I was assigned as a “catcher” along one of the walls and soon whirling zafus filled the air, vying with the best of all frisbee tournaments. They were quickly shaped into reasonably neat mounds adjacent to rising columns of stacked zabutons. Suddenly realization dawned! I had taken refuge in a tradition that delighted in orderly chaos.
Orderly Chaos was written by Frank Ryan