Deep Fried Southern Dharma.

"If you can't meditate while you cook, eat and shit, you can't meditate."

I was born and raised in Louisiana. I guess you could say that I am a southerner at heart. I have traveled quite a bit, both in and out of the country, but I have always felt at home here in the south. I use to think this was because the southern way of life was, in some way, superior—a laid back, slow paced lifestyle. However, in recent years I have come to understand the draw that I have towards my home as being more intelligent than that. We all belong where we are. I belong here. It is not an accident or accidents aren't stupid.

Like I said, I have tried to leave, but I always end up coming back. One attempt to leave was for an unspecified amount of time to India. I desperately wanted to find someone who could really point out the meaning of the practice. I had played with words for long enough, and now I wanted to taste the meaning. I'd been studying and practicing Buddhism for years. However, my knowledge was limited to more or less an intellectual point of view. The practices were more mechanical than inspired. I moved through them regularly, but it wasn't any thing more than a dehydrated formal process. There was no juice. I went to India in search of someone who could show me where the juice was.

The journey was eventful, to say the least! You can read more about here. Very early on, I had the good fortune to meet a man, who 12 years earlier left the monastery in search of that same juice. He told me that he had become disillusioned with the academic brand of spirituality he had been introduced to in his Tibetan monastery. So, he took off into his own loneliness. He became a hermit. His name was Jetsun Thubpten.

Jetsun had the most practical approach to spirituality of any one I had ever met. However, he was equally profound. He use to say, "If you can't meditate while you cook, eat and shit, you can't meditate." I spent four months learning from Jetsun. One day, I was in a cave working with the instructions he gave me, or least trying. I was terribly distracted by this nagging fear that I would be eaten by a bear or snow leopard. Soon after the sun went down, I heard a twig snap...then another. I was certain that there was a bear, not leopard, because leopards are far too graceful to make the mistake of announcing themselves by stepping on a twig. There was a great big bear just outside my cave waiting to eat my face off!

I sat huddled up with this stray dog that followed me to the cave, paralyzed by my fear. It was now about 3 o'clock in the morning. I had been physically tense and obsessed with what had to be the most patient bear to ever be born for about 9 hours. Then, in a flash I saw that the bear was nothing more than a thought. In the midst of my fear, I saw that the only bear that was killing me was in my head. The tension fell away, and I released my death grip on that stray dog and fell asleep. I found the juice.

By no means, did I think that I was enlightened, but there was no mistaking it: I had glimpsed a world beyond what I thought about things, and my journey was about tasting this world in every aspect of my life—cooking, eating and shitting! Initially, I told Jetsun that I wanted to stay in India, but he insisted that I return to the states. He told me time after time again, "There are plenty of gurus in India—too many, in fact. You have to return to your home and share your experience with those around you."

I have spent the last six years of my life doing just that—sharing the practice of meditation in Shreveport, LA. We have a vital community. Rather than trying to make a bunch of southerners into Buddhists, we use Buddhist principles and practices to explore our own lives. The Refuge Meditation Group has served as a space that invites people to explore their own humanity, and in turn, offer themselves as a gift to the community. Over the years our group has grown, but we have now hit our ceiling.

We began in a college classroom that a local university offered to us for free. Then, we moved to a small liberal arts college across town. Finally, we started to rent space at a yoga studio. Now, we have out grown the yoga studio. Just this weekend, we decided to buy our own space.

Not only have we continued to grow, like a toddler, out of every space we have inhabited, but we have also yearned to become what we know we are, a community center. The practice of meditation has enabled the individuals in our group to touch that space deep within themselves. We want a space that invites others to participate in a similar journey. It is about the internal journey. That is where people find fulfillment. The yearning for India was really a yearning for life. We want a space that reminds people that the real adventure is within. A space, smack in the middle of Shreveport, LA—right in the heart of the south—that reminds people of the incredible depth and creativity that is an intrinsic feature of their life, and invites them to take a break from the busy-ness of their daily affairs and explore the vastness of their inner-space. 

I can think of no goal more necessary in our modern world. We are capable of meeting the monthly operating costs, but first need to raise enough money for a down payment. So, consider this an open letter. I am writing to you, asking for you to help us raise the money required to open this center. If you are willing to contribute in any way—donations, ideas, time, etc—it will be greatly appreciated. Any sized donation is a huge help. Every idea will be received with an open and grateful mind. If you would like to make a donation of any amount $0.50—$5,000, please click the donate button below. If you have any ideas, please contribute them to the discussion in the comment box below. 

Ben Riggs

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