Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Friday, March 11, 2016

Brother ChiSing: 1969-2016

Well, we knew this was coming for months, but somehow nobody was even remotely prepared when Brother ChiSing died on Monday.  Brother ChiSing was my Buddhist monk friend and spiritual director of the Dallas Meditation Center, sometimes called the Awakening Heart Center. He founded the Center back in 2007 with a few friends and some rented rooms at Unity Church of Dallas, and by the time he died we had had our own building and there were something like 200 of us, not counting the walk-ins and general hangers-on.  Besides running the Center, Brother ChiSing recorded music, appeared at local interfaith events, hosted meditation workshops for beginners and just in general did as much as one human being can possibly do to get non-Buddhists interested in meditation.

He's been eulogized plenty on Facebook and there's not one but two memorial services coming up.  We weren't good friends and I wasn't part of the "inner circle" so I feel a little weird about adding my own "what-I-remember-about-ChiSing" thing.  But, I'm gonna do it anyway.  I was one of the few people showing up at the Unity Church back in 2007; not one of the original founders but I was there pretty early on.  The main thing I liked about ChiSing was his endless enthusiasm, which was sort of like a puppy being placed on the floor next to a bunch of new toys. When giving talks he often interrupted himself because such-and-such had just come to mind and he just couldn't wait until later to tell anybody, leading to a lot of "Where was I?  Oh yes..." moments.  And sometimes we never did get back to the original point, whatever it was, but the trip was always fascinating no matter where we ended up.

Brother ChiSing started out as a fairly liberal evangelical Christian pastor of the Baptist stripe.  He ended up getting kicked out of that role when some of the higher-ups "discovered" he was gay, though I can't imagine he was ever very quiet about it so they must have been pretty obtuse.  How he ended up becoming a Buddhist monk was going to be the subject of a book called "From Baptist to Buddhist and Beyond," and I don't know how far into it he was when he got sick.  I hope he left his notes with somebody because I'd love to see it finished.  Anyway, ChiSing met Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in France sometime in the early 2000s and that meeting put him on the Buddhist path.  I've never met the man myself, but I understand Thich Nhat Hanh does that to people.

Anyway, I remember plenty of Sunday evenings at the Unity Church meditating and listening to ChiSing's talks (some of which can be found here, and really, you should give one of them a listen if you have a few minutes.  They really give you a better idea of what the man was like).  ChiSing also hosted daylong meditation retreats about once a month, and I looked forward to those like it was Christmas.  Even when my work schedule changed and I couldn't get to the Sunday night services anymore, I tried never to miss those daylong retreats because they were awesome.  Once, when I'd first been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was still on a manic tear, I thought about not going to the retreat because I wasn't sure I could sit still.  But I went anyway, and kind of bounded into the church like Tigger from the Pooh stories. Bound bound bound bound bound up to the circle of meditation cushions and then dropped down onto one of them.  I looked around at everybody and said, "HI!!"  I could see Brother ChiSing trying really hard not to roll his eyes.  But anyway, he was incredibly patient with me, and I actually did calm down enough to meditate that day.

Another time, I went to a half-day meditation thing, to which I was the only one who showed.  There had been some kind of mix-up with the schedule, apparently.  But ChiSing and I sat and meditated together, and then we went over to the Thai temple to drop off some food for the monks (which is good luck) and just to have a look around.  It's a beautiful temple with a huge golden Buddha inside, and on the wallpaper inside are numerous Buddhist stories, including one picture of a man drowning in delusion while looking at Facebook!  ChiSing pointed this out to me like a kid would show off a tree house he and some friends had built in the forest.  It was a fascinating afternoon.  

In 2012 Brother ChiSing went to Thailand and entered a monastery for a couple of months.  He came back with hair that was about 1/4" long.  Sort of the "punk rock" look.  It was SO not him.  He put up with a lot of teasing about his hair, some of which came from me.  I think I dubbed him "ChiSing Rotten" (after John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten) but that might have been Cornell.

Anyway.  In 2014 ChiSing announced he had been to the doctor, and found out that he had nasopharyngeal cancer.  Chemotherapy was probably never an option due to where the tumor was located but he'd decided against it anyway.  He did have some radiation and some herbal therapies but mainly, he tried to do as much as he could in the time he had left.  During this time, the Dallas Meditation Center got kicked out of our building so it could be torn down to make luxury condos.  This was probably one of the biggest tragedies of his life, but he was focused on getting the rest of us through it instead.  We are now renting space at the CSL Dallas, which is fine, but having a permanent building would really be nice.  Our funding kind of comes and goes with the seasons, though, and landlords have this habit of wanting to be paid every month. To say nothing of employees, maintenance people, etc.

Through most of 2014 and up through this year, ChiSing split his time between his family in Houston and his Dallas family of friends.  He had just decided to enter hospice last week.  He died in his sleep Monday morning.  Not many people have the opportunity to make the kind of impact ChiSing did.  He was lucky.  He will be greatly missed.

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