DRBU Commencement: A Speech from Michael "Mojo" Tchudi
On May 24, 2019, Dharma Realm Buddhist University held its commencement ceremony at Sudhana Center in Ukiah, CA. This video is a commencement speech from MA 2019 Graduate, Michael "Mojo" Tchudi.
Mojo: So, as my friends know, I can say barely anything in five minutes! Having a time constraint like this is a fun challenge in trying to be concise. But as we know that we are all just hanging out for countless, infinite niyutas of kotis of kalpas of eons in the Lotus Sutra. And to quote Doug Powers: “Y’all know there’s nothing else really going on, right? We’re just hanging out in empty space.” Since there’s nothing to do and there’s no place to go, no place to be, we come together for this ceremony. “Splendid! Splendid!”
I’m struck that this ceremony, our graduation ceremony, is called the “commencement”; that we are not celebrating the conclusion of something, but the beginning of something. And as students coming into Dharma Realm, “entering the Dharma Realm,” I don’t think – maybe this was not true for everybody but it was true for me – I didn’t realize the degree to which I was agreeing to be subjected to a culture that I really didn’t understand. And we all show up with our personalities and our identities and our backstory, and we all throw those together, and we cooperate, we clash in the shared inquiry model, where all of our voices are ideally considered equal and all our ideas are welcome. And that creates opportunities for creative tension and creative conflict, and so, that’s an exciting process, because that’s unpredictable; we’re not on a…not on a charted trajectory. We are figuring out each day that we enter into these sacred texts, that we enter into these philosophical teachings and ideas, that we enter into the cauldron of the classroom; we don’t know what we are really getting into. And the degree to which we think we know what we are getting into, we’re probably wrong to that degree as well.
So I feel that the process, the culture, the work that we do at DRBU isn’t really happening at the level of identity; at the level of personality, I mean. We’re not here to necessarily get along or not get along – that’s beside the point. We’re not here to reestablish a personality construct and to inflate our…inflate our egoic identity. We’re here to enter into that process of looking at what that identity is, and asking what it means to be a person; asking what it means to be a lifeform, an organism, a “sentient being” to use the Buddhist lingo. And that is a challenging question, when we really look at it. And when we try to even pin down what exactly the question is…the question is constantly elusive. So we use the structure of the texts; we use the wisdom and support of people who have been doing this longer – our elders, senior practitioners, our teachers, our professors and our families…our communities back home, people who don’t know anything about Buddhism or care about Buddhist texts – that’s all part of the shared inquiry process, that’s all part of the model of exploring these questions, identifying what are the deeper questions in life. What are we really trying to do with our lives.
And when we come to Dharma Realm, when we “enter the Dharma Realm,” we are agreeing to be subjected to a culture in which you can’t avoid those questions. You can’t avoid looking at those issues. You can’t avoid looking at yourself. And exploring parts of yourself that you maybe don’t want to look at! That you don’t want to see…and being with others in that process as well. And facing…being face-to-face with others as they face their own internal uncertainty. And we open up that uncertainty; we don’t shy away from it! We go to that place of uncertainty and we hang out there for, in the case of the Master’s program, two years.
So, the process, what we’re really doing, isn’t really working on the rational, analytical level, necessarily. We are being trained to be the next generation of textual interpreters and commentators. We are very much in this process of this 2,500 year-old tradition emerging into a new culture in the West and helping to shape the dialogue and discussion around whatever “American Buddhism” is going to turn out to be – it’s too soon to say, we don’t really know yet, it hasn’t been established. And we’re being trained to be right in the middle of that process. And that’s exciting, but that’s not really what we’re doing here. What we’re doing is excavating our soul, and penetrating the questions about what matters in life. So that’s why this ceremony is not a graduation ceremony – “We’re done, finished with what we’re doing here!” – we’ve really just established the ground for the work that we’re going to do as we move back out into the world; and as we engage with our communities and engage with other people. We’ve learned, I hope, how to listen more closely. And how to read more closely; and that includes sacred texts, but it also includes the newspaper, it includes understanding how media affects us. We’re doing close reading of everything that we do. We’re listening very closely with everything, with all of our interactions and everything that we read. So I’m excited because I’ve been in this culture, in this space that nurtures that process of exploration, that process of questioning. But I’m excited because I am going to step out into the world as a different person than the one I stepped in as. And that’s my close reading of “Dharma Realm Buddhist University Commencement” – that’s to me what it says; just be calling it a “commencement” forces me to ask, “What does that really mean?” And what it means is that we are stepping out into the world transformed! And we’re stepping out into the world prepared to listen more closely and to engage more fully, and to help others with their process of questioning and their process of self-exploration.
And that’s what makes this university extraordinary; that’s what makes this culture and this community extraordinary. So that’s something I came to DRBU to participate in, but I really didn’t understand to what degree that was true. So I don’t have a prepared speech; I’m processing this live with all of you in real-time. So, I thank you for witnessing my process! Thank you and goodnight!