An Unexpected Close Encounter Turns Into Dharma Lesson

As I was at the supermarket purchasing flowers for our Sunday Zoom service, I thought that I would pick up a few additional items that I needed as well. Although it was only 1 p.m. in the afternoon, it was a little crowded since Thanksgiving was just around the corner. In addition to the daily customers, others were there purchasing their necessities for their Thanksgiving dinners as well.


This was not my regular supermarket, so I found myself unacquainted with the layout of the store and needing to look up at each sign hanging above the isles to see where things were kept. I was also in somewhat of a hurry to get back to the office since I had an online study group to prepare for.


I found myself walking fast in an attempt to pass a few people, but managed to get wedged between a few shoppers with their shopping carts. Due to the pandemic, I am usually more aware of the space between others and myself, but in my haste, I was now only an arm’s length away from other shoppers.


I was almost shoulder to shoulder with two shoppers, and under a young woman’s breath, I heard her say to her friend, “If this girl doesn’t back up, I’m gonna hit her.”


She actually used more explicit language, which caused me to have a few thoughts in the midst of my defensive feelings. Her friend quietly said to her, “Calm down, calm down.” Luckily, I found the aisle I needed and walked away quickly.


To be quite honest, I began thinking negative thoughts about her. I also questioned if she felt a certain way toward me since I am Asian American. I wondered what I would have done if she chose to respond violently toward me. I felt angry and embarrassed. I was so flustered that I found it difficult to remember what I still needed to shop for and actually forgot a few things on my list.


On the way back to the temple, I could not stop thinking about this encounter. To make myself feel better, I also said to myself, “Who does she think she is?!” I also tried to convince myself that I was not in the wrong and I always maintain a safe distance between others and myself.


Once I got back to the temple I resumed my reading of Rev. Dr. Kenneth Tanaka’s book, “Jewels: An Introduction to American Buddhism for Youth, Scouts, and the Young at Heart,” which I am using for my small study group with two young adults. Our assigned reading was “Chapter 5: Four Noble Truths,” and as I read Rev. Dr. Tanaka’s explanation of the Four Noble Truths, my stomach sank.


My thoughts and feelings about that young woman began to shift. I had a small smile and a lightness came over my body. At that moment, I realized the suffering that I was causing by blaming that young woman for her behavior. I became aware of how my actions affected her and I was able to see her comment from her point of view.


This worldwide pandemic has caused suffering for millions of people and their families. The threat of the virus and the suffering it causes an individual is definitely scary. Although I do wish that she could have expressed herself in a less confrontational manner and I do not condone violence toward others, I began to think that maybe she responded out of fear and frustration. I will never be sure. However, what I can be certain of are my actions and how they cause suffering for not only myself, but others as well.


Rev. Dr. Tanaka’s explanation of the Four Noble Truths prompted me to see my own greed, anger and ignorance in this situation. My affliction of the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance were apparent in my own actions, as I was in a rush and wanted to purchase my items quickly. I was quick to respond with my own anger and hurtful thoughts about that young woman. I was also ignorant about my lack of social distancing and the discomfort this placed on others.


That young woman became my Dharma teacher that day.


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