Working with Taiwanese Nuns in New York (a story)
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
In my early 20’s, I worked with Taiwanese Buddhist nuns. First when they were building a Museum of World Religions in Taiwan. And later, when a small group was sent to help “bring peace to New York City.”
In the photo above, we are standing in the meditation room of the monastery in front of relics of the Buddha… that would multiply miraculously. We would visit in the mornings to see which reliquaries suddenly had multiple relics in them!
I didn’t really have any idea how to help bring peace to NYC. So I organized inter-religious art shows. And we’d go around on the subway together visiting religious leaders and artists. I was so new to formal settings that (in retrospect) I made a lot of mistakes but they were always incredibly gracious. I remember ending my work emails with “xoxo”. One of the nuns asked me what it meant and I told her it meant “hugs and kisses” and she nodded approvingly and said, “This is a very good way to end an email. Very good for bringing peace.”
Another time, I organized a night of art and performance in their Manhattan monastery. I hadn’t thought to watch all the performance pieces beforehand, and the Native American performance group I’d brought in ended up having topless ladies who pierced each other’s breasts with long needles while singing. It was less a traditional performance than a wild city hybrid performance about women’s empowerment. When the women’s tops came off, one of the nuns literally hit the wall and slid down to the floor, she was so in shock. I was sure I would lose my job. At the end of the evening, one of the nuns took me (very anxiously) to meet the Taiwanese business man who had paid for the event. And - to my great relief - he shook my hand and said, “Very good! Very New York!”
I’m having a little reverie about what a gift it was to be 25, living in New York, and getting to go to a monastery everyday where we took off our shoes and padded around amidst multiplying relics.
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