You don’t get much more grassroots than this guy…
“Don’t worry, man,” Kiley Jon Clark, a.k.a. Sonom Gyatso, tells me as we approach the West Commerce bridge. “When you come here, [the homeless] treat you with both respect and distrust. They don’t know if you’re a cop, or immigration, or a weirdo. Like any community, there’s violence in their peer group, because there are different ranks. But very rarely there’s any violence outside their peer group.”
Clark is the head of the Homeless Meditation Practitioners Street Dharma project, an independent ministry blessed by his guru, Lama Tulku Karma Rinpoche, founder of the Yogi Tsoru Dechen Rinpoche Foundation. Since January, Clark has come to the bridge twice a week to meditate on the sidewalk, sitting a few feet away from the entrance to the SAMMinistries Shelter, where he used to work part-time last fall.
As we walk by, several people greet him in a friendly manner.
“What’s up, man?” Clark asks one of them. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Ready for some meditation?”
“Yeah … I’ll stop by in a little bit.”
He does, as do dozens who, at different times, approach Clark after he spreads out a Tibetan cloth on the sidewalk at the dirtiest, most populated spot. He places a little Buddha, incense, books, and sets of big and small 108 mala beads strung together. As the smell of incense fills the block, he hits on a Tibetan chime, and begins his prayers…
Just one dude, a cloth and some beads but, but to be honest, even those meager pieces aren’t necessary. Sometimes you just need a street side vendor of the Dharma and compassion to set your mind straight. No large temple or monastery. You sling some compassion on a passerby and then go back to what you are doing. Doesn’t need to be fancy. I recall a tea-seller in Kyoto that preached in much the same fashion.
Kiley Jon Clark is not a monk, and he doesn’t pretend to be one. When he and Diane chant the Tibetan prayers together they have trouble properly pronouncing the words, and then decide to say them in English. But Buddhism and all bona-fide Eastern spirituality, unlike Western philosophy, is not about knowledge but transformation. That very unpretentiousness and humanity in Clark, unlike the so-called utmost purity of countless religious leaders who eventually fall down bringing the spiritual life of their followers with them is, perhaps, what makes him click with the homeless. And it is what might help him realize his other dream: To bring other Buddhist groups together and spread the HMP gospel, as he has done individually in San Antonio.
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