Strung Up Buddhists

blessing stringWhat’s that on your wrist?

You get used to hearing this question frequently if, like me, you sport a string bracelet. Tiger Woods has one too, so I’ve heard. I often give a non-response—I wear it because I’m Buddhist—a phrase which is far too often unsuccessful at repelling the dreaded follow-up question: What does it mean?

The string I wear is tied on my wrist by monks, usually following a brief ceremony where blessings and protections are chanted. This simple string has ancient roots that span nations, cultures and religions. But you won’t learn any of that here. I’m just going to tell you what the string means to me.

The string I wear on my wrist is a symbol of my connection to the Buddhist community. After all, I wear it because I knelt before a monk who tied it on my wrist. It’s a reminder when I cook food, when I wash my hands, when I type at my computer. With the string, I feel both a closeness and a responsibility to the refuges I willingly take in Lord Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. If Buddhism is implicitly embedded in my identity, then this string helps make it explicit, both to myself and to others.

This string is also an identifier. I am Buddhist, it says. Yes, I could be Hindu or Jain, or just someone who likes to wear a simple string bracelet, but ask me and I’ll tell you. I wear it because I’m Buddhist. Every once in a while, this little symbolic thread will bring you a surprise.

It was the graduate student who taught my very first class, my very first year of college, who noticed the string I wore and asked me about it: Are you Buddhist? Turns out, he was too. And so we set out to start up a small Buddhist meditation group on a campus. If we so randomly found each other, we reasoned, imagine how many other Buddhists could be out there too!

Through the collective dedication of many other Buddhist students, professors and university staff, we built up a thriving Buddhist space on campus that continues to this day. This group brought me a broader perspective on the Buddhist community than I’d ever known before. And it was through this group that my friend met the woman who he would eventually marry.

It’s amazing the sorts of things this string can do.

7 Replies to “Strung Up Buddhists”

  1. I find this blog entry amusing, because I recently had a student (who was Hindu) ask about the string on my wrist. My thread, like yours, was also tied on as a blessing by a mendicant. Though this practice of tying string on the wrist is performed in both Hindu and Buddhist contexts, each community seems to be unaware that the practice exists in the other’s community. Of course, the meaning may be different for each of us based on our own interpretation or our religion’s interpretation, but this student’s question served as a reminder of what it means to me. I would be interested to learn if our shared experience of having thread tied, in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, conveys a similar sense of belonging and duty, or whether our individual experiences are too divergent to have such a shared understanding. Thoughts?

  2. i want to become a dharm shikshak, but i don’t know about the institution which operate the exam ‘BHOOSHAN’ which is eligibility for dharm shikshak. please tell me about syllabus, institutes, duration of bhoshan pariksha in details.

  3. Do you know if it’s the same concept with the bead bracelets? I used to wear one but I’ve stopped because it’s sort of become a trendy, fashion accessory that often gets worn out of Buddhist intentions.

  4. Hi I’m 12 years old , and i live in a christian dominated country , I’ve only been studying Buddhism and i feel a closeness to the religion already , my parents and brother are atheist and have no problem with me becoming a buddhist infact they support my descision . Do you have any advice on how i could show my buddhism or how i could react to people who make ignorant or rude comments about buddhism ? Also i’ll be going into grade 8 next year at a new school so i’ll be making new friends how can i make them understand Buddhism . Thanks for any help 🙂

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