What’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.