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  • Introduction:Remarks in Memory of David W. Chappell
  • Donald K. Swearer

On December 8, 1996, David Chappell delivered the Bodhi Day lecture, titled "Bodhisattva in the Twenty-first Century," at the Hompa Hongwanji Temple in central Oahu. The lecture wasn't autobiographical—David was much too unassuming to have thought of himself in these terms—but those of us who loved David and who had the privilege of working with him over many years have no such qualms. David's dedication, sincerity of spirit, generosity, and compassion were truly bodhisattva-like.

In his lecture David contrasts the superficial, electronic Internet connectedness of our lives today with the common ground discovered at Awakening based on what David called "heart connection," an insight into the shared nature of all sentient beings that leads to empathy, compassion, and kindness. In contrast to enlightened heart connectedness, Internet interaction lacks the capacity of an intimacy with the varied phenomena of life at each moment. "The Internet," he observes, "allows us to ease our solitude by getting access to things that are compatible with our own interests. However, Buddhism considers that the achievement of enlightenment involves being able to be compatible and have empathy with things that may seem foreign or offensive or a threat to us by seeing them as connected and similar to ourselves. This involves not just new information, or a new perspective on things, but a new understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others at a level that touches what is beyond manipulation or even rational expression."

I've quoted rather extensively from David's 1996 Bodhi Day talk because it reveals several dimensions of his bodhisattva-like nature: his sense of connectedness with those around him and a heart-to-heart intimacy with a wide network of friends, acquaintances, and even those at a greater personal distance. David's simpatico nature was manifested in many ways—from his body language to his dedication to peacemaking.

On a visit to the United States during the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh was speaking to a large audience gathered in the auditorium of a large Midwestern church. Following the talk a middle-aged man jumped to his feet, shook his clenched [End Page 3] fist in anger, and shouted in a loud voice, "Well, Mr. Hanh, if you're so concerned about your fellow Vietnamese dying in the rice paddies, why are you here?! Why aren't you there with them?!" Thây stood silently for what seemed like minutes and then replied in calm, quiet tones, "I'm here because some of the roots of the war are here in the United States. When one waters a plant, it's insufficient to water the leaves. One has to water the roots." He then turned and walked slowly through the side door of the auditorium. Jim Forest, Thây's Catholic Peace Fellowship friend who was in the audience, sensed something was wrong and quickly followed him outside. There he found his friend bent over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Slowly Thây stood erect and, breathing normally, explained that in order not to respond in anger but with understanding and compassion he had entered into deep breathing; however, the state he had achieved had been too deep and left him short of breath. Jim Forest later observed in a memoir that for the first time in his life he realized the profound connection between breathing and one's actions.

David's inner nature was expressed in an act as simple as breathing: his trademark bodhisattva-like smile. At the 1980 Oahu conference that launched the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, convened by David and his colleague Bob Bobilin, there were more than just one or two frustrating logistical snafus. Whatever the crisis, however, David never lost his cool. He would smile and in his typically unhurried manner offer a helping hand or a word of calm advice, seemingly in the belief that good karma, compassionate Buddha nature, or God's grace would help rectify the situation.

David stories abound—humorous, poignant, moving. Those who worked with him as colleagues in religious studies, the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies...


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