Dr. Dade, born and raised in Philadelphia, navigated a childhood marked by her mother’s conversion to Jehovah’s Witnesses, introducing her to a non-traditional upbringing. Despite her family’s diverse religious backgrounds, Lanell found solace in academia, eventually becoming a psychology professor.
Her academic journey led her to a predominantly white university, where she faced racism, prompting a search for fellowship and spiritual connection. Lanell explored various religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hebrew Israelites, Nation of Islam, Hare Krishna, traditional African religions, and more. Dissatisfied, she earned her master’s degree, returned to Howard University for her Ph.D., and continued her religious exploration.
Teaching psychology and African philosophy, Lanell realized the interconnectedness between the two. Struggling with personal fulfillment, she sought deeper meaning and eventually found herself drawn to Buddhist practices. A chance encounter with monks and a visit to the Juan Temple sparked a profound spiritual experience, leading her to embrace Juan Buddhism.
Through practicing Buddhism, Lanell not only found personal peace but also integrated practical aspects into her teachings. She redefined the concept of “Man know thyself” as “Soul knowledge,” recognizing the importance of experiential understanding. This journey transformed her approach to both life and education, allowing her to share a more profound and practical wisdom with her students.
Lennell reflects on her experience with Juan Buddhism, drawing parallels between the commitment to study in Jehovah’s Witnesses and the importance of practice in Buddhism. In the racially charged society she navigates, she observes the diversity within Buddhist settings and emphasizes the need for practice to address issues of racism, sexism, and more. As a black woman facing societal stereotypes, Lennell shares how Buddhism encourages understanding motives behind actions and fostering a wholesome approach to challenges.
She discusses the beauty of Buddhist doctrines in addressing societal issues but emphasizes that true change requires dedicated practice. She shares personal experiences of both positive and challenging interactions within Buddhist circles, highlighting the importance of embracing opportunities for growth.
The teachings of key figures in Juan Buddhism, such as the current prime dharma master and Reverend You, have had a profound impact on Lennell. These teachings emphasize the interconnectedness of all religions and encourage looking beyond differences to find commonalities. Lennell appreciates the lessons learned from various individuals, even those she has encountered in difficult situations, viewing them as opportunities for personal and spiritual development. Ultimately, she underscores the transformative power of Buddhism in shaping her understanding of self, relationships, and the interconnected nature of existence.
Dr Dade is a university professor.
Lanell, drawn to the symbolic significance of the Dharmakaya in Won Buddhism, resonates deeply with the circular representation of life. Influenced by her cultural upbringing and studies in African philosophy, Lanell finds connection in the circular philosophy, transcending cultural boundaries.
In her exploration of various religions, Lanell critically examines the cultural trappings present in each, from Islam’s insistence on praying in Arabic to the racial dynamics within Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even in Won Buddhism, she observes elements like clothing, food, and naming practices that reflect Korean culture.
The issue of taking on a Korean name becomes a significant struggle for Lanell, who values the cultural and familial significance of her birth name. Wrestling with the decision, she undergoes a process of self-reflection, growth, and acceptance. Eventually, Lanell acknowledges the interconnectedness and interdependence of all cultures, understanding that adopting a Korean name doesn’t diminish her African identity but expands her sense of self.
Despite recognizing cultural differences, Lanell embraces the notion that every culture is part of her, allowing her to navigate various spaces while maintaining her unique identity. Her discernment lies in understanding cultural practices within their contexts and appreciating the diversity that enriches her understanding of the world. In essence, Lanell wears the tapestry of cultural experiences with acceptance and a broadened perspective.
Lanell, who now goes by the name Jin Sun, shares her transformative journey through Won Buddhism, emphasizing the profound connection between inner exploration and outward service. Rooted in her cultural upbringing and studies in African philosophy and psychology, Jin Sun reflects on the importance of genuine service and the challenge of getting out of one’s own way.
She acknowledges that her personality hindered her happiness and hindered her interactions with others. However, through Buddhist practice, Jin Sun learned to pause, examine her thoughts, and navigate the world with greater mindfulness. She highlights the significance of the spirit behind actions, emphasizing that it’s not just about the external appearance or the quantity of deeds but the intention and spirit with which they are performed.
Exploring the concept of names, Jin Sun shares that she was given the name “One Jin Sun,” symbolizing a bridge or boat bringing people together. This name reflects her role as a connector and bridge builder in various aspects of her life, including as a professor, friend, and family member.
Jin Sun believes in the transformative power of self-change, echoing the Buddhist principle that changing oneself leads to changing the world. She emphasizes the importance of understanding and commanding the functioning of the mind, a key aspect of Buddhist practice. Through concentration on the Dharma of Buddha and understanding interconnectedness, she sees a shift in how individuals perceive and treat others, reinforcing the idea that ethical behavior starts with self-awareness and self-compassion.
Lanell emphasizes the influence of a Western European filter on the understanding of Buddhism in the American landscape. She scrutinizes the reinterpretation and selectivity that occurs as Buddhism integrates into American culture. Concerned about the individualistic interpretation of Buddhism in the U.S., Lanell appreciates the focus on Dharmakaya Buddha in Won Buddhism, contrasting it with the concentration on the image of Buddha that often leads to divisive arguments.
She notes the importance of being mindful as Buddhism undergoes translation and reinterpretation, questioning the origins of the term “Buddhism” and the potential distortion of its essence by Western interpretations. Lanell underscores the misunderstanding of Buddhism as individualistic, advocating for a deeper understanding that going inward is a means to transcend the mind rather than a self-serving endeavor.
In her critique, Lanell calls for caution to prevent Buddhism from deviating and losing its true essence, akin to other religions that have strayed from their core principles. Her insights highlight the need for awareness and discernment as Buddhism continues to evolve in different cultural contexts.
Lanell reflects on her dual roles as a teacher and her future plans, considering retirement after 26 years at Lincoln. With a Ph.D. in psychology and a master’s degree in Buddhism, she contemplates teaching at the Wine Institute and engaging in lay teaching. Inspired by personal connections, she expresses interest in working with the prison population, drawing on her brother’s incarceration and the unique opportunities for mental freedom within physical confinement. Additionally, Lanell is intrigued by hospice care, specifically assisting family members in coping with transitions.
Not strictly categorizing Won Buddhism as a religion or philosophy, Lanell sees it primarily as a way of life, emphasizing its applicability beyond academic or religious boundaries. With a passion for sharing its teachings with those who may be suffering, she envisions incorporating these principles into her interactions with others, offering guidance based on her personal experiences and the transformative impact of mindfulness on mental well-being.
In 2008-2009, Lanell was introduced to Won Buddhism, initially engaging intellectually and even giving Dharma talks. Despite practicing at the temple, she struggled to establish a consistent home practice. A significant turning point came during a period of intense stress and grief when her cousin passed away. Lanell, feeling on the verge of losing her mental center, turned to chanting, particularly Naamua Me Tabo, as a form of solace and distraction. This practice became a nightly routine, effectively soothing her mind.
Recognizing the fragility of the mind, especially during a stressful period at work, Lanell sought a more proactive approach. She decided to integrate chanting with seated meditation, using it as both a distraction and a preventative measure against negative thoughts. This marked the beginning of a structured daily practice, which included chanting, seated meditation, and mindfulness techniques. Over time, Lanell observed positive changes in her ability to let go of anger and maintain a more wholesome mindset. Encouraged by these results, she began sharing these practices with her students, incorporating mindfulness into her classes.
The death of Lanell’s mother prompted further introspection, inspiring her to deepen her study of the Dharma. This led her to inquire about English-language teachings in Korea. With the support of her professor, she arranged a year-long trip to Korea, embracing various Buddhist practices and incorporating them into her daily routine. Despite occasional variations in her practices, Lanell has maintained a consistent routine of reading sacred texts, journaling, chanting, and seated meditation. Reflecting on these changes, she recognizes the positive impact on her overall well-being, allowing her to find peace most nights.
Lennell, an eternal student with a background in clinical psychology, embraced the opportunity to attend the Won Buddhism Institute. Despite her comfort in academic settings, she initially resisted the practical aspects of the program, particularly the emphasis on meditation and mindfulness in daily life. The teachings urged her to engage in meditative practices, journaling, and mindfulness to cultivate the spirit, emphasizing the importance of sitting on the cushion as a transformative process.
Over time, Lennell recognized the value of these practices in improving the quality of her interactions and overall life. Wanting to live without regrets and desiring more harmonious relationships, she committed to incorporating Buddhist practices into her daily routine. As a professor, Lennell introduced these practices to her students, encouraging them to apply mindfulness to both outer and inner aspects of their lives. She devised assignments, such as expressing gratitude and reflecting on daily actions, to instill practical application alongside theoretical learning in her classes. Lennell aimed to make the practical aspect just as crucial as theoretical understanding, fostering a holistic approach to education.
© 2021 Jack Huynh | Orange Photography
Annual update on progress of project.