Over President’s Day weekend, I attended the family retreat in San Luis Obispo hosted by West Covina for the first time. It is a charming little getaway in the quiet hills, and we awoke to the sound of the temple bell.

Reverend Ken Yamada was the guest speaker and he covered the meaning of Namu Amida Butsu and non-dualism. I’m a forgetful person so it’s helpful to be reminded that it means “I take refuge in Amida Buddha,” the infinite wisdom that awakens the mind, the Light. Someone from West Covina suggested to think of a glass of water on our heads that dumps out when we bow our heads—that represents our ignorance pouring out and the glass becomes empty to receive the teachings. This imagery helps me mentally link the feeling have when I gassho and bow—it feels like surrender.

Rev. Ken lectured that Buddhism is a teaching about non-dualism, which is another way to think of oneness. There is no being and non-being, no birth and death. He reminded us that in everyday life, we often judge our lives with duality: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, success vs. failure. He said we live in a bubble limited by our ignorance and bombu nature, which is not the whole Truth of the universe—which is oneness, interconnectedness, nirvana.

I can relate to non-dualism in my everyday life, and it reminds me to be open-minded and withhold judgment. My experience with queer people and allies is that we often have to explain that the world is not so binary. (FYI the label “queer” has been largely reclaimed as a term of empowerment by groups such as Queer Nation during the early 1990s). A lot of people’s bubbles have categories of female vs. male, woman vs. man, straight vs. gay, etc. Those are socially constructed identity boxes for sex, gender and sexual orientation that are not representative of everyone’s experiences. I think the truth is that sex, gender and sexuality are all fluid and a spectrum, and the possibilities are endless. I know and love many people who consider themselves gender non-binary, transgender and queer (there are more terms not mentioned here), and chances are you know them too whether you realize it or not. You know me, right? I’m a little queer and sometimes gender-expression non-conforming. Confused? The only boxes are in our heads.

 Buddhist non-dualistic thinking can help us better understand non-binary identities, and with our growing understanding we can offer compassion to the best of our bombu abilities.

May we aspire to deeply sense Amida Buddha’s “great compassion”—that we are all in this together.