Compassion on Skid Row

On March 19, 2013, Spiritual Leadership class instructor Rev. Dr. Danny Fisher and sixteen other students had a field trip to Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. On 9:00 A.M., I met with the group in Pershing Square Garden. I was very excited because I never walked in downtown Los Angeles before. I have been living in Los Angeles for seven months after I moved from West Palm Beach, Florida to continue a master degree at the University of the West.  Before this I spent many years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand.

During the trip to Skid Row, the teaching of the Buddha arose in my mind. The teaching is about a method to practice with each other the four sublime states of mind or we call Brahmavihāra. The Brahmavihāra is loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity:

  1. Loving-kindness (Mettā): I wish that all of the people will be well. I hope that all human beings without any exception will be happy also.
  2. Compassion (Karuṇā): I wish that a person’s found to be free from suffering and will be diminish from suffering.
  3. Sympathetic joy (Mudita): I sympathetic joy in the accomplishments and pleasure on the well-being of person oneself or each others.
  4. Equanimity (Upekkhā): Learning to be neutral and confidence between love and hate, praise and blame, achieve and failure, good and bad emotions. It is not a wrong course in behavior between friend, enemy or stranger, but regards every human being as equal.

So the Brahmavihāra is the Buddha’s way to share with each other and to be in harmony. I saw people in skid row all around the street. I wish all of them to be well and to be free from suffering.

We walked through Skid Row together. We had Ray and Jason as security behind the group. During the walk, I saw many people; some were sleeping on the sidewalk, standing and talking to each other and many others were sitting in wheelchairs. It was nice to hear that some of them greeted us, too. “Oh Monks! You must be monks, how are you?” They spoke with happily sound to me and my monk friends. Between the various areas, Professor Fisher stopped and explained to us what is going on here at Skid Row.

The term “skid row” originated in the following way:  a 1931 dictionary of American Tramp and Underworld Slang gives the earliest evidence for skid row, “the district where workers congregate when in town or away from their job.” From that it is easy to derive the modern meaning of “a squalid district inhabited chiefly by derelicts and vagrants” in the words of “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.”

Why do people live in Skid Row? I think it is because of alcohol problems, drug problems and maybe mental illness. People end up on Skid Row because they do not have family to help them pull themselves back up the right way. Therefore, they go along and not take care of themselves because of alcohol problems, drug or maybe mental illness. They are living and sleeping on the street. The people who have been there so long and they don’t want to move away. They also get used to their living style. Luckily, there are many Missions in Skid Row. Therefore, when the weather becomes cold and wet, they can go inside to a mission. The mission is run by Private Christian groups by donations from individuals and the government. The missions act as shelters by providing help to the homeless. When we walked nearby the San Julian Park, the Professor said “This Park is in the center of Skid Row, but the gate is closed to during parts of the day to cut down on the drug problem.”

The drugs and alcohol destroy their mind, thinking and the ability to work. So they can not find a job, work or start a business. And also, a lot of people live there because they may have had mental illness when were younger. Their family should be taking care of them.  If the children have a mental illness and nobody takes care of them they end up walking on the street.  This is not a simple problem, and there are a lot of reason why people end up on Skid Row. But I believe the main reasons are drug abuse, alcohol abuse and mental illness. This is what contributes the most to people  living on the street in  Skid Row.

After we walked around to visit Skid Row, we did a ten minute meditation before we gave reflection about what our thinking and feelings were when walking in Skid Row.    During the meditation, there are many things arising in my monkey mind. For instance; “What happens to them? Why doesn’t someone help them? How is it possible to have a Skid Row in the richest country in the world? ” Actually, I liked this trip, because this trip teaches me many things. And when I seen the people on Skid Row, I have grown my compassion for them in my mind. As a Buddhist monk, I will try to help as much as I can. Let us give our compassion, loving-kindness to our friends who are here on Skid Row. I would like to thank  Professor Rev. Danny Fisher and all of my classmates for this trip. I learned a great deal.

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10 thoughts on “Compassion on Skid Row

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great! I like it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    good job

  3. p says:

    good job

  4. Ven.wattana says:

    This is not the article. but this is a essay. Your English is very good. Sathu

  5. SmartDC says:

    Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. This is another side of the world that i never knew before especially in usa where people think it is a civilized place. Life is exactly not easy. However Buddha’s teachings make it easy like you shared on the essay. Be mindful a day to keep dukkha a way. Remember that we are all human beings who just share suffering and happiness on the earth. So, spare our thought to others. Be kind and generous to everybody. We are all friends. Buddha bless you. Thank you.

  6. Nok says:

    What a good article!! It helped me see the place in a new perspective.

  7. Lisa says:

    Skid Row was always the place with a bad stigma, exacerbated by movies and tv shows. Even though the grief is very real, as a individual you don’t exactly understand the situation of skid row unless you were there and experienced the emotional turmoil as you had. By looking at a place like skid row through the buddha’s eyes helps you understand that Skid row is more than just a place you remember on TV. Thank you for writing about your experience.

  8. I am happy that that trip to Skid Row taught you a lot. It is one thing to hear about Skid Row or see Skid Row from a secondary source, but experiencing it first hand, I’m sure, gives rise to wisdom. Continue to send Metta and compassion out towards our friends there. “When things are going well, be mindful of adversity. When prosperous, be mindful of poverty…”- Master Chin Kung, Heart of a Buddha.

  9. […] the program, from that of a Chinese-American woman initially frightened of homeless men, to a Thai monk from Florida reminded of the brahmaviharas, to a white American man reflecting on collective and […]

  10. Wow! you and your groups make a special trip to Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

    Your trip to Skid row remind me to the Buddha’s story that Our Buddha who made

    four trips outside the palace and then he saw the four things that changed his

    life. On the first three trips, he saw the sickness, old age and death. He asked

    himself, “How can I enjoy a life of pleasure when there is so much suffering in

    the world?” and On his fourth trip, he saw a wandering monk who had given up

    everything he owned to seek an end to suffering. “I shall be like him.” he

    thought. After that, he decided to make a great renuciation, that was the

    beginning of our Buddha’s story.

    As you wrote that “Why do people live in Skid Row? you think it is because of

    alcohol problems, drug problems and maybe mental illness. People end up on Skid

    Row because they do not have family to help them pull themselves back up the

    right way. Therefore, they go along and not take care of themselves because of

    alcohol problems, drug or maybe mental illness. They are living and sleeping on

    the street. The people who have been there so long and they don’t want to move

    away. They also get used to their living style.”, But for my idea I used to say

    that they are Homeless because of the law of cause and effect is known as karma.

    Nothing ever happens to us unless we deserves it. We receive exactly what we

    earn, whether it is good or bad. We are the way we are now due to the things we

    have done in the past. Our thoughts and actions determine the kind of life we can

    have. If we do good things, in the future good things will happen to us. If we do

    bad things, in the future bad things will happen to us. Every moment we create

    new karma by what we say, do, and think. If we understand this, we do not need to

    fear karma. It becomes our friend. It teaches us to create a bright future. And I

    don’t mean the people in the are of Skid Row they aren’t good people even though

    they’re homeless people. I do mean their lives become like this because their own

    karma and because of they live their lives like that, some time we can call the

    cycle of karma that lead their life to become a homeless. That’s why we have to

    do only good thing in life then we will get the good results.

    This is according to the Buddha’s proverb from the Samyuttanikaya Sagathavagga in

    which he said:

    Yadisam vapate bijam Tadisam labhate phalam,

    Kalyanakari kalyanam Papakari ca papakam

    As the seed, so the fruit. Whoever does good, receives good, Whoever does bad,

    receives bad

    That’s good for Buddhist monk to practice the four Divine Abidings(brahma-vihara), the “greatest of all worldly merit, we can not help all of beings to free from suffering becuse all living beings have actions (Karma) as their own.

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