2018-08-01 / Spotlight


with Shih-In Ma
Robyn Passante

If you’re plugged into the efforts around town to make this a more inclusive and socially just community, then you’ve probably crossed paths with Shih-In Ma.

The 60-year-old State College native is active in Community & Campus in Unity, Community Diversity Group and Interfaith Initiative Centre County, all efforts to help others understand and celebrate the diversity we have here.

“I grew up in State College, which was very white. In my high school class there were 600 folks and I counted up at one point maybe 10 people of color, (about) 1 percent. Certainly I was the object of racism and racial slurs, starting from elementary school. So I know what it’s like to be on the outside. I know how painful it is to be marginalized,” she says. “So I guess I’m trying to get people to meet each other and try and get more inclusion across the board, for race, for religion, for sexual orientation or gender identity, for poverty.”

Shih-In Ma left her corporate career at IBM in the mid-’90s after 15 years there and started on a path of meditation and inner reflection. “I went on a retreat and had a massive insight, and I couldn’t go back. I didn’t want the corporate job,” she says, opting instead to go back to school to study transpersonal psychology. “I finally realized that no matter what else happened in life, I had to live with myself. So the inner work became my priority in my life.”

Raised in Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Shih-In Ma’s spiritual studies and practices, which have included Sufism, Buddhism and shamanic energy healing, have transformed her concept of God.

“I don’t reject Christ; I’ve just expanded my view. He’s not the only one,” she says. “There are all different traditions, but the pure parts of them all point in the same direction — toward love, toward compassion, toward service, toward ‘you are that.’”

Shih-In Ma teaches meditation to women at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy and the Centre County Correctional Facility, and she invites people into her own personal meditation space regularly for interfaith group meditation sessions.

“On one level meditation is to be with what is and not take thoughts, emotions, sensations personally. Then there is no judgment. Then we get out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing.”

“I go by the full name ‘Shih-In Ma’ — ‘Ma’ is my spiritual name and highest aspiration, given to me by my Tibetan sangha in California, and confirmed by (my guru) Amma twice. In the Eastern traditions, when someone is realized into what’s conceptualized as the feminine face of the Divine — unconditional love, compassion and service for alI — they become ‘Ma’, ‘Mother of the Universe.’ To me, Christ was ‘Ma.’ I made ‘Ma’ my legal last name, but think of ‘Shih-In Ma’ as one word.”

“I don’t believe there is a creator God outside of the truth of what we are. Creator and creation are one. Everything (and I’m not just talking about people) is part of one great dance of the Divine, the Divine dancing with itself. God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, so nothing can be not-God.

“This is the bridge with quantum physics: energy as wave form, all potentiality, interacts with consciousness and takes on particle form. Then we get a table, a body, whatever. So on the absolute level, there is this one consciousness, this space of loving awareness in which everything arises and passes just as it is.”

“This is my guru, Amma, ‘The Hugging Saint.’ I met her in California in 1995 and found that she was the most amazing being in a body that I’d found. What she was doing (spiritually) was way beyond what I believed from my education. And I eventually spent four years at her ashram in India.”

“On a relative level, I’ve spent time in every continent except Antarctica. And what I’ve seen is that people are in essence the same everywhere. A genuine good heart is there even though it looks different, dresses different, talks different, that sort of thing. So there’s that piece of it.

“But the other piece is as we get less attached to our identity, then the heart naturally expands to include more and more, and so then when people are excluded or people are suffering or people are rejected, then that’s me. It’s not some ‘other.’”

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