Friday, February 12, 2010

How did I get into Buddhism?

A friend asked me: How did I get into Buddhism?

There are some factors that contribute to that fatal day in the summer of 2002, when I first took a meditation class with Vajramati. I mark that day as the beginning of more actively becoming a Buddhist through meditation and spiritual fellowship.

Growing up, my mother and father were atheist secular humanists. I think that’s still what they are. One set of grandparents were Baptist, the other Episcopal. So I spent my summers going to church and learning the Christian doctrines. I love my grandparents. They were trying to inculcate me in their tradition. But I never cottoned to Christianity. Never felt it. As soon I can could think I was justifying why I didn’t believe in God. In part it was what drew me to philosophy. How can you say that god does not exist? Now let me be clear. I have friends who do embrace a theistic spirituality and I see the beauty it has for them. I'm not saying people shouldn't embrace the spirituality they find works for them. I'm not saying it can't be beautiful. I'm just saying it did not work for me, and that that was important because I would later find something that did work for me.

In college I read some Zen stuff. I think I understand where they are coming from now, I enjoy the perfection of wisdom, like the idea of transcending dualism. My mother was born in Japan during the occupation; my great grandmother was called “Ba”, short for obasan. But it seemed like an exotic confusing aesthetic, and I didn’t have the context to really understand it. I had no spiritual community or meditative experience.

I watched my stepfather meditate twice a day since about the age of 8, and I’d always wanted to try it. So at the tender age of 35, the age the Buddha became enlightened, I tried a meditation class. Every step I have taken has confirmed me it is the right path. After a month, I stayed after the meditation class for the free Dharma discussion. I happened to be unemployed at the time, and I read a lot of Sangharakshita. In my opinion he has the best exposition of Buddhism. I’d say The Essential Sangharakshita is an instant world spiritual classic, virtually a Mahayana sutra.

I’d also note that I had read some more Buddhism along the way, especially Charlotte “Joko” Beck. I think that’s when I realized the psychological benefits of meditation without actually doing it. I collected little Hotei statues every time I went to a Chinatown. Why was I drawn to these statues? Why was that the thing I collected? Not sure. Now I know Hotei is a folk hero. Now maybe it’s a superficial act, but I feel it’s a kind of response to an icon of Buddhism. There are all kinds of responses. There are many paths and many techniques and many practices that are useful on the path to enlightenment. I feel opening up to that has really helped me.

So I take meditation class in 2002. All spiritual traditions can use meditation, but Buddhism takes it further. The insights can be parroted, but you gain insight only when you grok these meditative insights. You can learn the mindfulness of breathing and be of any denomination.

So the more and more I delve into it, the deeper I’m drawn toward it. I’m a fairly incredulous person. What I like about the practical spiritual teachings that lead to enlightenment is that it’s not a philosophy, nothing to quibble about. Does it work for you? Then it’s Dharma. The idealism of the Yogacara is a kind of way of being that leads to enlightenment, not something to refute philosophically. What you’re experiencing matters. You test it in your own experience. Your experience is part of the equation. Yogacara makes sense with meditative experience.

Reading Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Belief, I realized there was a path in Buddhism that doesn’t force me to believe in reincarnation. All Buddhist traditions have reincarnation, and I don’t want to dismiss it because it’s foreign. But the point is, it’s a pragmatic course of action, and belief isn’t really what is important. I had found a spirituality that didn’t require me to swallow something I didn’t believe in. I’m not motivated by getting a good rebirth. If that works for someone, well, more power to them.

I also liked Batchelor's confrontation, even if sometimes you want some consolation in spirituality.

I got into meditation. I did a practice day where we meditated a few times consecutively, and then I went on a weeklong retreat at Aryaloka. That blew my mind. I’m still trying to process what happened. I highly recommend going on retreat.

So I became a mitra (friend) and then asked for ordination, and gone on the most awesome retreats, with the most awesome people. Every step I take makes me more confident this is the path for me. This blog is about my journey towards ordination, and hopefully beyond.

I suppose I’ve gloss over the revelations of the spiritual friendship, Bodhisattva Ideal, the use of archetypal Buddhas, mantra. Up till I took the meditation class, all was preparation to make me receptive to the Dharma, spiritual friendship. Sangharakshita’s exposition of the Dharma has clarified so many things for me; he’s a spiritual genius. So many friends along the way have added to my understanding, all the generous teachers who have come. I’ve learned so much listening to Dharma talks from Free Buddist Audio. I happen to be listening to Subhuti's Rambles Aroudn the Yogachara. I have an old post that lists my favorites (at the time, but still holds up pretty true).

That’s an answer to how I became a Buddhist, how I found Buddhism and a little about what it does for me.


Cori said...

Thank you for sharing this.

angel said...
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