I HAVE been interested in Buddhism since my first steps in Asia in 1972. Growing up in a family neutral to religion in Chicago, I didn't really have a base per se. I would go to the church of whatever girl I was dating (i.e. pogi points) and my last 2.5 years of high school, I did attend a school run by Catholic brothers. But again no real connection.
Coming to Asia ,I was influenced by Buddhist practices initially in my six-year stint in the Army and later as a corporate guy moving around Asia in the relocations field.
No judgment. Reduce the ego. Compassion. Gender-neutral attitudes... these all seemed worthy objectives found within the practice.
I was the leading kind of dog eat dog existence in the corporate world where these values are not particularly, well "valued."
It was in 1997 on a trip to Tibet that I decided to formally take my vows... what we call "taking refuge." So the last 23 years of my life (from 43 to now) has been kind of a reset. I have met many great teachers, I have seen breathtaking temples and I have helped build and volunteered at centers around Asia and Europe. But actually, most of "the work" of the practice happens right within ourselves. Because if you had to sum up the essence of Buddhism it would be "the study of self" of one's own mind.
I am truly "a work in progress." Even after all these years, I have days meditation comes easily and others where it is very elusive. I have days I can be a real jerk and days where I am really operating closer to a bodhisattvabodhisatva level. That is why we call it "a practice" as we always need to strive.
You will never hear a true Buddhist talk about "this is the way." Because we basically wish happiness on all fellow beings and that covers a full spectrum of religions, national flags, colors, shapes and sizes. If you're happy I'm happy.
We also follow a couple of important concepts. One is "ahimsa," which means to do no harm or have no negative effect in our words, speech or action. Another is "Tonglen" which basically means to put oneself in another's shoes.
So let's apply those two principles of Buddhism to two current situations and see how they play out. In my home country, the "Black Lives Matter" movement is a good example. I am a child of the '50s in the United States who grew up in Chicago in the '60s. Racial tension and inequality were all around me. So I don't need to reject BLM and stand on a street corner saying "all lives matter."
I know that as a fact through my study of Buddhism (that all sentient beings matter) so I don't need to promote it. Further, with less ego, I don't see how focusing on BLM detracts from all lives matter in any form. We are just simply addressing a real issue... that racism still exists... and sadly is actually making a comeback these days in the United States. So my Buddhist practice gives me guidance on how to deal with real concern in a humane matter.
Next how about the current situation with Covid-19. Well I know I can't control the external conditions of the virus such as its impact, the testing, the environment around me, the government's reaction and more. But I know how I perceive and deal with the crisis in my mind will determine its impact on me.
So as a Buddhist, I can follow best common-sense recommendations, I can volunteer where my talents and resources allow me, I can recite medicine Buddha practice for the healing of the world and most importantly I can remember impermanence.
The plans and the dreams we had on January 1 have needed to shift for most of us drastically. I was a Buddhist before Covid and now it gives me a really precious opportunity to apply the teachings of these last 23 years in a scary time... and see what type of Buddhist I really am.
So remember Ahimsa and Tonglen? Ahimsa tells me to have compassion for those to those suffering and Tonglen tells me to imagine it is me going through that suffering. It reduces my fear of the virus and helps me to have compassion for all those affected.
My column will from time to time come back to my practice and I hope that is ok with the readers. In the meantime, let's all take care of ourselves but remember that within ourselves is the whole universe. Not a bad outlook if you think about it.
I welcome feedback or comment to firstname.lastname@example.org or here in the comments section of SunStar Baguio if you wish publicly.