Happy for the first time ever

- Richard St. Clair (stclair@mit.edu)

I am a newcomer to Buddhism, but I now feel like my life is forever and wondrously changed. I have been struggling for 40 years with various traumas, clinical depression, and a history of being abused. Some of the abuse was spiritual abuse (that is, anti-spiritual abuse). Some of the abuse was sexual abuse. Some of it was people just being mean and vicious to me, for no good reason.

At first, I was very hesitant about Buddhism. I figured it was 'just another one of those hypnotic, mind-controlling eastern cults'. However, Buddhism has proven to be a way of life, not a way of controlling my life. In fact, it has proven to *be* life for me.

I have always wanted to be 'a good person', but didn't know quite what to do. I felt I always had to be fighting a worthy cause, achieving heroic objectives, working until I dropped from exhaustion, mortifying my flesh and mind in painful ways. As a result of these ideas and motivations, I developed many resentments. "I was abused by this person in this way: therefore, I must be angry at them in order to heal from their abuses." This was my motto for years. But it didn't work. I found it necessary to be on heavy antidepressant medication in order to just get through the day. It wasn't going anywhere.

My therapist suggested maybe looking at some of Pema Chodron's writings, maybe those of the Dalai Lama, maybe of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I reluctantly started to investigate. I found Buddhist web sites and a Buddhist discussion group on the internet. Things began to click inside me.

Buddhism came upon me like a flash. I discovered, really found it, and 'got' it quickly. There are many approaches to the Dhamma, but there is only one Dhamma. I have enjoyed seeing all the different ways people over the millennia and people all over the internet have applied Buddhism. It is an action, not a belief system. It is what we do in life, not what we think about life. It is a strategy, not a matter of faith and ritual. And the meditation (I use a kind of vipassana meditation) is very calming and centering...it opens my eyes to what is there and what isn't there, in me and outside me.

As a result, I have come to a sense of deep and warm peace in my life. The medications have fallen by the way. The motivations are no longer meaningful and my resentments over them have fallen away. I am practicing lovingkindness in a natural way, and its blessings reflect back upon me. I am really happy for the first time ever.

I was taught from my early Christian upbringing that I was spiritually flawed from creation because my ancestors, Adam and Eve made a mistake and broke a regulation thousands of years ago. I never understood why I should have to bear the karma for their mistake. Buddhism tells me that there is a perfect, awakened being inside all of us. We do not need to strive and struggle under the feeling of being rotten at the core, at having 'original sin.' We just need to learn how to get in touch with the Buddha within us. The only thing that matters for me now is following the path of the Buddha and seeking that purity of heart, mind, and consciousness which the Buddha showed us how to attain.

I am a Buddhist. I am surprised that I would ever call myself that, but now I see that I can't call myself anything else. The Buddha gave of his life so generously and totally. He did not foist his views on people but freely offered them. The fact that so many millions, perhaps billions of people have benefited from them is a tribute and testimony to the voluntary and humane message he taught and to its supreme efficacy.

I am filled with happiness. The struggles of life are impermanent. The things of life which beckon me to invest my desires in them are impermanent. I am impermanent in this life. But the Dhamma is forever. If I live by the Dhamma, I have every confidence that my life will come to resolution and into a redemption far beyond any religious utopia ever conceived in words.

Peace in the Dhamma,
Rick St. Clair

Return to Encounters