While taking an 'elective' course on Eastern philosophy as an undergraduate, I found tears rolling down my face when we reached the section on "Buddhism".
Our gifted instructor gave us a direct sense of the Essence of Buddhism, versus simply giving us an 'academic' overview. I remember trying to express this deep sense of connection to a college friend, and she said that Buddhism sounded a bit 'simplistic'. If anything, this comment intrigued me, and affirmed my experience.
Two years later, I decided to complete an internship in Sri Lanka with the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a Buddhist, Gandhian, grass roots development organization. I felt drawn either to India or to Sri Lanka, and chose the latter due to its large Buddhist population.
Ironically, my placement was in a small fishing village, in a predominantly Hindu, Tamil portion of the country. I had the tremendous gift of witnessing the richness of Hinduism, Buddhism, as as well as the practices of devout Muslims in the area. I often think of the book Siddhartha, which was required reading in my college course, in which even following the path of a great, wise, learned man does not persuade him to look outside himself for his true Nautre.
It seemed that my months in Sri Lanka were spent looking, admittedly much of the time, outside of myself. But this did not last. The experience was intense, the wind persistent, the faces of the children with whom I volunteered poignant and unabashedly present. "I" suffered, and reflected, and tried to understand the inequities present here in the world, and I felt ashamed of my western, narrow upbringing. In some ways I do not understand the enormity of what I experienced in those nine months, even now, 14 years later.
I do know that the scariest walk in the garden, the one which calls to me, yearns for me, just as "I" yearn for it, is the walk to the place of mindfulness of meditation, quiet, and observation, clarity and compassion. No visa or passport required. Only willingness to sit, to breathe, and to feel this aliveness, underneath the Bodhi Tree.
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