The following is a post by Kristin who is new to Buddhism, sharing her personal journey of discovery on the Buddhist path.
My name is Kristin Laing and I am a brand new Buddhist. At least I think am – I was told that to convert to Buddhism (take refuge) I pray my intention to Buddha (Guru Rinpoche) and I will be on the path. I did that. Oh, and that I need to say the Seven Line Prayer 10,000 times – to start. I’m working on that. Oh, and that if I am looking for the formula, instruction manual, or someone to kneel before to have my shoulders touched by a sword, I need to let all that go. That is just not how Buddhism works.
I have spent most of my life on the outside of organized religion. I was baptized and went to church every Sunday with my family, but there were times when I rejected any notion of religion or spirituality with every fiber of my brain. But that never felt quite right either. It was the influence of my earthy-crunchy/new age sister (I say this with the utmost respect for my sister and all who follow a different path – my sister laughs when I refer to her this way) who kept me from straying very far from a value system of kindness to self and others.
A big spiritual shift occurred when I read The Celestine Prophecy. I was entranced by this book, swept up by the notion that we are all connected, that we give and receive energy from the people and world and universe around us. It supported my inner-compass to be kind to everyone around me, regardless of what it could do for me; to give to others from a selfless place and THAT was the energy that fed me. And that is where my spirituality has been hanging out until now.
A guy I had been dating is a regular at Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) and invited me to join him there one day – I could not wait to visit! He didn’t tell me much, so I was surprised and excited to learn that the temple’s leader is not just a woman, but also an American – from BROOKLYN (I’m a New Yorker myself)! When we finally made it to the temple, while at first a little overwhelmed by how different it was than any religious center I had ever been to, I never felt uncomfortable or out of place. Even my usual shyness around people I don’t know was relieved. I was noticed, but left to my own devices to explore and experience for myself. I was so grateful for being given the time to absorb my surroundings and ask questions when I was finally ready to ask them.
It was not long before I realized that I had come home, and when that happened, I got super impatient to be a Buddhist – NOW. I needed to know EVERYTHING there was to know – NOWWWW.
I frustrated myself looking for quick answers to becoming a ‘full-fledged’ Buddhist. The KPC website is rife with information, but I couldn’t make sense of it. There is a whole new lexicon of terms to absorb – Bodhicitta (even now I have to look it up because I get it confused with Bodhisattva, Samsara, Dakini, Tsog. There are words that I have heard many times in my life, but didn’t know their meaning – Dharma, Buddha, Guru, Lama. There is a whole new belief system that goes so very much deeper than that which I have been following on my own for so long, a very different, deeply layered explanation of life and death and everything in between to learn about and decide if it fits (it does). Tibetan is spoken during most blessings, prayers, and practices and can be overwhelming for the ears. Almost every prayer is first written in Tibetan calligraphy, with a phonetic translation so that the non-speaker can attempt to sound out the words, and is then followed by English, but it is not simply read and immediately understood. It’s like reading Shakespeare for the first time. There are many layers of meaning to absorb.
There is SO MUCH to wrap my brain around – but I want to be a Buddhist NOW!
It turns out I was a typical Westerner, approaching Buddhism with an obsessive need to collect achievements and information in order to be considered a Buddhist, rather than opening my heart and mind to it. I didn’t understand the point of saying the Seven Line Prayer 10,000 times. I didn’t understand what it meant. Nuns and monks would only answer that it means different things depending on where you are in your ‘practice’. I didn’t know what ‘practice’ referred to. I Googled it, but still didn’t understand why this prayer was going to help me get on the path. I got frustrated because I didn’t feel like anyone was helping me.
I went into the bookstore and asked for an ‘Idiot’s guide to Buddhism’. The folks in the store spent no less than an hour working with me to figure out which book would be the most helpful, but there were so many to choose from – no one book that could show me what I need to do to become a Buddhist and I was impatient – reading a whole book to get the answers I sought would take too long!
The frustration continued – if this was meant for me, why wasn’t I getting it? Why was I still so very much on the outside? I got so frustrated I let it go. I begrudgingly began tripping over the Tibetan version of the Seven Line Prayer. I did theater in school; memorizing seven lines should be a breeze – WRONG! The words had no meaning, and they didn’t rhyme, and the sounds of the words were unlike any language I have learned to date. Then I got flustered with the idea of saying it 10,000 times. Struggle, struggle, squirm, squirm. And then one day, about a month ago, I got it.
I was halfway through a mala of the Seven Line Prayer when I realized that I was saying the Tibetan words as though I had been saying them all my life. My mind was open, my heart was open, an image of Guru Rinpoche even popped up in my head while I was saying it. I realized that in the act of saying it, I was meditating, slowing down my obsessive need to become a Buddhist. I had stopped pushing it, stopped forcing it. I started reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche – only little bits and pieces at a time, but it too forced me to slow down and open up, and it started to fall into place. I listened to live webcast Dharma teachings and got to the temple. I was a fool to think that because I’ve been accidentally practicing Buddhist values I would instantly know everything there is to know about Buddhism. I need to ease up on myself and stop acting like I’m behind the eight ball because in three months’ time I haven’t mastered Buddhism. Where’s the fun in knowing everything all at once anyway – I LOVE surprises!
And you know the best part? I went back to the KPC website looking for the calendar, and decided to troll the site again. There, I found MANY answers to questions I couldn’t find there three months ago. WHERE DID ALL THIS INFORMATION COME FROM? There is no way this stuff was here before! The moment I let go and slowed down, my eyes and mind were able to see what I sought. It was THEN that I realized that I need to SLOOOOW DOOOOOWN and let Buddhism reveal itself to me as it sees fit. The harder I try, the more elusive it is. Slow down, open my heart, open my mind, and check my ego at the door.
And so it begins…