Opening to Practice

Paige Arnoldson

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About ten years ago, a man gave me a copy of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. He leaned into my face and in a low, conspiratorial voice, said, “This book will change your life.” With the stroke of that well-intentioned invitation to enter the dharma stream, every bone in my body braced itself against all things Buddhist. I was just finishing college; the man was a teacher’s assistant for a course on American history, and during that semester I fell in love with Thomas Jefferson. My idealism about the United States was evidenced in everything I said and wrote. So the way I interpreted this man’s gift was not just on a personal level. It wasn’t that I thought that Jefferson would save my life, but I had absorbed a worldview, a system of thinking, and a sense of myself within history that provided a comforting continuum and even, as I prepared to leave the university, a compass point that might lend direction to my uncertain future. For this teacher, who was writing his own dissertation on The Federalist Papers, to throw me a lifeline book written by a religious teacher from Tibet felt like a betrayal. I left my final paper in his office and skipped my last two classes . . .

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