What led you to Buddhism?

I would like to hear from community members about what it was that led you to become interested in and/or begin practicing Buddhism.

I know one man who, after a lifetime of being an "overachiever"—getting straight A's throughout his school years and graduating from an Ivy League university at the top of his class—had a full psychological and existential breakdown, feeling that all the knowledge and skill he had gained was useless because, at a very fundamental level, he didn't even know who or what he was. When he began to study dharma and practice meditation he saw that, "there are some things you just can't learn in school."

I know a woman who once believed that she had nothing to offer anyone but her beauty. She became a successful model but in the process began a long struggle with drug addiction. In the throes of depression and thoughts of suicide, she sought guidance from a Buddhist teacher and, after receiving much instruction, saw for the first time that her life didn't have to be about herself. She said, "Waking up, for the first time, to the reality that I am able to care for and help others was what saved my life."

I know a guy who ate LSD and "saw infinity." Then, when he saw the Buddhist symbol known as the "knot of eternity" he thought, they must know. He sought out a Tibetan Buddhist Sangha to "learn the secrets" and while he didn't gain the mind-blowing metaphysical knowledge that he expected, he did begin practicing meditation and striving to cultivate wisdom and compassion. Regarding his quest for infinity, that last I heard him say about this was, "My discursive mind is infinite enough."

I've read letters from people who practice Buddhism in prison, and have always found it both inspiring and heart-breaking to hear from people who are on the path in such circumstances. I recall reading one letter from a woman that was the saddest story I have ever heard. After a lifetime of unspeakable suffering and tragedy, she had been sentenced just after seeing her boyfriend killed. Yet, this letter ended along the lines of "What else am I going to do while I'm here? I've got to deal with this stuff one way or another." After reading everything this woman had lived through, that she was turning to meditation and requesting reading materials to support her practice was astounding to me.  While reading this month's Tricycle Book Club selection The Heart of the Revolution by teacher and author Noah Levine, I was struck my Noah's recollection of practicing while locked up:

While in jail for my third felony arrest at a young age, at my father's suggestion I began to meditate. That practice gave me the determination and strength to stop taking drugs and drinking. I turned my attention inward and began the process of healing—a process that continues to this day.

Also, in contrast to the people I have mentioned so far, I think it is important to mention that not everybody arrives at the Buddhist path because of some difficult or extraordinary circumstance. It seems that for some, it just happens, no existential dilemma and tragedy needed. I am reminded of this passage by the late great American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck from her interview, "Life's Not a Problem":

I had a fine life. I was divorced—my husband was mentally ill—but I had a nice man in my life. My kids were okay. I had a good job. And I used to wake up and say, “Is this all there is?”

Then I met Maezumi Roshi, who was a monk at the time. He was giving a talk in the Unitarian Church downtown. I was out for the evening with a friend, a woman, a sort of hard-boiled business type, and we decided to hear his talk. And as we went in, he bowed to each person and looked right at us. It was absolutely direct contact. When we sat down, my friend said to me, “What was that?” He wasn’t doing anything special—except, for once, somebody was paying attention.

I wanted whatever he had.

Please feel free to share your own stories! Is there anyone above that you most identify with? What was it for you? As we work with the present and try to build a better future, there is much that can be learned from examining our past.

best,
Monty McKeever
Tricycle

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williamcmorrow74's picture

My interest with buddhism first started with Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen. I could totally relate to this guy and his love for godzilla and music. Then there is Steve Hagen's Buddhism Isn't What You Think from there I discovered Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs and finally Philip Kapleua's The Three Pillars of Zen. Being an atheist at heart and rejecting religion and embracing science, it was nice to see buddhism from a different perspective, a modern one.

That is why I consider myself a secular buddhist. Applying The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to being the best human being I can be without a belief of any kind. It is just easier to think of Siddhartha Gautama as a man and nothing more than a man, who tested the beliefs and ideas of his time until he sat under the bodhi tree and discovered The Four Noble Truths and his duty to share this understanding with his fellow man. Buddhism for me is a philosophy of a secular, humanist non-religion. I am also very thankful for Rev. Fugon Cindy Beach and everyone I have met at the Savannah Zen Center in downtown Savannah, GA.

I am a soldier stationed at Hunter Army Air Field. Returning home from my last deployment I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in my neck and chest, for six months I took chemotherapy only to discover that the treatments only cleared up some of the cancer. Now I have to take radiation for a month from what I am told to treat the cancer that remains. Meditaion is difficult at times I just don't have the energy. When I don't meditate that is all I think about in the back of my mind.

myers_lloyd's picture

jerryjeff, more power and strength to you. My mom had a terribly hard life, never of her own making, from babyhood on.The cards are not stacked equally from the get-go.
I hope your meditation group helps you find your way. I've been doing prison work with a yoga-meditation team for a few years now and I really admire those guys who come, stick it out ( Zen sittings, twenty minutes plus, really still.) More people come to us in the prison than come to our weekly Sunday sittings...
I was an English teacher and if I had gotten something like this from one of my kids, I would have been completely thrilled. Human, honest, deep. Thanks so much, jerryjeff.

jerryjeff3's picture

I am not a good speller or a computer wiz but i will try to tell you a little about my story i grew up in chicago i was in a street gang till i was 20 then it was drugs and homeless.ihad so much bad luck motorcycle crash fell 12 feet at work twice at forty years old i met my wife she is not a buddist but she is positive she says they call it the present becuse every day is a gift i did not beleve her i seen doctors for anger proulbems at 51 years old i bacame disabled my dog died it was then i broke down and cried for the first time in a long time i had a dream one night i heard a voice say follow the path of the righous man very loud i found out they call budda the righous one peace in every step book got me started tomorrow iam going to group mediation first time but not the last thanks

coryxg's picture

I actually came upon Buddhism by sort of an accident. Someone on another site mentioned that they are Buddhist and in my life, curiosity has driven me to gain knowledge about things I don't yet know. This being one of those times. I started reading about the basics of Buddhism and it all made sense to me. Granted, there is still so much that I don't know yet. I've been reading about it for only a few days, but its something both my girlfriend and I are both interested in pursuing. So if anyone has any helpful information on getting started please feel free to share.

empress_dundi's picture

My family wasn't really religious but we did attend a non- sectarian Christian church sometimes. When I was very young I used to think a lot. I'd ask myself questions and had theories that I rarely shared with others because I didn't think I could. I had the idea in my head that I had lived other lives human as well as animal but I'd never heard of rebirth or reincarnation. When I was 15 I went to the Walden books store in the mall a lot because the library in town was very limited. I found these books about Buddhism and since I couldn't afford to buy a book I'd sit there for hours just reading from different books. When I learned what rebirth was I was astounded because I didn't think anyone else thought about that kind of thing. I was able to understand a lot of what I was reading and wanted to practice Buddhism ever since. For 15 years I have been trying to practice and searching for a teacher or sangha I could go to for guidance. Everywhere I live is far from centers or meditation groups. I am new to Tricycle, and this is the closest I've ever come to a Buddhist community.

marlajs's picture

I was always interested in Asian cultures, possibly from being raised around stacks of National Geographic Magazines so that my own natural interest was fueled. Later, my non-Catholic parents sent me to a Catholic girls' school that was very liberal, and one year's religion class was "World Religions" taught by a young, hip nun who talked about Buddhism with no disapproval. Still later, in Ann Arbor, I studied Chinese and had a lecturer in one course speak at length on Ch'an and koan practice, and I found it interesting though a bit weird. Fast forward 20 years, I kept being interested, and it kept calling to me, but only when I got so worn down at work, and realized how little degrees, titles, the appearance of success, etc. means to personal happiness and quality of life did I start meditating and attending a sangha. One of the 2-3 best things that has ever happened to me!

Scottsenn08's picture

This dialogue is wonderful!!

Martin_robert_davis's picture

A spiritual experience that I had while a teenager sent me on a life-long journey of "seeking" a more PERMANENT state of being that I had glimpsed and knew was real. I discovered Buddhism early in my search - but at that time I wasn't ready for it - I missed it. So I kept searching for the deep sense of presence that I had seen briefly, but so clearly.

Somewhere along the way, my search for this continuos experience of complete happiness turned into a search for the "right" religion. Knowing "truth" became more important than the experience of a happy life.

Just recently I became aware that my true search is for happiness that I can share with others - the truth will make itself known. In Buddhism I found that experience of happiness that changes me and my attitude to others. I no longer seek to "own" the truth, but rather to practice for my happiness and for the happiness of others. Religion may explain why we should be happy - but Buddhism is the practice that reveals how.

liam.cbell's picture

I was in my first semester back at college after dropping out due to alcohol and major depression issues, and there was this kid in one of my classes who told us about how he discovered Buddhism. He mentioned the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I started reading, and looking up videos, and talking to other Buddhists. Six years later, I'm still having problems with alcohol and depression, but something has changed, whether it's my outlook on life, or the way I think about the things I feel, and I think that change has been for the better.

jacquipanek's picture

A life long connection to spiritual teachings without any sense of how to put that in to practice. Being in love with the church teachings I was raised in but unable to find a true way to uncover and manifest them. Then a two decade long, almost fatal addiction to alcohol ensued and much of what I wanted to develop and mature along my spiritual path became wrapped up in the cocoon of addiction. Then a friend suggested I go with her to a meditation group because she knew I had a long standing(from early childhood) love of the area comprised of the Himalayan region, Tibet and Mongolia. So I went to a then unknown to me Shambhala based meditation group and immediately felt a connection with the practice. I continued to develop and expand my practice, and then had the good fortune to attend teachings by Chokyi Nyima which deepened my love and commitment to the teachings of Buddha. The profound way these teachings can be of benefit to all continually inspire me to help others, and my self, uncover and manifest the basic goodness we all inherently have.

Danzen's picture

I was raised christian and have traveled down that road most of my life. I came upon a Buddhist that talked about the Dharma and Buddha and felt a understanding a little better about how life and my mind worked. So my life took the ramp in my road of life to Buddhism. Meditation came and calmed down a mind that traveled at full speed at all times. I have fallen in love with something that has calmed my life and helps me understand the way my suffering works and how to deal with it. I always have questons but find answers in the Dharma. I thank the Buddha for his wisdom that has changed so many lives and made it so it not a bad thing to ask about the way things work. I hope this make sense, good karma makes a good life.Metta to everyone.

craigpoff's picture

This is my first posting anywhere at Tricycle so I will be tentative. In fact, I was wondering if there was not a message board, etc., for those "just seeking" rather than those who have made a more formal commitment to Buddhism, where questions can be raised and experience shared. If so, I would love to be directed to that site!

The message of Buddhism (I was mainstream Christian, Anglican to be exact) had crossed my life several times before, but I just didn't "hear" it. In fact, my Wife had been 'seeking' somewhat earlier and asked me my opinion of the the Faith and the Dalai Lama and, not knowing better, replied that Buddhism was not a path to salvation but, on the other hand, was basically harmless (as opposed to evil, such as Fundamentalist Islam) and that the Dalai Lama was a respected and venerated seeker of peace and was a positive presence for the world. She read up a little on it and I continued on at Church.

Two things happened recently...a severe personal setback in which I had invested a great deal of prayer and the death of Steve Jobs. The combination of the two led me into some fairly intense personal study (starting with things like "Buddhism for Dummies", etc.then moving on to deeper texts) over the past few months. The basics that I basically self-taught myself, the Life and Message of the Buddha, that he does not claim God-status, the notion of Karma and Karma affecting our rebirth, the absence of self, the absence of dualism (not everything is "either/or"), the path to self enlightenment, mediation and most of all, dependent origination, which 'explains' everything from the creation of the Universe, why random acts of violence can occur, to the most minute details of our day.

The more I read, the more I could feel my heart filling (like gassing up your car!) and the more "sense" it made. I ran into some confusion over the various schools of practice and a few other stumbling blocks, but for the most part it "sang" to me beautifully. I have been born into the human realm--much has been given to me by this status and much will be expected. I have the opportunity to achieve enlightment, and while I probably won't make it (and how will I know if I did??), but I must strive to do so and help others as well. Every action I take sets off a ripple of Karma that may affect others "downwind" of me. The chance to be reborn in a higher state still rests entirely with me. Even in a non spiritual context, using the tools taught by the Buddha enhances our every day lives---mindfulness, the focus and concentration brought on by learning to meditate, compassion towards all other beings, not just humans, being aware.

I don't wish to say more as I really don't feel I know what I am talking about! Thats why if there is a board for "newbies" or seekers, I would much appreciated being directed there.

I am new to the faith and am still feeling my way (much hindered by the lack of any active sangra near me, nobody locally I can meet or talk with), but I certainly like what I have learned so far. I look forward to the rest of the journey as I have already accomplished the hardest part: the first step.

mnmzoo's picture

Hi craigpoff,
Thanks for sharing. It seems like you are much further along than just the first step. I am hoping your path has remained genuine and clear since your first post. I have found that "the next step" tends to show itself when appropriate in an auspicious way. Sometimes my mind wants more right now but many times the more has been delayed until I'm ready - or maybe it was there all along and I didn't "see it" until I was ready. After a while, these "timely" experiences allow me to be more trusting and patient and calm. For the most part, it seems like we get what we need when we need it - if we keep our mind open to it. Best of luck.

derwentbob's picture

My introduction to Buddhism was laughably trivial. I used to paint wargames miniatures for pocket money when I was a student and I was in the middle of painting an Indian army of the Mauryan period (as in king Ashoka Maurya) when an Indian friend told me a little more about the history of the period. One thing led to another and before long I was wanting to find out more about Ashoka, Milinda (Menander) and so on. About the same time I got into Karate and a Japanese friend gave me some pointers on reading material which included some Zen classics (Zen Mind Beginners Mind and Zen Training by Sekida). So all my hobbies and interests were converging on Buddhism. Eventually I cracked and just went with the flow - something I have never regretted since although I wish I could find a job near a good Buddhist group or Zen centre.

pkrukowski's picture

When my husband, a former Catholic priest, became ill with Parkinson's disease and then stage four melanoma, my life took a turn that I would never have predicted. After his death, that path led me to questions everything I had accepted as true, including my religion. I had never accepted some of the teachings, but was not encouraged to question, or wonder, or explore my own mind and heart. I heard people's words of intended comfort, but knew I needed to find my own comfort, my own truth. I don't call myself a Buddhist; I don't call myself anything. I just know that the Buddhist readings and teachings I was drawn to rang true in my deep heart. The teachings feel in alignment with what is at my core, my center, my soul.

slear910's picture

I became interested in Buddhism because you don't pray to a God.. I'm just starting to practice, but I don't know which school of Buddhism I should follow

Dominic Gomez's picture

Not praying to a god is a good start. Buddhism teaches self-reliance, forges intestinal fortitude, and promotes using wisdom and common sense in order to forge ahead no matter what happens in life. I've been practicing Nichiren Buddhism since 1973: http://www.sgi-usa.org/

Jim Moody's picture

I'd had a nodding acquaintance with Zen when I studied Aikido in Japan but had gotten caught up in my life's adventures and lost touch. I was competing in a 10K race along a road beside a beautiful harbor. I was focused on the finish line, still 5K away and was thinking that I had a chance for a medal in my age grade when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and said to myself, "the 'red hot pokers' are blooming.' I realized that I'd been running without any awareness of what was around me - the water, the seabirds, the hills, the flowers - I'd been focused on the finish line and on medals and rewards and artificial titles: first place, and a T-shirt showing the world that I had run 10K. I'd been blind to the world around me; it was such an overpowering thought that I stopped in my tracks. I walked over to look at the flowers growing in the rocks along the edge of the harbor. Another lightening bolt struck: by labeling them 'red hot pokers' I'd kept myself from realizing that no two flowers were exactly alike: I'd been blind to their uniqueness. Dozens of phrases that my Aikido Sensei had said to me about illusions, and focusing, and awareness all came flooding back.

I began meditating again and my life changed.

Danny C's picture

I discovered Buddhism about 3 years ago, and have been practicing for almost 2. I was born into a Catholic household, and was brought up by my grandmother, who, while an ardent Catholic, wouldn't let her faith cloud her good judgement. I suppose I was happy in Catholicism until around the age of 13 or 14, when I started asking some questions that the church simply couldn't answer. Also, I began to question the existence of a god, who's presence I never saw in my daily life. By the time I was 16, I had rejected Christianity and the existence of a god entirely, and I started searching for something else. I discovered Buddhism, and it resonated with me. I started referring to myself as a Buddhist, but in retrospect, I really knew next to nothing about it. After a while, I became involved with some less than savory radical-left political organizations. In those, rejection of all forms of spirituality was practically a prerequisite, so I let Buddhism fall by the wayside. However, despite the little I really knew, Buddhism had struck me. Even as I insisted that I had no spiritual leanings, I felt periodic pangs of regret at having tossed Buddhism aside so callously. After a while, I drifted away from the radical-left (thankfully before I put my name to anything), citing not only their rampant dogmatism and sectarianism, but also their fetishism of violence, and the us-and-them mentality they promoted. At some point while I was still involved, I entered a depression, caused not only by the pressure to succeed in school, but also by my failure to do so (particularly in math, which I struggled with - we discovered later I had a minor learning disability related to the subject). Frustrated with the state my life was in, and not really seeing any future, I struggled with thoughts of suicide on a fairly regular basis. Eventually, I started seeing a therapist, and although, after a while, most of the catalysts of my depression had been fixed, the depression itself remained. I decided I would try pills to solve the problem. This is a big deal in my family, as my mother is still addicted to prescription drugs (and several other things), and I was concerned that I would become addicted too. I never got that far. Several days before I was scheduled to receive my prescription, I experienced the biggest pang of regret so far (oddly enough, while I was playing GTA IV), so much so that I just said "I can't do this anymore." I wondered if Buddhism might have a solution to my depression, and I resolved to get a book the next time we went out (it turned out to be the next day). At the store, I found a book called The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism, by Jean Smith. I read it for a little while, getting to a part about "challenging your own preconceptions." I told myself "Why should I?" and hastily left the store. Seconds after I made it into the car, I broke down crying as I realized that it wasn't that I didn't want to challenge my own preconceptions, it's that I was afraid of what would happen. I went back in, bought the book, read it, and then other books, learning about meditation, non-duality, impermanence, mindfulness, non-self (THAT was a liberating feeling), and all the rest. I returned to Buddhism, and made a gradual return to spirituality. Through the Dharma, I was able to handle my depression without pills, generally improve my outlook, and find a healthy way to live. I'm currently split between Zen and Shin, and I'm learning about each. Although I'm not able to practice with a community yet, due to being somewhat geographically isolated, a virtual sangha is the next best thing.

Thank you for giving me a place to tell my story. :)

estepgm's picture

Surviving cancer. While going through chemotherapy I was off work (I am a physicist) and I had a lot of free time suddenly to contemplate life and its meaning. I came to realize that life is ephemeral - there are no guarantees. At the library I picked up some books by the Dali Lama and read them through. It just made sense. I am not a Buddhist - but I am working on it. I am a cancer surviver because the Buddhist teachings showed me that there is a lot I can do for the universe in my own way. It helped me get through the ordeal. I hope that some day I can realize a minute granule of what Buddhism is really all about.

javiansmo's picture

For me it was wanting to not be so reactive to everything, so angry all the time. My journey actually began with Reiki and the more I got into that, the more I wanted to understand where its founder, Mikao Usui, was coming from. He was apparently a practicing Tendai Buddhist in Japan back in the 1920s. In terms of my anger and reactivity, My Reiki teacher suggested that I read Tara Brach's book "Radical Acceptance - Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha". The rest, as they say, is history :)

leebert's picture

A Zen parable did it for me, the one about the government minister asking his Zen teacher "What is ego?" It drew me in, and the more I read the more I saw something immediately sensible and recognizable in Buddhism. I then happened upon the Buddhist communities on Usenet (where rancor, debate, humor and compassion can be all found in great abundance) and I found I felt right at home.

Dana Garrett's picture

I suppose it is the reality based nature of essential Buddhism that I found compelling. The presentation of suffering as the first great truth (and which leads to other truths) seemed like an empirical and incontrovertible basis for spiritual practice. Mindfully attending to the respiration cycle and to thoughts, feelings and sensations and seeing where they take you seemed experimental and non-dogmatic. Although my practice and understanding of Buddhism has deepened and expanded since I began, I still find the reality based orientation of Buddhism compelling.

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to thank you all for all the excellent posts. I stopped commenting on every post (it was a bit much, I think) but I've been reading through them all and am blown away.

mblakesslee's picture

For me it's always just what felt right and true in my heart. Like you said above, I am one who didn't have any traumatic experiences that brought me here. My mother is Catholic but my father never recognized any religion. Therefore, I was never really strictly brought up in any specific religion and was allowed to explore on my own without conflict. Before I even knew what reincarnation and karma were those were things I thought and felt. In college I took a class on world religions in which we spend a good deal of time on Buddhism and that's when I really realized the things Buddhism can do for me as a person. I am still reading, researching, and learning, but what I've found so far fits completely perfectly for me.

vlubow's picture

Wanting to move beyond the pain of healing from child abuse and sexual assault. There seemed to be no end to the sorrow arising within me and I happened across "How to Expand Love" by the Dalai Lama. I knew love was the only thing that would save me and I wanted to learn how to cultivate it even toward those who had hurt me so deeply. I wanted to be free. I am in my 20s and feel as though my life had been "on hold" until very recently. I am still working to build the life I want, to express what has come to me through creative medium and to bring love to others in any way possible. I am grateful to this community for sharing its wisdom and beauty through daily teachings, which I take in like a healing spring.

dddeerfield's picture

I also was started on my path after reading "Awakening the Buddha Within". I was raised Christian but never truly believed in the teachings. I questioned everything and made my parents angry and perplexed by this. When I became an adult I stopped going to church and declared that I was an atheist. After gaining some life experience I realized that I was missing a name, a doctrine for what I can only call my spirituality. I realized I was spiritual. I felt it in my connection to nature and my fellow man. So I decided I should research other religions. I studied some Zen and then some Tao and was surprised to find that the eastern religions spoke more to my beliefs than my Christian upbringing.

Then I met a Buddhist friend and was so amazed at how calm, pleasant, and skilled at life he was. He suggested two books..."Awakening the Buddha Within" and "The Heart of the Buddha". I read the words of Lama Surya Das and felt such a opening of my heart. I found the teachings of Buddha were already there in my heart and I only had to embrace them through daily practice.

bendorje's picture

For me it was suffering with an incurable, degenerative disease that causes great pain that no type of medication could ease the pain. I started studying Tibetan Buddhism and it's healing abilities and have stuck with it for over 15 years now. It has opened my mind to an entire new realm of life choices. It also made me realize that no matter how much I suffered with my pain, there were others that were suffering much worse and needed my help. It has given me a new purpose in life, and I could never return to my old way of life.

MarniWallace's picture

I was a stressed-out Software Engineer working on a trading floor on Wall Street and read two books that changed my life: Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aitken Roshi and Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. I started by meditating at home on my own and soon began attending at New York Zen Center. The practice of being present and aware changed the whole quality of my mind. I can recall one night walking down a NYC street from work breathing and experiencing one foot stepping in front of another. It was so liberating to learn that I could calm the crazy dissonance of my mind. That led to a whole series of spiritual adventures into other Zen traditions and eventually into the colorful, esoteric practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

charlie thomas's picture

oh and I am a rancher, we raise beef cattle. I herd them mostly on foot, they are my spiritual mentors and partners. many buddhists might have trouble with that i suspect.

hoa binh

leebert's picture

Well there are plenty of us who don't have a problem with that at all.

charlie thomas's picture

I am a Quaker. I discovered Buddhism thru Thich Nhat Hanh's books and eventually other writers.
I returned from Vietnam looking for answers. Quakers are sort of Christians, though there are a number of Buddhist Quakers. I don't have access to a Buddhist group as i live in the desert far from civilization.
I sometimes wonder if Buddhists would like to come to Cascabel, AZ for retreat. We have a hermitage overseen by Cascabel Hermitage Association.

peace hoa binh

from charlie t.

kerendar's picture

After my second divorce ; hitting rock bottom gradual and gentle unfolding of principles of Forgiveness and letting go, The Buddhist perspective went right to the core of perception ; a deepening of my respect towards Buddhism from
The Tibetan book of living and dying Sogyal Rinpoche; practical logical and putting the responsibility of my experience of life in my hands.
Futher enhanced by a retreat of lovingkindness and the exposure to the teachings of Atisha;
Im lovin it!

Stephen Shogaku Zenshin Echard Musgrave Roshi's picture

I was perhaps about ten years old when I awoke one morning with an alternate consciousness. I had been severely ill fort sometime. When I awoke it seemed that individual minds were an illusion,my name was not my name as there was no name. These are poor words for the insight it was much more powerful. So about ten years later in College I picked up a Book on Buddhism in it was the Heart Sutra. AHHHHH yes just like that!
The sublime doctrine of interdependent origination,the transcendental Process philosophy of Buddhism it was me in my deepest heart. I feel sorry for the agnostic Buddhists, or exessential Buddhists or Neuro-scientists Buddhists,all so wrong so very, very, wrong.Buddhism is Gnosis is No mind,no mind ir True Mind,Form is emptiness emptiness isnot different than form

robmounsey's picture

I was a depressed and alienated 15-year-old (over 40 years ago,) and somehow discovered the writings of Alan Watts, especially his book "This Is It." It was a tremendous relief to read Watts' reassurance that no matter how cut off I felt, there was "not a hair-breadth of separation" between myself and the universe, and his quite rational explanation was irresistible. I'm still a lazy, undisciplined and occasionally depressed person, but am able not to take my "self" too seriously, most of the time.

What a wonderful relief to find that this "self" is not really there! A breeze, a tree, a moon.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Even less than a hair-breadth, the interface between us and the universe is quite permeable. Further, the universe and we are one and the same.

agolley8's picture

I discovered Buddhism through Tricycle which had placed an ad in another journal many years ago now. I was born a "cradle" Episcopalian and basically was in and out of favor with it for years.I grew up in the Bible Belt and and the stuff I was being exposed to and taught did not make sense to me and was also very contradictory. Then discovering that I am gay didn't help matters in the deep throngs of the social elite in the south. Buddhism made more sense and was not full of bigots and hatred. Being in a rural area most of the time I have been unable to join with other followers mostly because of lack of nearby proximity so I rely on Tricycle, internet and lots of books to keep me going.
I particularly liked the comment in this forum that they were teaching their children to think of Christ and Buddha as brothers. Great thought and goes along with my enjoyment of Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Living Buddha, Living Christ. And for me Buddhism seems more compassionate and forgiving and gentle than the various organized religions found in this country.

ep.mccoy's picture

When I saw this article I tried to answer the question. The answer escapes me for soem reason. I am still wondering if I forgot or if there really is no starting point for me. I do know that I read some things about the path and was pretty surprised to see that a lot of it I had been doing for most of my life. I know that the true practicing start for me was after a trip to Thailand and doing some research and kind of inserting myself in to the culture. I guess thats when you caould say I became passionate about Buddah and everything associated.

nickribush's picture
kathy.selvag's picture

Like others on this page, I was raised Catholic. But I gave it up in my youth since it was too laden with "sin" and "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" about very many aspects of life. After some time overseas where I encountered things that led me to a lot of questions, about poverty, injustice, and also about being American in a world that had a love/hate relationship with American, I came back to the US seeking somewhere I could feel a sense of community and shared values about being American in a larger world. This journey led me in part to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where I have spent more than 15 years, and learned through them a strong appreciation of silence, spirit moving in silence, and a sense of people's "inner light," or their authentic nature or talents or insights that shine through. I heard bits and pieces about Buddhism over time, but parts of it I could never fully grasp -- e.g. the concept of "attachments" seemed odd, especially in relation to attachments to people/family/friends, and I even the idea of acceptance without judgment struck me as a passive, non-questioning stance that refused to challenge injustices were clearly wrong and harmful. About two years ago I took a one-year assignment in Vietnam, and decided to take it on myself to learn something about Buddhism while I was in a Buddhist country, but it was only when my I came into a real personal crisis during this period (my partner left me for another woman while I was away) that I sought out Buddhism more seriously as a way to address my deep personal suffering. And I have discovered its amazing richness and a certain sense of refuge. I am very much a novice, though one that is hungry to learn more.

earthtrickster's picture

In the beginning of 1980 I began preparation for full membership within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints through the ritual of baptism, an experience all LDS children undergo at the age of 8. This was an event I had been looking forward to for sometime and it was one that many older members of the church, including my father, promised would be a deeply spiritual experience. For those who are unaware, baptism for Mormons is by full immersion and marks one’s full membership in the church and serves as a coming of age ritual; for though 8 years seems ridiculously young, it is when the church has decided a person to be fully responsible for their actions and thus to be held fully accountable for any sin committed thereafter.
I was ready for baptism. I was precocious, spiritually speaking. Bearing my testimony and giving small talks before the congregation brought me great joy and I was a natural. While I do not remember what my 8 year old self was expecting, and as I was told it would be unlike anything else I had experienced before, I am pretty sure my expectations were immense, but fairly open ended at the same time. While a dove dropping in from the heavens would have been cool, I knew my experience would be a personal one, one not visible to others. I don’t remember whether it was my own thought or my father’s, but what I was looking forward to the most wasn’t the experience itself, but that the experience would be one that would sustain me for the rest of my mortal existence.
If you've read these two paragraphs I am sure you’ve already figured out that my baptismal experience was not what I was hoping it would be. In fact you could say my baptism was only an experience in the definitional sense in that it was something I took part in, but there was nothing special to it at all. I got wet, I think I had to be dunked twice as the uncomfortable 70’s white polyester jumpsuit floated up. I think after the dunking and before the gathering to celebrate I asked to be alone. Memory is tricky, especially when your young, thus I don’t know if I really asked to be alone or if it was only a sentiment I felt, but regardless what is true is that for the first time in my life I felt alone, deeply and irrevocably, alone. Bereft just about sums it up. After my failed spiritual experience I began to chase after the spiritual connection I had once felt but no longer did. I looked for it in prayer, the sacrament, ideas, and in what I saw as my last hope, the patriarchal blessing. The patriarchal blessing is an act of divination of one’s purpose in this life via the patriarch’s “channeling” (and by channeling I don’t mean in a possession or the new age kind of way) the holy ghost. My blessing was phenomenal. Really. In my blessing it was revealed that I am, basically, one of the chosen ones. Seriously. Besides being a chosen one, the overall message of my blessing was for me to trust my intuition, of which I was told, is an incredibly heightend sense I had, not unlike a super power. When I received my blessing in the mail from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, it had been heavily edited and redacted. Apparently I was just like everybody else and my intuition was just a touch better then yours, but not by much. I was disappointed and once again felt spiritually barren.
Fast forward through a punk rock phase, Dead Kennedys and GBH, giving way to the Cure and a touchy-feely new wave phase, and an exposure to hypocrisy at all levels of church hierarchy, and bye bye said I to the LDS faith. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve been to a couple of funerals, stood on temple grounds for my siblings weddings, and I think I either saw one of my brothers off or back from his mission, but my spiritual life and the church have since gone separate ways. I have, over the years, been an avowed athiest, taken graduate classes in theology on the trinity, spent hours in the chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle U campus and, after years of flirting, become a real buddhist about a year ago when I took refuge with Reggie Ray, which is how I ended up with the dharma name of Earth Trickster. But though this post might make it sound like I have been a seeker, looking here and there, over yonder and under a rock or two, my exploration of religion has been more of an academic one, not a spiritual one. Even buddhism, something I have flirted with for 17 years, has been an on-again off-again affair. At times I have been seriously inclined, and at other times I have been put off by the self-help like nature of much of the literature published. There has been once constant over the years though, and that is a book I have read mentioned more than any other so far, Shunraiyu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. It was my first introduction to buddhism, and it has remained a constant in my life. So in answer to the question of what led me to become a buddhist, my answer would have to be curiosity combined with a damn fine book (books being a constant companion since I was in pre-school).

eric.hagedorn's picture

As a very religious Catholic boy, I was nonetheless interested in all religions. I remember asking my well educated aunt about quantum mechanics and Zen, probably before I was 12. She was shocked. 35 years later I have vehemently rejected Catholicism (2 years ago) and after trying to fill the void with alcohol and work am getting serious enough about Buddhism to "commit to sit." The aspect of Buddhism that most appeals to me is the emphasis on trusting your experience and NOT external authority. Maybe I shouldn't be writing after only 30 minutes of sitting, but I know I need to reach out and meet some fellow travelers, and this is my first crack at it. Peace and clarity to any who read this!

John Haspel's picture

Great topic and great question! Thank You Monty. My path of awakening began (consciously) at age 19. I was in a rehab for alcoholism and behaviors caused by alcoholism. There I came across two books, Think On These Things by Krishnamurti and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Both had a strong impact on me and shone a light, dimly, on a different way of seeing and experiencing life from what up to that point was mostly suffering born of ignorance. I would not get sober for another 6 years, and at that point, due to the 12 steps of AA, I began a spiritually centered life that continues today. The simple answer as to what led me to Buddhism is the first noble truth, Life Is Suffering. From that suffering, I was guided to a meditation practice that varied at first from Transcendental Meditation to various guided and visualization disciplines to finally a mostly breath based meditation influenced primarily by Zen/Chan. That my spiritual practice is what defines my life and is now guided by vows, a clear path and a strong and joyful commitment brings true happiness.

WJNY's picture

After a family member died, I began to reflect intensely on life and death and fell into what I can only describe as an existential crisis or a "dark night of the soul." I became obsessed with death, and terrified of it. The things that used to be important to me - ambition, self-identity, planning for the future, attainment - all suddenly became meaningless. Things that used to comfort me no longer did. My realizations of impermanence and emptiness caused me to feel as if I was in constant danger. Life felt random, short and arbitrary. Without any religious beliefs, I had nothing to ground me. Vipassana meditation was the only thing that made sense to me. It does not require me to invent stories of beliefs to help me navigate life, but instructed me to simply sit with existence as it is. I still have these powerful, dark feelings sometimes, but I am beginning to explore the attachments and beliefs that cause me to obsess over death and fear it so much.

dethbee's picture

Seems like people are still posting so I though I would share my .02.

My mom is dying from cancer, and is a very depressed and angry lady right now. I've always wanted validation from her and I don't think I will ever get it because she doesn't know how to express her love for me. I know she loves me, but I don't think she knows how to say it. This complicated relationship has lead to therapy for me.

My partner has ADD and is also a very angry person. His family as well doesn't seem to know how to speak with each other unless its through anger or negativity. Keep in mind my partner is a very different person when we are alone: kind, sensitive, caring, compassionate - but with anyone else his personality does a 180.

My current goal is to react to my father with loving-kindness and compassion instead of hate and anger: a difficult goal because he told my mother to get on with the dying so him and his girlfriend can have the house and insurance money.

I've been reading and researching about Buddhism for a little over a year now, and am just starting to incorporate some solid practices in my everyday life. I've noticed a difference. So has my therapist. So has my partner. I needed a coping mechanism, and I needed a better way of living then just being angry in return to everyone I care about. It is nice to share my thoughts with like-minded people and not be shunned or yelled at.

kerendar's picture

I hear you

Lex's picture

I became interested in Buddhism as a result of studying the works of Rudolf Steiner. He gave very deep information on very important aspects of the teachings of Buddha and the relvance and importance of Buddhism in worldhistory. I therefore sometimes consider myself to be a Christian Buddhist. The main aspect of being occupied with the works of Rudolf Steiner and by that of the teachings of Buddha and the situation of Buddhism nowadays is: awareness. Life and development of humanity is, in my view, all related to awareness, being the living aspect of Spirit. Form this 'angle' the life and teachings of Buddha are
of great importance and the additional information out of the 'modern' awareness of Rudolf Steiner confirms this importance to me in a dramatic way.

sifumanny56's picture

I began my exploration of Eastern systems in 1984 when my tae knwon do teacher hinted to me that there were lessons beneath the techniques that could only be accessed through study of the paths that informed the development of these arts. I started with Buddhism, especially Soto Zen, then as my way led me to t'ai chi chuan and baguazhang, I studied Taoism. Both influence me deeply.

ClarkStrand's picture

My first encounter with Buddhism came in a high school religion class at the Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 70s during a discussion of Huston Smith's book The Religions of Man. Our teacher, a severe-looking woman with a sharp mind and a good sense of humor (good for a religion teacher), asked us to step up to the board and write or draw God. People drew and wrote the most outrageous things--some sacred, some profane--until the blackboard was completely covered. I was the last to go, nervous that my "answer," whatever it was, would be mocked like so many of the others. Then the girl before me took a piece of chalk and traced an outline around the entire blackboard, including all that had been written. There was nothing left to do, so when my turn came, I simply walked up and erased the entire board. A number of the students interpreted this to mean that I was an athiest, but our teacher said, "I think you should study Zen." After class, she explained what she meant using the Latin phrase "via negativa," and that was the beginning of my journey.

ClarkStrand's picture

I should add that I completely rejected the Christianity of my southern upbringing, pursuing Zen with singleminded vigor from that point on, until 1983, when I had a dream (or a vision...it's hard to say which) of the cross. I wrote about this in the next to last chapter of my book HOW TO BELIEVE IN GOD: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not (Doubleday, 2009), which offers a kind of Buddhist reading of the Bible. Even after the dream, though, it took almost another 20 years to fully integrate (or "graft," as I sometimes put it) the two traditions together. I'm now a Buddhist meditation teacher whose primary practice is saying the rosary...go figure. Some might call me confused, but if so it's a particularly satisfying confusion, and one that took a long time and a lot of soul searching to work out.