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For the Fall installment of "This Buddhist Life," Tricycle columnist Noa Jones interviewed Wendell Garnett, a 32-year-old African-American man currently studying Tibetan in Dharamsala, India. Garnett---who spent his childhood in Panama---didn't encounter Buddhism until as a college student he took refuge (unknowingly) at a peace march in Indianapolis. A decade later, he's devoted himself to studying Buddhist dialectics and philosophy. Some highlights from the piece:
How did you get into Buddhism? When I was in college in Kentucky I met some Tibetan exchange students. We got to be friends, and I started helping out with their Free Tibet stuff. We went on a peace march from Bloomington to Indianapolis. One friend took me to a Manjushri initiation with the Sakya Trizin. I was like, who is this Native American dude sitting on the throne? I sat my ass down and was like, “Right on.” I was an utter neophyte. I just went along with it, throwing rice, doing funky signs. I took refuge unknowingly; it wasn’t until I came to India that I took refuge [with H.H. the Sakya Trizin] for real.
What do the monks think about you? For a lot of them I’m the first black person they’ve ever met. It’s like being a blue person walking down the middle of Manhattan. Indians come out of their houses, bringing the kids and the cameras. I’m cool with it, it’s just curiosity. They are all like, “Obama!” and “Bob Marley!” And I’m like, “Change! Hope!”
What does your family think about you pursuing this path? I think they are absolutely elated. Especially my mother. Before coming to India I was homeless for four years. I ran away from home when I was younger, and I was an utter vagabond, doing not much of anything. So for me to be here doing something like this, they are absolutely elated.
Read the whole interview here.