I have been practicing Buddhism, using the methods taught by Venerable Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo’s students, in particular Mae Yo, since around 2010.
I grew up in a pretty religious Jewish home, but Judaism never quite fit — I had a lingering sense that the meaning of life, the truth about the nature of this world and myself in it, was out there somewhere and I just needed to find it. I ended-up getting an undergraduate degree in world religion from Tulane University, with a focus in Hinduism and Jewish Studies. I went on to receive a Masters of Theology from Vanderbilt, with a focus on gender, sexuality and The Bible.
25 years, 2 degrees and lots of student debt later, I can’t say I had come much closer to finding “the meaning of life, the universe and everything.” While I was studying though, I had begun to learn a bit about Buddhism, take the requisite classes, read a couple of books. Actually, the more I learned, the more curious I became and after I graduated I went and joined a Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhist community for around 5 years.
The problem was, my practice felt like a struggle and I felt constantly confused about “Right View” and “Right Action”. Especially in the period after my father died, I just felt like the more I meditated, chanted mantras, and prayed, the more angry, anxious, and lost I became. I wasn’t quite ready to give-up on the Dharma but I decided I needed a different approach — that is when I found Wat San Fran and the approach taught by the students of Luang Por Thoon.
On one of my first visits to the Temple one of the monks pointed to a flower on the altar and asked, “How is that flower like you?”. I was a bit confused by the question. He explained further: just like himself the flower was still fresh, in its youth, but starting to show signs of decay. In the mornings, the flower would drop a few petals to the ground, when he woke a few strands of hair lay on his pillow. The flower had the faintest blemishes and discolorations, just as there were marks, bruises and sun spots on his own body. Bit by bit the monk illustrated the impermanence common to himself and the flower and in so doing, he showed me a powerful tool to seeing the changeable nature of reality – one of the core principals of the Dharma – in my everyday life. On that day I learned to internalize the lessons of decay that are everywhere around us. At that moment, I knew that the folks at Wat San Fran had something to teach me and I have been learning ever since.
What I love most about this path is it’s an approach that starts with our everyday life, thoughts and experiences and uses them to instruct us in the nature of reality, the Dharma. No one needs to be a rocking mediator, a great Buddhist scholar, or even a particularly good person. Everyone can practice as long as they have a life and thoughts of their own. Using the simplest of Buddhist teachings — that everything in this world is impermanent, that life entails suffering and that, there is no timeless and unchanging self — we can start to change the way we see our lives and the world around us. As my views have changed so has my life and my actions. Today, I am a happier, saner and kinder person than I was before I began practicing with Wat San Fran.
About this Blog:
I am writing this blog as something of a record to my practice, to my path. Frankly, until now, I just have not felt ready to do something so official, and public, as blogging. So, many of these stories are not being written “real time”, they are from the past, they are stepping stones along my way. I tell you this as a bit of a warning … what you get here has been synthesized, reorganized, rethought, reconsidered. This may not be entirely linear, in part, because the nature of my practice has been that the same issue, the same story, comes up again and again, grows deeper over time. Also because, on a practical note, when I first started practicing I didn’t date entries in my notebook (whoops) and I freely moved around pages to group stories in a way that they were usable tools for whatever topic I was working on. So, there has been quite a bit of reconstruction on this project.
But part of my purpose here is to track trajectory, to track progression, so stories will be grouped in a way that, hopefully, retains something of a timeline, a clustering of ideas I contemplated in particular periods to show steps in my path. This is also not everything, not even close, this is highlights, some greatest hits. And this is not done, not even close…this is about the path I am on, not about the point of completion.
Finally, I just want to dedicate this blog, and my practice, to my teachers and my kalyanamitra –to all those who have given me guidance and support, who have gently nudged me and occasionally bopped me on the head. Thank you for showing me the path and giving me the tools I need to walk it on my own.