It has been eleven days and a lifetime since I returned to the USA. Life is good. I finally readjusted to a normal sleep cycle and am eating fairly healthy again after battling extreme fatigue and some kind of mild illness the first several days I was back.
And so now life goes on. Is going on.
What is the next step? That's something I ask myself fairly regularly, sometimes several times a day.
I have begun a study, and practice, of Buddhism. It started as a way to understand more of what I saw in McleodGanj. What did certain things represent? What did it MEAN? Why did they do THAT?
I learned the major differences between Tibetan Buddhism (meaning Vajrayana) and other paths/schools.
And then I began again from the beginning. What IS Buddhism? What are the basic beliefs, and how should a Buddhist act? Buddhism is mind-boggling, at once the most simple of paths, and yet the most complex, especially for a westerner whose only previous concepts of spirituality and behavior were based on Christianity.
I am at once passionate about and deeply perplexed by Buddhism. And yet it feels right to me, if only because it was the framework amidst which I had this life-changing experience. If only because it teaches exactly the lessons I most need to learn, about loving and letting go, about kindness and compassion...
So I endeavor to read about it everyday from a research perspective, learning terms, as well as reading from the teachings of Buddha. Yesterday I slowly slowly started The Dhammapada. I laughing tweeted that I wish there was a plain English Dhammapada for Dummies, as I have never been good at finding the "right" meaning in ancient or translated texts. Usually what I think they mean and what the scholars tell me they mean are radically different. Sigh.
But then, isn't that part of this whole experience?
Buddhism is not cast in stone. As I understand it, each student/practitioner applies the teachings to his own experience, although the ultimate goal of becoming a boddhisatva (at least in the Mahayana schools) remains constant.
Simply put, to me, Buddhism means: being in the moment (which I have ALWAYS struggled with and no doubt will continue to resist) and being kind to all other living beings. It means recognizing that I am a potential Buddha and you are a potential Buddha and (to be a little silly) even that Republicans and criminals are potential Buddhas!
I have so many questions and hope they never stop! I want to devote the rest of my life to this. And so the intellectual study also becomes practice.
While I confess, I have issues with the term "meditation", and have never "sat" as Zen Buddhists do, I am learning that to some extent even chanting Om Mani Padme Hum or using my hand held prayer wheel
is a form of meditation.
I have, if only to myself, taken refuge.
Every day I learn something more about Buddhism, about myself, about life.
And so the path evolves.
As the book recommended here says, we are a long way from Tibet, a long way from the Tibetan community in India. But that is okay. I had to leave them to learn certain lessons and accomplish certain things. I do feel we will be together again soon, if it is meant to be, if it is our karma.
On that note, I would like to insert a quick project update for my fundraiser, "Teaching English, Learning Life with Tibetan Refugees"
To date I have received $187 in pledges towards returning to McleodGanj in mid-September to continue my volunteer work and studies. That leaves 74 days to reach the ultimate goal of $4000 USD, which will cover all my expenses including airfare to/from north India.
Please understand, while in the USA, I am technically homeless. I have worked seasonal jobs for the past several years. These jobs provide housing as well as meals, which are both deducted from pay. This does not leave a lot left over. I have been unable to find stable full-time employment outside these seasonal jobs.
Now that my volunteer work with the Tibetans has become so important to me, I need YOUR help to make it happen!
Even if you can only pledge $1, that dollar helps. Your money will be working for good in this world!
One last note: I've been somewhat sad that there are no Tibetan Buddhist centers where I'm currently staying, and only two centers at all, that I can find. I miss being in the sangha I found in McleodGanj and really wanted that sense of community, of fellow Buddhists/seekers here in the US.
Well, we had lunch at a Thai restaurant yesterday. I felt an immediate connection with the hostess/waitress. We talked a little before she brought our food. As I was getting ready to leave, I knew I had to show my gratitude and respect with the lotus-bud gesture/mini-bow (I have not learned the term for this) which acknowledges the Buddha-within. When I did it, her face lit up with joy and astonishment. She burst out with a few sentences in Thai which unfortunately I did not understand, and she seemed to be telling her Thai friend/co-worker what I had done.
I felt like crying, not from sorrow but from joy. Clearly, I am not alone. The sangha is not limited to McleodGanj, nor to Tibetans. Nor even to Asians, or to face-to-face. As the days progress, I look forward to meeting other travelers on this path, whether face-to-face or online, regardless of age or race or language.
Life is good, and everything IS as it should be.