Twenty-three years ago tonight, I converted to Buddhism. I was 25 years old.
Up to that point, I had always been fascinated by spirituality. I was wildly curious about just exactly what I was put on this planet to accomplish. The idea each person contains a “diamond chalice” (Buddha nature) inside the core of his or her being made sense to me. Even as a small child, I believed that God was inside of me. Spirit existed inside my body and my soul, not in some place called “heaven.” Don’t get me wrong. I believe heaven exists, just not in the way that most Westerners do. Heaven isn’t a place. It is a life condition. So is hell. We don’t need to go anywhere to find hell in our world. All we have to do is turn on the evening news.
The basic tenets of Buddhism — what you do comes back to you — whether thought, word, or deed, made perfect sense to me. The idea that I was creating my experiences through what I said, thought and did, meant that if I changed things that were not working, my experience would reflect that change. And, as I began to chant and learn about Buddhism, I found my way into the source of answers, solace, and peace inside my own life.
I am the Buddha. You are the Buddha. We are all capable of being a Buddha. A Buddha is (to put it simply) an enlightened human being. What Shakyamuni taught his disciples during the 50+ years that he expounded on his enlightenment was that we need not seek the truth outside of ourselves. Each one of us possesses infinite wisdom and the capacity to use it, IF (and that’s a big if) we decide (we still have free will) to use it.
I love the tenets of Buddhism. I love the capacity it gives its practitioners to overcome hardships and suffering. I love how it allows me to constantly reflect on my behavior as a human being. Cause and effect are strict, but also compassionate. If we do not experience the consequences of our actions, how will we ever learn anything? I love the fact that Buddhism is a simple philosophy. It has its complexities, but you needn’t understand them to practice. You can simply practice with expectation. It is nice to deepen your knowledge of the precepts, but it is not necessary to do so to obtain a benefit. I remember years ago when I first started to chant in New York City, I knew a man in his mid-forties who had been practicing Buddhism for over a decade. He was mildly retarded, so the theory behind the practice of Buddhism meant nothing to him. That being said, he was one of the most joyous human beings I have ever encountered. He lived his life with such gratitude and gusto. He felt nothing was impossible for him, and he used his practice to follow his dreams.
My Buddhist practice has been a cherished gift to me all these years. Every area of my life changed when I encountered Buddhism. I have met (and parted from) some of the best people I have ever known since I started my practice. I have been transformed by my friendships and by the people I have lost. The longer I practice, the more I realize what a gift each moment of life is. So, I take risks. I work hard. I allow myself to love, even though I have been hurt. I think constantly about the generosity and joy and genuine love that exist in this world, even as wars burn like wildfires on every continent. I believe in our capacity to change the world, one person at a time. I am living proof.
© 2008 Shavawn M. Berry
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