Being Buddhist is wonderful, knowing the Dharma is even more so, and spreading it on social media, creating a small oasis of peace in a historical moment when these platforms have become places of pain, toxicity, and fake news, is a blessing. My name is Martina, but people call me Gotami, the Dharma name that has accompanied me since the beginning of my Dharma-spreading adventure as a young and hopeful Western-born young woman. I thought it helpful to share a bit about how I got on to this lucky path, before explaining what I am doing (or what I hope to do anyway).
I consider myself fortunate to have been born during an era in which everyone can be connected to things that may seem distant, in terms of geography or timing. I was born in a medium-to-small city in southern Italy, to a family with no particular religious affiliation. Therefore, I was born in a context that has nothing to do with any large and multicultural metropolis. Yet, I was able to fulfil my primal need for researching spirituality, and get naturally connected to Buddhism from an early age in this digital and interconnected time.
Now that I am 22 years old, I still remember my first moments of interest in Buddhism. I don’t have many particular memories of my childhood, but I can say surely that during that time, I had very frequent dreams of little monks wearing orange in stunning tropical environments. I like to think that these were signs, encouragements of memories from a previous life, but at the time I was too young and I didn’t assign too much importance to that. The only one who knew about these visions was my grandmother, who listened with great interest to these distant and interesting stories.
I spent a large part of my troubled adolescence with numerous family problems and sadness over painful trauma. When I turned 19, I began to change my goals and bought more books, reading and researching about the topic that had my interest since childhood: Buddhism. This change of mind brought many fantastic changes to my life. In a short time, from being the worst student (I had failed two years of high school due to my psychological issues), I became one of the best scholars in my institute, spent my days studying and enjoying happy times with my family, and participated in Mandarin Chinese programs in China and Italy.
My most formative moments had already begun in my senior year of high school. I still remember that Saturday morning when I was talking with my science teacher, a 65-year-old gentleman who I considered one of the nicest in the institute, and discovered that he was a Buddhist and used to attend the local Sri Lankan temple in my city. Obviously, I asked a lot of questions, even though I was really shy to think of even walking past a temple. The Sri Lankans were a community I did not know, and I was afraid of looking inadequate or embarrassing. Despite this, my professor warmly encouraged me to visit the temple and promised me that I would enjoy this new experience, especially if I was interested in Buddhism.
I went to visit the temple the same day. I was delighted to learn about the monks, the laypeople that took care of the temple and a whole new system of faith. The two monks I met there were very kind and told me the story of the temple. I had the good fortune of being notified by them that the next day would be the festival of Vesak. I did not miss out on participating in that very important celebration, which they explained to me commemorated the birth, enlightenment, and Parinirvana of Gautama Buddha. Soon, the temple became my safe place, where I learned many new things about Buddhism. Along with my temple visits, I studied the Dharma alone whenever I had some free time in my stressful senior year of high school. I found it enjoyable to visit the temple to help the monks and ask what I wanted to know about Buddhism. I never missed any Puja Day and took the Eight Precepts every month very seriously and devoutly.
Even though I was brand new to all this, it felt like I had been doing these things for my entire life. My journey was just beginning.
Gotami will return with Part 2 of her Dharma journey.