I had several beginnings in studying/committing my mind to Buddhism (since 1997) and exploring what that phrase meant, but had not found my way until I landed in Hong Kong. I was on the underground/metro/MTR and saw amongst a homogenous sea of Asians a bald, Caucasian man dressed in Tibetan-style robes—a monk—with an eagle tattoo on his arm. Being from New York, I was immediately drawn to him. My concern in living in Hong Kong was that I could not learn Buddhism there, being so close to China, and so asked him if there was a place to learn. He promptly pulled out his Palm Pilot and, with a couple of taps with his stylus, told me where and when there was a teaching.
It was that very night at a temple in Tin Hau, second floor. Still jet-lagged, upon entering the temple I was greeted by many pairs of shoes, neatly placed, and smiles on every face. Floor space was well used and well shared. I squeezed in and sat in the back of the room and listened to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. My heart was warmed for five hours. I felt like I was finally at home and sitting on the welcome mat.
I would say that was my true beginning of walking on the path.
Previously, when I lived in New York, Tibet House was my place to learn about Buddhism, but in truth I found the pre-reading easier than the actual teachings (the teachers were quite advanced) and I wasn’t sure which way of Buddhism resonated inside my mind and heart. I went to the teachings and lectures and felt confounded, swimming in a sea of endless wisdom and knowledge; perhaps I was softening my mind for the future. But then there was an event that completely blindsided me and left me with absolutely nothing. On 11 September 2001, I saw the second plane go into the World Trade Center building. I saw people jump to their deaths, I saw people who were really scared, and then the building collapsed and I saw nothing. I cannot even begin to explain the emptiness that swallowed my heart.
I want to say that Buddhism helped soothe me initially through that experience, but I don’t think this is what understanding “the essence” of the teachings is about. The Dharma teachings are always there, but you need to be receptive to them. I was beyond emotionally agitated, and having an entire city feel the same exact way was quite overwhelming. I needed to let the dust settle inside me in order to have any clear thinking even occur in my head.
Time allows enough space to situate events within the landscape of your mind. When you survive the worst day of your life, every day after that is a good one. Once I had created an internal environment of stillness within myself, I found my path . . . and it has been quite an adventure.
I discovered that finding the path is the first step and walking on it is the next and that the goal . . . just maybe, the process and realizations that come with it. Buddhism isn’t my Band-Aid that makes all things happy; it is a mental technology that helps me make better choices and hopefully, see more clearly.