My journey started years ago, of course, so I can't say this is Day One of my Buddhist Practice any more than I can say I was born today. Here I am. Mark the spot.
Earlier this year, I found myself in a major personal crisis and I decided to end my 14 year marriage. Of course, the circumstances began long before I decided to end my marriage. And let me just say this now, I was married to a lovely man. Relationships are what they are. Sometimes they last an hour. Sometimes a day. Sometimes six months, or six years, or sixty years. All relationships are important for different reasons. Often, we don't realize the reasons until somewhere down the road, long after you've said good-bye and moved on. But I am very conscious of all the relationships in my life right now, both past and present, and I honor them all. I have learned and have grown from each and every one. The end of my marriage was a marker in time, to be sure, and it will be a measurement henceforth. That was before I was married. That happened when I was married. That happened after my divorce. Etc. This blog will follow my journey post-marriage.
Now back to the crisis that was already in progress...Crisis. Yes, that's the appropriate word for it. Defined as: Any unstable and dangerous social situation, especially one involving abrupt change. More loosely, it is a term meaning 'a test of time' or 'emergency event.' Thank you, Wikipedia, you are dead-on. I think that's all you need to know. And like any good crisis (not an oxymoron), it brought me to my senses in a number of ways. And it brought me back to an ancient practice that had appealed to me in the past, but for which I was not yet ready—until the Crisis occurred.
People often turn to religion when times are difficult. When someone receives a bad diagnosis, experiences a profound loss, or feels the effects of any tragedy, it's time to run to the nearest synagogue, cathedral or temple. I ran to the Buddhist Temple. And yes, there is a Buddhist Temple in Birmingham with a bonafide Tibetan Buddhist monk who studied at the Dalai Lama's temple in Tibet, no less. I am most fortunate. The temple is located in a nondescript suburban strip mall, behind a Starbucks. It is attended by a varying number of faithful practitioners and there are always new faces showing up on Sunday and Tuesday. Yes, we practice twice a week, just like good Baptists. And may I say now, I was raised Catholic and I have a great appreciation for the Catholic faith, but I never felt comfortable as an adult attending Catholic mass. I could never quite embrace the faith that my parents had in spades. That said, I find that Buddhist services are familiar to me because of the traditions in which I was raised. The incense. The candles. The icons. The chants. The prostrations. All very similar and comforting. That is important to any spiritual practice. You must feel at home within the community that the church, or mosque or temple provides. After years of struggling with my beliefs, I found myself very much at home in a community of people who openly acknowledge that, whereas they do not have all the answers, they have some very poignant questions. And it is in asking those questions that I am finding my way as a Southern Buddhist Catholic in Birmingham, Alabama.
For those not familiar, Buddhism is simply the practice of living a loving, compassionate life, of being fully aware of one's intentions in thought, word and action, and—most important—doing everything possible to end suffering for others and for oneself. Buddhism is not a religion. It has no deity. Buddha was a man—and yes, he was a real man, a prince, in fact—who lived 2,500 years ago. You can Google him to learn more. Buddha has good Google. Buddhism is the practice of the teachings of Buddha, who attained enlightenment and then chose to share his knowledge with all the world in an effort to end suffering and the causes of suffering. All suffering rises from three basic afflictions (or poisons) of the mind: attachment, ignorance and aversion. Those are the basics, and that is my interpretation, based on my current understanding, which, granted, is very rudimentary. It is in the practice of Buddhism that the real definition becomes evident. Anyone can practice Buddha's teachings, regardless of other religious affiliation or background. You don't have to give up being Jewish or Catholic or Baptist to practice Buddhism. In fact, it is a great complement to any spiritual belief or practice.
A lot of people get hung up on the afterlife, and understandably so. So let me just say this: Buddhism provides for reincarnation in the sense that the soul or spirit moves on, after the body fails, to another life. You don't become You in Life B, just as You are in Life A. The transference of spirit does not retain personality, but it does retain your karma, or the actions of your past life. So the goal is to lead a good, thoughtful, compassionate life so that when you are reborn in the next life, you will continue to move toward enlightenment, and not regress because of bad deeds. And the ultimate goal of enlightenment is not to just drift off into the ether, but to help end all suffering. There is no heaven or hell in Buddhism. There is only existence after existence, with the hope that each existence will be improved in accordance to the teachings of Buddha.
This is where my Crisis brought me, and I am happy to be here. I am now ready to up the ante, so to speak, and embrace the Five Buddhist Precepts or Vows. And this is where my life is going to get really interesting, my friends. So stay tuned. You know where I've been. You know where I am. Now, we'll find out where I am going.