By Daniel Scharpenburg

I’m doing a series of autobiographical posts, regarding what led to the path of a Buddhist priest. I hope you enjoy these posts. I’ll be talking about myself a lot, which isn’t really normal for me.

I studied Buddhism and discovered just how diverse the different branches can be.

Some Buddhist schools are based entirely on living  a monk’s life. Some are based on chanting instead of meditating. Some are based on some really elaborate and complicated rituals.

I won’t go deeply into detail about those here, but suffice to say that Zen is the branch of Buddhism that really spoke to me, although I did enjoy studying all of them.

The story of a Zen master from Japan really spoke to me. Zen Master Dogen lost both his parents at an early age. Because of this he was inspired to become a mystic and explore Buddhist practice.

I lost my parents too, although as a teenager, not as a kid like Dogen. But I think losing my parents inspired me in a similar way.

He was inspired to travel to China and look for authentic Buddhist teachings. He found the teachings that had been brought to Japan lacking in some ways, so he thought he could find better teachers elsewhere. The branches of Buddhism that arrived in Japan had all come from China, so that was where he went looking.

He stayed there for a few years and when he returned to Japan he was a Zen master.

He founded the Soto Zen sect, which is the Japanese version of the sect in China that is called Caodong.

He’s a very important figure in the history of Japanese Zen, which was the first type of Zen to reach across the ocean here to the United States. Later other Zen teachers would mean a lot more to me. Ikkyu is the one that I consider my personal hero, but Dogen was the first one I studied, so he is important to me.

So, I studied Zen and started thinking seriously about it for a while.

I read many of the most well known Zen texts: The Diamond Sutra, The Platform Sutra, Dogen’s Shobogenzo, and others.

I also read a lot of modern texts like The Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau, Manual of Zen Buddhism by DT Suzuki, and The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, and many many others. I read every book I could find and I enjoyed it a great deal.

But, I was still resistant to the idea of looking for a spiritual community. Really, I was resistant to really being a Buddhist (whatever that means).

I thought of it as something I was studying rather than something I was becoming. But I was wrong. I was becoming something else.

I started sitting in meditation every day and following the instructions Dogen gave.


See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


Photo: airguy1988/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall