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.
For a long time I just studied Buddhism.
I didn’t want to call myself a Buddhist. I was resistant to labels and to a certain extent I still am.
So, I was studying Buddhist texts and meditating every day. I was a committed traveler on the path to Awakening. I read books from all the different sects of Buddhism and Zen was my favorite. I really wanted to be a Zen Buddhist, but I didn’t know where to begin.
At first I was really not interested in joining a spiritual community. I just wanted to practice and study on my own and years went by in this way.
After my daughter was born I started to think more seriously about it. The Buddha tells us that the three things we take refuge in are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha: the teacher, the teachings and the spiritual community.
I didn’t have a spiritual community and my friends weren’t all that interested in taking the journey with me, so I was on my own.
But something held me back.
I met another mystic. He wasn’t a Buddhist, he was a Hindu, a practitioner of a teaching called Advaita Vedanta. Advaita Vedanta is very similar to Buddhism in a lot of ways. It’s a non-dualistic spiritual system. I studied some of the texts of Advaita Vedanta and there are big parallels between that philosophy and Buddhism.
We talked for a little while and I became inspired to go further in my practice. Although his path wasn’t exactly the same as mine, meeting another person like me, another dedicated mystic, really gave me the motivation that I needed.
Not long after, I would attend the first Buddhist temple I found, the Rime Buddhist Center.
I didn’t want to visit the Rime Center at first.
I was resistant to the idea of Vajrayana Buddhism. Many of the elements of it that I read about sounded weird and unnecessary to me.
Vajrayana Buddhism is known for having a lot of bowing and chanting. It’s also known for having a lot of devotion toward the spiritual teacher. Guru worship is not something that interests me. But I went.
I heard it was a non-sectarian center anyway, so I thought it might not be entirely weird chants and costumes.
I had been a Buddhist for a few years, but had actually never really talked to another one.
So, one Sunday I decided to go.
We had overtime available that day at work, so I decided to go to the temple service at the Rime Center and then go to work. The building I work in is about a block away from the Rime Center. In fact, the only reason the Rime Center was easy for me to find is because I drove by it on my way home from work every single day. It’s right next to the ramp to the highway I use, I-35.
So, in I went.
I was struck by the smell of incense, which I like. I took off my shoes and walked up to a very friendly greeter. He asked me if I was Buddhist and I said yes. I found a cushion to sit on and sat through the Sunday service.
Being around other Buddhists was a transformative experience for me. Even though I didn’t really meet anyone that day, it meant a lot to me.
The service at the Rime Center has a whole lot of chanting, which I’m not really into. But, it also has group meditation, which I like a lot.
I was there for 90 minutes and by then I knew it was a new home for me.
Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr
Editor: Dana Gornall