By Rev. Mick Tuffrey
I was asked how my lone Buddhist journey began and it caused me to pause and reflect.
When we lived near the sea in Wales, I would watch boats sail using the power of the wind. I found it fascinating and wanted to be able to do that.
Now I could have gone to a sailing school (as I later did) or hired a teacher. However, I had a friend called Adrian, who was a merchant navy officer. Whenever he was home from sea he would pull out his battered and patched together small boat and sail on the sea for the joy of doing it.
I asked him, could he teach me to sail a boat?
He paused and thought he then explained, that he had taught himself to sail as a child. He could teach me how to do it but was worried that he did not know what the parts of the boat were called. He had no language for what he was doing because he had literally learnt by sitting in his unfashionable old boat and made it move across the water using the power of the wind. He was worried that if I wanted to join a club or race or have any interaction with organised sailing, I might be at a disadvantage.
He said he had never wanted to do those things; he just liked the act of moving with the wind.
He sailed a boat at 14 years old from the North Coast of Wales to the Isle of Man—a serious journey—with no taught tools of sailing or indeed navigation. He just applied his feeling for wind, sea and geography to his journey. It was a truly inspiring adventure.
I am not sure he would ever regard himself as my spiritual teacher. However, I have always held him up as my icon in my lone Buddhist journey.
I had some experiences as a child which I never really discussed with anyone. I knew what they felt like and that they were truly profound. They were at the core of all that I seemed to experience. I did not know names for any of the parts or have any language to articulate them to others. I was frightened to try and explain as child. As an adolescent I was concerned about ridicule.
At 14 I had a moment when the universe poured into me or I dissolved into it.
As I explained much later in life, this person being a very committed Buddhist, “Funny how my entire “understanding” is founded on less than 30 seconds.”
In college I was nominally studying engineering, however I dwelt in the library and over the course of my first year I read the entire Philosophy and Comparative Religion section of this institution. I felt I need some understanding of what had happened.
The Sakamunya Buddha pointed to that experience. I always explain it was at that point I sought refuge.
I have tried formalised Buddhist training, like a sailing school it has given me names for the parts and some language for explanation around that truth. I could never see why I had to hold my hands in a certain way to do Zazen. What had happened to me, happened slouched on a plastic leather sofa behind the net curtains of my parents semi detached house in rural England.
I thank my old friend Adrian for his profound teaching. He showed me that it is sailing he experienced rather than all the stuff of sailing.
I continue on my journey on a path that may lead somewhere.
Rev. Mick Tuffrey is a 65 year old English guy, who as you read had—and continues to have —some unusual experiences in his life from my early childhood. From the age of 14 onwards he has taken part in major expeditions through out the world. He has climbed, trekked, pedalled, paddled, sailed, motorcycled, rafted, etc. through wilderness areas throughout the world. Mainly spurred on by that same sense of wonder that brought him to seek refuge in the three pearls. He initially trained as an engineer, however found the career structure would not allow his adventures. So he trained as a nurse at which he worked at erratically for 40 years. In this time he also completed a degree in philosophy. During all this time he has practiced as a lone Buddhist. In recent years he has read with interest more Secular Buddhist authors.
Editor: Dana Gornall