There was a difference to the 11th Dharma session of Middle Way Buddhist Association, held on Dec 15, 2007 at its venue at Pinellas Park, a rather welcome one I would say. And yet it continues a long tradition, not in terms of absolute time though, of a preceding meditation session and of being graced by great Buddhist teachers, in this instance, Bhante Dhammawansha.
After the mind invigorating meditation session, which by now most of the attendees are comfortable with, Brother Tom and Sister Lily convened the succeeding Dharma session by having everyone sitting around in a circle, as opposed to the usual classroom style, and, here comes the interesting and, though in hind sight (to me), rewarding difference: mutual introduction.
Thus far, most of the getting to know you and getting to share experiences with others on the path to Buddhist wisdom among the attendees have been ongoing on an individual basis conducted before the start or after the end of the session. Invariably, that gravitates, at least for me, to a rather personal selective process of interacting with anyone in immediate proximity. I have not been adventurous enough to actively seek out every attendee and engage everyone in sharing individual takes on this rather personal spiritual journey.
So, I was hesitant at best when Sister Lily started the ball rolling, and, one by one, everyone related the many varied motivations each has been driven by, and the as many paths, but ultimately converging, each has traversed. It reminded me of the scene of a typical AA meeting seen in movies, each participatant owning up to the reality of addiction and taking positive steps toward sobriety.
I have never been comfortable in spilling out my inner thoughts in a public setting, not the least of which is the specter of public speaking despite many years of honing the skill in my work, albeit still rather restricted to the professional side of my life. And my blogs are the first platforms, though still with a modicum of anonymity, that I have started sharing experiences that I believe can be beneficial to others.
But by the time my turn came, I was ready. After having listened to others' personal anecdotes, some rather unreservedly, my mental speech draft, in outline form, took shape. All I needed to do was filling the oral gaps with a bit of extemporaneous exploration. Here I would rather not try to paraphrase what others had said to obviate any inaccuracy on my part, but a recollection of my own delivery, with some judicious expansion befitting a written rather than a strictly transcribed format:
Coming from Malaysia, I grew up in a multi-racial setting within which different religious faiths are practiced. While I have stepped into temples and churches on many occasions, back then I did not subscribe to any particular faith, contented to be associated with the moniker free-thinker. Some of my sisters and brothers are devout Christians, but their religious affiliation did not rub on to me as I was preoccupied with worldly pursuits just like any other normal kid/teen/adult as I advanced in age, and so I thought.
On the other hand, wify was brought up in a traditional Buddhist environment, the influence of her paternal grandmother being instrumental in this regard. Since she does not drive, I became the designated driver for all her trips to temples and Buddhist centers, and believe me that adds up to a lot of trips over the years. The practice carried over to US when we came here in January 2004.
I like reading. So while waiting for wify to do her “things”, I naturally passed the time by picking up Buddhist books, of which there are usually aplenty in any temple. Introductory texts, interpretive Buddhist scriptures, both English and Chinese, became the fodder of my avid foray into the spiritual world of the printed word.
I started to identify with many of the core values enshrined in Buddhism: compassion, wisdom, universal love, thinking of others before self, and giving. Above all, I'm in tune with the Buddhist world view of self-determination, of internalization of Buddhist teachings through one's practice, and inner peace as the way to go.
In many ways, the virtuous acts mandated by the Five Precepts (no killing, no stealing, no adultery, no lying, and no intoxicating substances) are already suffused into my subconscious to become part and parcel of my daily life. Admittedly, I still have some way to go. For example, sometimes I have to constantly remind myself not to harm any ant that happens to crawl across my work desk (it used to be just a mere act of lifting a finger and be done with it). At other times I still have to resort to some white lies in order not to worsen an existing situation (a kind of delaying the truth telling if you will, but all in the absence of mala fide).
So I see myself as a Buddhist at heart, though I have yet to undergo the Taking the Vows ceremony to formalize the transition. But I will do that in due course, when I feel the time is right. I'm what and where I'm today in my relatively short sojourn of spiritual pursuit that terminates in the ultimate wisdom of the Buddhist teachings due to wify's steadfast adherence to Buddhism as a central guidance in her life. And for that I'm thankful.
Two of my great teachers in Buddhism, Bhante Dhammawansha and wify, who doubles as my better half in life too, taken in from of Bhante's residence at Clearwater, with the Bodhi Tree in the background.
Wify and I have been supporting the MWBA in anyway that we can since its inception in early March this year. And we will continue to do so in the future. In return, though I say that guardedly lest it be misconstrued as expectations, I have benefited much more from the great Buddhist teachers that we have had and am sure we will continue to have and the collective experience of fellow attendees.
What started off as a record of the day's proceeding, filtered by my own lens as it were, has kind of wandered off into an annotation of my personal journey of discovery in the vast seascape of spirituality. In the interest of maintaining an appropriate length for a blog article, albeit a subjective one, and more so for my own benefit of mulling over what Bhante Dhammawansha has delivered in an effort to better synthesize it into a coherent whole, I would stop here for now and leave this as an affirmation of my having found my true spiritual guide in life.