Between a rock and a hard place
I came to Buddhism – or rather Buddhism came to me, on a cold bathroom floor in a hotel in Hong Kong…
I’d never been religious – or should I say I’ve never been a Christian – my family was Lutheran – and brought me up as a Lutheran- I’m from South Carolina and my 4 brothers and I were forced to go to c church each and every Sunday whether we wanted to or not.
So after I left home I never looked at the inside of another church again thankfully – it wasn’t for me – it never had been.
I went into the Navy, and while stationed in Iceland met a girl whom I married. Like so many, I was too young and silly to get married – but you can’t tell a bone-headed young guy anything – especially a bone-headed Sailor for crying out loud. It wasn’t meant to be a marriage but we tried to make it that way. My new bride was of the Catholic variety – and didn’t seem to mind that she’d married an Atheist (Boy did her parents though!)
It didn’t take long to come to understand that the marriage wasn’t right – it was wrong from the start and got worse and worse – lots of fighting and we both knew it would end. My life wasn’t very happy those days – I knew suffering well. Later after we both got out of the Navy we were in living/working in Australia – and finally had put in the paper work for a divorce. Having kids – it was very difficult indeed for everyone – we all suffered.
We took one last vacation together – I don’t know exactly WHY we’d do this when we were only weeks away from a divorce – but we did….we went to Hong Kong because it wasn’t so far away. It was NOT a happy vacation – more fighting, more anger….
We fought so much during that 3-4 day Hong Kong vacation that I found myself getting away from the sadness and my soon-to-be-ex-wife and where else to get away in Hong Kong but down in the streets.
So many many many people in Hong Kong – I’d never seen so many people in my LIFE! They were EVERYWHERE! There was NO WAY to getaway from all those people! So I simply would stand in front of my hotel door and jump into the moving walking crowd – like a man jumping into a river. And that river of people would sweep me away up one street, down another, across roads, up sidewalks, down sidewalks – SO MANY PEOPLE!!! It was both humorous and at the same time really got me thinking – where did all of these people come from? Where are they GOING!? The funniest part of the Hong Kong streets was that I was not going anywhere – I was simply WALKING WITH THEM – if anything I was escaping the fighting that would happen back up in the hotel room.
I couldn’t take it anymore – all the people – and that night I returned to the hotel room – and the bickering began soon after. I WAS TRAPPED – an angry wife in a small hotel room – or a crowd of a billion people in the streets below!! ARRRGHHH! But I found a place to hide from it all – the BATH ROOM – a man’s hideaway from the troubles of the world.
And on the way into that bathroom I grabbed a book to read – a book that was already in the hotel room – there beside the TV – a small red book – THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA.
I went into that hotel bathroom escaping my troubles, with a full pack of smokes and a book about The Buddha – and I came out of that bathroom many hours later with blacker lungs and a Buddhist!!
WOW! I had thought that Buddhists were “foreigners” that worshiped a statue of a bald fat dude – Oh how wrong I was! That book HIT ME man – I mean it HIT ME – this book wasn’t about falling to your knees to worship anyone or anything – it wasn’t about pits of Hell, it wasn’t about “do this” and “don’t do that” – it was all common sense – but at the same time it was WONDERFUL! It was if I had read the book before – it was everything I’d believed in for so long! It was ME!! The thousands of people in the street below me – the walking among them, the fighting, the book – it was all very conducive to my learning of Buddhism that night, I believe now, because I was a trapped man – everywhere around me were strangers, fighting, sadness – and here I was a tiny speck of a human among millions – surrounded by suffering and anger – on a cold hard bathroom floor….
That was about 5 years ago – I’ve since remarried, and in that 5 years have studied many forms of Buddhism and met many Buddhists – about a year or two ago – I decided I AM a Buddhist – not to put a label on me – but by golly I feel I belong a Buddhist – it’s for me. But as one of my favorite sayings goes – “Don’t’ be a Buddhist – be a BUDDHA!!”
I have attended several temples in my area (Dallas) – one was PureLand, the other was more generic – and I have plans to visit a Zen temple soon. One of the greatest messages of the Dhamma to me is the message of compassion – and it really is truly becoming more and more a part of me to practice compassion and love for those around me. It’s SO important. As His Holiness The Dalai Lama says – “My religion is kindness”.