Brief notes on Buddhist thought and practice
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Me and the Buddha

(A much longer version of this essay is available here)

For most of my life I was a "Western Civ" kind of guy. But when midlife crisis arrived around age 35 (about 1990), all that changed.

In February of 1997 I found myself on a plane to Japan to take a job as an English teacher in a commercial English school. Almost five years later, I had studied with a lama, befriended several monks, completed four major pilgrimages (read details of one of those pilgrimages here), visited literally hundreds of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, chanted numerous Buddhist prayers, and sat Zazen. I had lit more incense, venerated more statues, and devoured more books than I can count.

And still my experiential knowledge hadn't "clicked."

Back in the States, I was seeking a way link up my knowledge of temples and pilgrimages with authentic Buddhist teachings.

To my surprise, in my own home town of Rosemead, California, there was a Buddhist university, the University of the West, operated by a vital, living monastic community--and they offered a Ph.D. for a mere $1,000US a semester.

So I went back to school.

By December of 2003 I had completed all of the coursework for a Doctor of Philosophy in the study of religions--and there I stopped, due largely to my departure to China. I lack the dissertation and the language requirement (Sanskrit, Pali, classical Chinese, or Tibetan). But I have learned enough to give the rest of my sojourn in this world a shape and a direction.

I also went to work full time at Hsi Lai Temple, the Chinese Buddhist temple which had sponsored the university, working as a tour guide, editor, and ESL teacher to the staff (including monks and nuns). (Follow my Tour of Hsi Lai Temple here.)

Since moving to China, I have had numerous opportunities to participate in this living tradition, including teaching kids for a week at a mountain temple in Fujian (read about that here) and teaching monks "Buddhism in English" for a year at a temple in Yangzhou, Jiangsu.

Throughout my experiences, I have tried to crystallize the Buddha's life and teachings in as simple a way as possible. Whether it was for curious friends in Japan, Western tourists at the temple in L.A., or the kids and monks in China, I have had to continually shave away the abstruse ideas and abstract language to get down to the core.

In these pages I will share some of the results of that winnowing. My sources have been many, both in print and in the flesh. I have benefited from the wisdom of many Buddhist traditions. But what follows is my take, my way of understanding. It may well differ from the teaching of a lama, a roshi, an ajahn, a fashi. But it is a living thing, and what is represented here is how it lives in me.

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