My Life as a Buddhist

I think I chose Buddhism because my mother was one. She wasn’t particularly religious at the time, opting to join our community gatherings at the church and indulging into the culture which was pervasive in Louisiana.

I did not know much about it, except it didn’t require weekly church attendance. That was good enough for me. I did still hang out with my friends, many of whom questioned me about my new allegiance. I noticed that I’d also have more conversations with adults with anecdotes like “One of my friends is a lawyer and wasn’t Christian, but when challenged he read through the bible to find a loophole and couldn’t. Thus, he became a Christian”. These were great arguments, but the issue is that none of my friends and adults realized that I didn’t care about the truth. I cared about not attending Sunday school. Eternal Damnation was still so far away, being able to play in the backyard was more than worth it at the time.

My study into Buddhism started to pick up more when we lived in Scotland (Peng age 12) and especially in Australia (Peng age 15). In Scotland we did a roadtrip to Manchester for a 1 week meditation course at the Saraniya Dhamma Meditation Center. 4AM wake, sitting/walking meditation throughout the day. Reading and memorizing chants. No food after 12PM until the next day. I immediately hated it, and started developing physical symptoms like vomiting, lack of energy, and general headache and dizziness.

In a conversation with the head Monk, he immediately changed my routine to a much more lenient one and announced this to the whole monastery. I would sleep as much as I wanted, I was able to do meditation in a lying position, eat at any time during the day, and would have 1:1 classes with the monks throughout the day to explore Buddhist teaching at my own pace/interest and even learn some of the traditional Pali language.

In Australia, my mother became much more religious and would start going regularly to the temple learning more about the religion. My father was very accommodating and would follow along. I was more and more intrigued about the mythology surrounding Buddhism and the principles behind it.

Age 15-19 was also an opportune time to dive into religion as I started being better able to grasp abstract concepts like the soul and to question things like how the universe was created, and how the world worked. I also developed more patience to sit through chanting, sermons, sending meta (or kindness), and the various rituals like blessing the food.

We were also very fortunate to be located close to Ajahn Brahm in Perth who was a controversial figure in Buddhism at the time, but was funny, down to earth, and very relatable. He believed that Buddhism should be about kindness- not just to others, but also yourself. This is in stark contrast to Zen Buddhism where pain is a teacher and strict discipline is essential.

Ajahn Brahm believed that you should listen and be kind to your body- be as comfortable as possible to be able to meditate more (although not too comfortable that you’d fall asleep). He advocated that you should spend as many days sleeping as you could to adjust to a more calm and peaceful lifestyle and to shake off the stresses of work and life before beginning your meditation retreats.

He spoke about being kind and accepting of LGTBQ, and was a staunch advocate for women. So much so that he was excommunicated from many Buddhist organizations for ordaining a Nun. (Buddhist Monks could only ordain Monks, and Nuns could ordain Nuns, but due to war/conflict there aren’t any true Nuns in the Theravada Thai Buddhist Community left.)

I developed so much respect for Buddhism, both from the overall kindness and philosophy of the religion/practice, as well as from having met a great teacher. Their teachings of non-violence, respect for the lives of all beings, being kind and letting go of anger just sat very well for me, and even throughout college after I moved away from Perth I was a committed and practicing Buddhist.

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