By Won Jee-Dustin Knoop
I am still a beginner in my Buddhist path; therefore, my story is best suited for those who are just being introduced to Buddhism. You may have taken a class in eastern religion, overheard someone's conversation about the benefits of meditation, or by chance have found this newsletter in your hands and decided to read its contents.
I'll start by going through how I found myself on what many call the "Buddhist Path", which will be followed by my early interpretations of some of the Buddhist concepts and will finish with what I hope will be gained with further practice.
Like many Americans, I grew up Catholic/Presbyterian. I only have a vague idea as to what differentiates the two despite a few years of Sunday School. While as a child I think the overall framework of the Catholic religion was beneficial in terms of teaching me about community and helping others, as I got older I realized the religion just did not speak to me. I soon went off to college and fell into the once-a-year at Christmas routine of going to church and not thinking much else about religion. In college I had taken an Eastern Religions course that included Buddhism and remember the concepts appealed to me. I've always analyzed things logically, and here was a religion/framework that really fit well within how I viewed the world and my own being. I wasn't quite mature enough yet though and continued on my way through life without giving Buddhism much thought once I completed the final exam.
Fast forward five years and you'd find me in your typical New York finance job working some-what long hours in an unfulfilling job and not really knowing myself...but I certainty knew I was unhappy. Unhappy with where my life was headed and realizing I could no longer be content with just working during the week and going out drinking on weekends. I knew there had to be more to life. After a google search for New York Buddhist temples, I found myself one Sunday getting a lesson from Reverend Park about the proper method of meditation. The great thing I've realized is that meditation is a practice that helps you take control of your wandering thoughts. Its exercise for your brain. Like anyone else, I found myself getting wrapped up in my emotions...well in honesty, I still do. As I mentioned, I am still a beginner, but I have seen progress in my ability to calm my mind and stay within a meditative state. The most important thing I've learned thus far in my practice is that it takes a huge amount of discipline to break the cycles that we fall into...whether its how you respond to certain situations, how you view the world and most importantly how you view yourself.
Along with my studying buddhism, I have been reading many books ranging from psychology to science. The book "Think of an Elephant" is a great book that presents a unified theory of various sciences, which interestingly enough, the framework of buddhism fits perfectly within it. Essentially, what I've come to believe is that our purpose in life is to grow spiritually in order to see our true nature as humans. If you are a beginner like myself, you will hear dharma talks on emptiness and other Buddhist concepts and will be confused as to what these concepts mean or how they relate to your life. The best advice I can give is to read the Scriptures of Won Buddhism. Once you read through it and continue to listen to the dharma talks, all of a sudden you will experience mini realizations as to what it all means. While the concept of emptiness and letting go of your ego are much grander topics to fully understand (neither of which I have fully grasped), the simple lessons about human nature will fascinate you immediately. Several times I came across a new message and realized that is exactly how I've lived my life thus far. Buddhism mentions that all of our suffering as humans is caused by our attachments, such as greed and yearning for fame.
As I continue along the path to enlightenment, my immediate goals are to become more disciplined in my meditation practice and set aside time each week to just contemplate life. When was the last time you looked up at the sky and looked at the stars? Or thought of how vast the universe is and how this whole spectrum of experience came to be. If you're like myself, you've spent entirely too much time this week thinking about the things you want in your life that you don't yet have, or have dwelled on your past experiences, both good and bad.
I have been coming to the temple since last November and am thankful for the great environment and amazingly friendly people I have met. While I still find myself getting wrapped up in the various emotions of the day, I have noticed a much greater awareness of myself within those emotions...which is the first step to being able to change. I'll end with an analogy. In my opinion we all go through life like a pinball bouncing around in the machine REACTING to the various bumpers of emotion and life experiences. Its through meditation that you realize our higher level of consciousness is the person standing over the pinball machine which is able to reach down and pull the ball out of its reactive existence.