I discovered Tendai Buddhism largely by accident when I took a human osteology course in 2007 whose professor, Rev. Monshin Paul Naamon, was a Buddhist monk and abbot of the nearby Jiunzan Tendaiji Temple. At the time a staunch atheist, I was surprised to find on visiting the temple for a service that it offered a connection to the sacred which I hadn’t realized I was missing. Over the next few years I delved into learning about Buddhism and became a regular at services, finding in the combination of theory and practice a lens which put the world around me into new focus. In 2011 I chose to commit to the Buddhist path and took refuge.
At the same time, Rev. Naamon had also taken on a career advising role in my life drawing from his own experience in medical anthropology. With his guidance, I chose to pursue a career in medicine as a path which facilitates both my academic interests and commitment to work toward the alleviation of suffering.
Buddhism continued to shape my life choices as I pursued education in both the hands on application of healing (Doctor of Medicine/MD) and the community context of health (Masters of Public Health/MPH). I ultimately concluded that a third aspect, the spiritual context of health, was missing from the present day practice of medicine.
My patients served as my teachers in the power of their spiritual wellbeing to shape not only their emotional but also physical symptoms to the point that I now conclude that these three aspects (the spiritual, emotional, and physical) are not so much three separate entities influencing one another as three perspectives on the same subject – wellbeing. Historically, healers in many cultures have dealt concurrently with all aspects of wellbeing, while our current medical framework tends to separate them into silos. Medical education has begun to address the interplay of emotional and physical health, however, the spiritual aspect has largely been left by the wayside.
In light of this, I chose to pursue ordination as a Tendai monk toward the goal of integrating the practices of medical and pastoral care. I began this training in June, 2017, and am now serving as temple assistant at the Tendai Buddhist Institute.