Twenty years ago I was preparing to retire from a twenty-nine year teaching career when events unfolded which led me to my Buddhist practice. My Mother was ill in my hometown in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and I began making frequent trips to visit her. Always an avid reader, I often visited the small local bookstore/cafe and found an array of books, among them many to appeal to those who might be attending the Buddhist Retreat Center which had been established since I left just outside the town. I began reading some of these texts and realized I had always been a Buddhist but just didn’t know it!
I didn’t choose specifically to become a Tendai practitioner, but the more I read, and the more I became exposed to Buddhist concepts, I finally decided to find a sangha. At first I rather casually studied Tibetan Buddhism for a few month with a group not far from my home; but just when the Tibetan teachers went on vacation, I happened to find a notice in a local newspaper that Monshin Sensei was giving a lecture on Buddhist iconography and I decided to attend. At that point, I had no idea who he was or even where the Dharma Center was located.
Just that first meeting at Karuna Tendai Dharma Center with Monshin and Shumon convinced me that I had found people who were truly dedicated to the practice. Even though I did not know the particulars of that path or have an inkling of what Tendai-shu espoused, I found these new teachers to be so genuinely friendly, enthusiastic and dedicated that I began studying Tendai in earnest; and as I learned the specifics of the Ekayana teachings, I made a commitment to continue on the path in earnest, eventually deciding to attend gyo training and became a doshu or lower level temple assistant.
Inspired by the special people around me who were also studying, and by the example of Shumon and Monshin, I eventually became ordained to assist them in any way I could in helping to spread and teach the Dharma. The yearly gyo training for prospective priests over the course of about six years was physically and mentally challenging for me, but, fortunately, I had just retired from my teaching career so I had the time and still a reservoir of energy to move along the path.
I learned of the importance of the sangha in assisting me in my practice and hope I may have inspired others. Eventually, I and several others assisted Monshin in setting up Nishi Sangha in Albany, New York. The synchronicity of all these random events has underlined for me the concept of the interpenetration of all things.
In the future, I hope to continue my commitment to assist as a priest at Nishi Sangha and to assist Monshin and Shumon at Jiun-zan Tendai-ji when necessary.