With the equinox just past, the onset of October brings chilly winds and the change in leaves around the Northeast. The feeling of fall is definitely setting in. The shift echoes the recent changes in my own life. A lot has changed.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Koshin, and I have been training with Monshin for 20 years now. I have been a part of the community at Karuna Tendai Dharma Center – Tendai Buddhist Institute – in various ways over that time. From a college student of Monshin’s at Bard College at Simon’s Rock attending on occasional Wednesday nights, to Soryo (priest) trainee, to temple assistant, and now moving my family out of the Boston area to return to become more involved at the temple going forward.
Some of you I have known for that entire span, some I am only just starting to meet, but I thought that I would take this time to introduce myself and hopefully give a glimpse into how I’ve made it to this point.
It started with taking Monshin’s Buddhism 101 type of class when I was 18. It would turn out to have a tremendous impact on me. What I learned helped me piece together the hodgepodge of spiritual thinking that may often occur with a non-religious upbringing. It gave me such a sense of relief to find something that actually made sense and provided a philosophical foundation of teachings that I could turn to when feeling lost and overwhelmed.
So much so that I asked Monshin if I could spend time with him at the temple over that summer to learn and experience more. He agreed, but made the caveat that “there’s a training period that we do every summer, so if you come, you would have to attend that too”. And before I knew it, I was in priesthood training (talk about skillful means…). I broadened my major to include East Asian Studies and I got to spend a semester in Japan, living at a village temple, observing a priest during his training as he performed 108 Goma rituals, one each morning.
At that point, people in my life always asked what I was doing, why I was devoting myself to Buddhism like this? And frankly, it never felt wrong and it was fulfilling. It helped me so much personally, I had an amazing guide and teacher, and it gave me a sense of purpose. Why turn away from that? Over time, I felt like I had changed for the better as the Buddhist teachings continually provided more instances of awe and perspective.
Flash forward, and I’m training, learning, and otherwise living life as anyone does in their 20s. I had always known I wanted to help others, and had originally considered psychology to be that avenue, but with my time in Japan, in college, and conversations with Monshin, I found myself applying to and attending acupuncture school. Meanwhile, I completed my priesthood training, becoming ordained as a temple soryo. And before completing school, I found myself again asking Monshin to be able to live and stay at the temple. As soon as I graduated, I moved in to Tendai Buddhist Institute and became temple assistant.
I can’t really explain why or how it all happened. I tend to just chalk it up to karma, or some sort of beautiful serendipity. But it all just played out, and with one step in front of the other, it all naturally unfolded. I do remember though, there was a solidifying moment that I found myself finding the words that tend to help me explain why I am choosing a life a service to others. Mostly, it comes down to, Buddhism helped me so much as a youth (and continues to do so), that in taking vows and becoming a priest, if I could help even one person have the same relief and gratification from the Buddha-Dharma, it would all be worth it.
I have to continue to make that choice every day. So much so that when I started dating my now wife, from literally day two of dating, I was very clear about my choices, what my purpose has been, and where my life was going because of that. If that wasn’t OK with her, there was no point in continuing in the relationship. She’s an acupuncturist as well and had started a growing business in the Boston area. So to be dating a Buddhist priest who lived two hours away, who made it quite clear that she would eventually have to move from her home and business to rural upstate New York… Well, I give her a lot of credit, because in that moment, she had to start making those same intentional choices I was, understanding that I was a package deal – as it were. Luckily, it wasn’t as off-putting as I thought it was.
Point being, now we both had to start making specific, purposeful choices together. I moved to the Boston area to help her grow her business so that we had some sort of nest egg for our eventual move back to the temple area. When I went to Japan for three months with no outside contact to complete my training on Mt. Hiei, she took care of everything, including our first child, who was turning two at the time. We grew the business in very specific ways with the full knowledge that we were eventually going to leave someday and manage it from afar.
Each choice along the way had a specific intention behind it. Meanwhile, we now have two children, employ 13 staff, and have (so far) successfully done everything we have set out to do. We’ve moved to a town neighboring the temple and plan to become more and more involved with the on-goings there. We will open another (much smaller) acupuncture office locally. And so here we are, living out what I (now we) have continually been striving for. And as I sit and write this, reflecting on all this time, I keep coming back to that one reason, one intention, one purpose; to help at least one other person. I hope it happens, if it hasn’t already. Either way, I will continue to make the choices I need to in order for that to happen.
There are always reasons for making even a single choice. Seemingly, if we have a pure, true intention, the direction of our choices is made easier. But it’s not. Living with purpose can be fulfilling, but not always. Sacrifices may be needed, circumstances made more difficult, or opportunities missed. The choices need to be steadfast either way.
We must choose to make certain choices. Those that I have made are certainly not the norm, nor are they for everyone. However, if we do choose to live by the Buddhist teachings, for example, then we should at least conduct ourselves in a certain way. Living with the Buddha-Dharma as our guide can provide a schemata, but does not make your moment to moment choices for us. However, compassion should be at the heart of them, wisdom to guide them, and skillful means to implement them.
The choices I have made have brought me to where I am at this moment. Some were good, some were not. Some will be, and some won’t be. However, my purpose, my intent will at least direct how I move forward. I will count myself lucky if I can continually learn from the good and bad in order to best maneuver the next steps to come. I hope that we can work together and help each other choose to live with the purpose of alleviating the suffering of all sentient beings.
Be well and Gassho . . . Koshin