A Barn Fire and Buddhism

First, another item I’m adding to the morning green smoothies: iodine drops. A friend started using these recently and has noticed an uptick in her natural vitality. Most of the iodine we consume (up to 70 percent) rests in the thyroid gland. If you’re not eating iodized salt, as I don’t, you may be deficient in iodine. Just 3 tiny drops a day of this high-power mineral supplement is all that’s needed.

A blog reader emailed me over the holiday, asking about my journey with Tibetan Buddhism. As we were chatting, I realized that I have never gone into any detail here about my studies and practice.

I first met with Tibetan Buddhism when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I had received an assignment to cover a fire in a town called Old Saybrook, on the Connecticut shoreline. The owner of the barn that had burned to the ground was a man named David Brown, a longtime Buddhist who had lived and studied in Tibet, and settled on a 12-acre farm in Old Saybrook, where he grew organic veggies and fruits, bred Tibetan mastiffs, and painted.

David and I got to talking about things other than the fire, and we quickly connected. Soon after, I met David’s closest friends, a group of Tibetans who lived in Old Saybrook and who formed a large and close-knit Buddhist community there. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to Buddhists in nearby Madison and New Haven.

It was a fast assimilation. These people lived simply, honestly, peacefully, kindly, and happily. They were members of the Karma Kagyu lineage of the Kagyu school of Buddhism, the lineage to which I subscribe. They were not interested in recruiting me. Their spirituality did not clash with humanistic values, which were and continue to be important to me. Their minds were supple and strong, and strongly academic. They studied the Dharma constantly. Compassion was at the heart of everything they said and did. They smiled and laughed a lot. They were incredibly beautiful. I fell in love completely.

I sought to understand as well as I could everything about the Kagyu school, so I returned to my alma mater, Wesleyan University, and matriculated at the School of East Asian Studies there. I traveled to China with a friend, where we made pilgrimages to as many Buddhist monasteries and gatherings as we could. I learned some Cantonese and worshipped at Po Lin Monastery, where I saw a vision of a powerful wisdom field about the head of the Buddha.

Back home, I found my way to Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center in Middletown, where I met the Rinpoche, who became my spiritual advisor. And I discovered the Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut, where Buddhists of many different schools gather to meditate, travel, and discuss and study all aspects of Buddhism.

I jumped in completely, knowing without a shred of doubt that I’d found all the answers I’d been looking for. I had been raised and trained in a Christian system that I rejected as a child, but in obedience to my parents, continued to practice until I was an adult. But I was 18 and legally free of that obedience when I dispensed with Christianity altogether.

That community of Buddhists that I met while covering a story about a barn fire changed everything. David Brown continues to be a good friend. I continue studies at Wesleyan, regularly attend the Fellowship’s events, and am a member at the Chenrezig center. I’m studying the Tibetan language with the hope that someday I may be of service as a translator.

I’m studying Korean Buddhism and have incorporated components of Japanese Zen Buddhism into my practice, but am and will continue to be of the Karma Kagyu lineage of the Kagyu school of Buddhism, where the transmission of the most precious Dharma is precise and pure.

I now have a powerful desire to participate in a Black Crown ceremony, for which I would have to travel to Rumtek monastery in India, should the crown, which has been missing for years, is believed to be located.

The heart of the Black Crown ceremony is compassion: the Karmapa invokes Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, and becomes inseparable from him. It’s said that by just viewing the Black Crown in the ceremony, one will become the first bhumi bodhisattva within three lifetimes.

This likely sounds like gibberish to those who aren’t of the Kagyu lineage, and those who haven’t studied Buddhism. To me, it would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

There’s lots more to tell, but that’s the core of it. Buddhism found me, and it was an instant connection. Other than my wedding day, the day I met David Brown to cover the story about a barn fire was the most important day of my life.

Live in peace.

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