This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, amazing, challenging things. This is the story of Samantha and her Buddhist faith.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi, I'm Samantha a 29-year-old part time stay-at-home mom and part time thrift store merchandising guru. I live part time in Seattle, WA and the rest of the time on the Big Island of Hawaii. I enjoy photographing life, long chats about the Heart Sutra over coffee, thinking about travel while drooling over National Geographic Traveler, zombies, and daydreaming about what I'm going to sew next. Other than that I'm a hopeless cat lover who is a treading a fine line of becoming a cat lady.
What was your relationship with religion as a child?
I grew up in a very small town where I was raised and baptized in a Methodist church, went to Sunday school every week, and was Gabriel in every Christmas play. Happily I accepted everything that was told to me without question. It wasn't until I was 10 did I start to feel out of place and broke away from the church. It upset my family, but looking back I realized that I couldn't relate to what was being taught. For many years I tried to be the Christian that my family wanted but pretending to be something I wasn't made me miserable.
When did you become interested in Buddhism?
In college, my World Religions teacher was Buddhist. She didn't push her beliefs on anyone, but you could see her deep understanding and respect for Buddhism. She helped start me on a very long journey that took me about 10 years to find the person who became my root lama (teacher) who is a high lama in the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
Looking back I believe that Tibetan Buddhism has been been my path in many past lives and that is why I can understand what it teaches in the words and concepts that resonates with me where Christianity could not.
What does your faith bring to your daily life?
From a partitioner's standpoint I meditate each day. Every morning I do the basic mediation of Ngondro, Sunday is Chenrezi (meditation on compassion), and when I'm stressed, upset, or have a few minutes down time I do Om Mani Padme Hum.
When I took refuge (think of the Buddhist form of Baptism) there were several vows that I took - the most important was not intentionally causing suffering to others. One of the best examples of this is gossiping. We are not to gossip about anyone in the sangha (the spiritual community). If we disagree with someone or get mad at them we have to find healthy ways to handle it. Gossiping about them is to never be a solution. So far I have been done well with this and have created some strong relationship at my monastery because I have been able to accept people for who they are. This is something that has spilled our into the other parts of my life.
For those of us who don't know, what are the basic tenets of Buddhism?
The first teaching that Buddha gave after he was enlightened was based on the four Noble Truths. Everyone suffers, suffering is caused by attachment, but suffering can be ceased by following the eight-fold path. There is no simple or easy way to explain the depth of each of these in a few short sentences.
Basically, we believe that when we die, we are reincarnated and all the good or bad deeds that result in karma determine our position in the next life. The goals is to break free from this cycle called samsara, become enlightened, and reach nirvana.
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that accumulating a form of karma called merit is what breaks us free of our samsara. However, the the ultimate goal is to reach the level of a Bodhisattva who is an enlightened being, but postpones nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened. My monastery offers a much more in depth and better explanation.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Buddhists?
What most people don't realize is that there are many different varieties of Buddhists. The easiest way to explain it is by comparing it to Christianity which has many different divisions. They all teach the same ideals just in their own way.
Also we aren't all vegetarian! This is actually a highly debated topic right now, but my lama believes that as long as you have no illusion about why you eat meat and you don't kill just to kill it is okay to eat it. Truthfully I love me some steak, but say a prayer for the cow to releases it from its samsara and thank the animal for giving it's life for me. However I do make sure that the animal wasn't exposed to unnecessary suffering so no hormones, cage free, grass feed diets only, and slaughtered ethically.
How would you define your relationship with your faith?
My life has been changed in many ways. One of the lamas told me that a person's karma is what they do. Your karma is how you react. That changed my life. It's given me the realization that I can make choices in my life about who I am, what I do and how I react to a situation.
It's made me become a more compassionate person and see happiness in any given moment. (Both of these I have been tracking on my blog with the karma 365 project and 14,000 Things to Be Happy About.)
How do people react to your faith?
Most are been very positive. Usually people are curious and ask questions. Some even express interest in attending a class or mediation with me. There have been a few more interesting reactions like a friend was worried about my soul and that I was going to hell and others who were terrified that I was going to force them to pray to my gods. A bit much, right? But those people are very few and far between.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in exploring Buddhism?
The best advice would be to look within and find the path that is the best for you. I've encountered many people who have converted because of bad experiences they've had in their former faith and they never seem to find what they're looking for anywhere they go. There is much beauty in every religion. I truly believe that all religions lay out a path to enlightenment in their own way.
If Buddhism is your path, shop around. Each tradition is different. Don't settle for the first teacher that comes your way - find the one right for you. Take classes; talk to the monks, lamas, and community; and ask many questions. You will know what is right for you when you see it.
Thanks so much for sharing, Samantha! Are any of you Buddhist?