What do Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, Donovan, Paul Horn, and Mike Love have in common? They all learned to meditate back in 1967 and joined their teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on a retreat in Rishikesh India. I remember seeing pictures of the Beatles with Maharishi back in the late 60's and they made quite an impression on me. It took awhile for causes and conditions to ripen, but I eventually learned to meditate in Springfield, Illinois in 1976.
I was walking down the street and saw a poster with Maharishi's photograph on it. It was advertising a public lecture on on Transcendental Meditation to be given that evening. I had just finished reading "The TM Book" about a week before and had pretty high interest. I was just out of the Air Force and missed the peaceful state I would experience listening to ocean waves at Cape Hatteras. The husband of an old friend of mine had learned EST, but it just didn't interest me. But the idea of meditating was really in my blood, in my DNA. As far back as I can remember, I most enjoyed those times when I was just suspended in the moment, clearly aware, but completely at rest. These were peak experiences for me and I wanted to learn how to have them more predictably and more often. Needless to say, I attended the lecture and found myself back at the TM center a couple days later with my white handkerchief and fruit and a check for $65.00. I didn't like the idea of having to pay for learning to meditate, and this was a lot of money to me back then. But, I had to see what TM was like.
The teacher performed a puja to Maharishi's teacher, "Guru Dev" and then quietly introduced me to silently repeating a mantra. Within a few minutes, it felt as though my hands resting on my lap were far below and I became acutely aware of the room, the teacher sitting next to me, the environment outside the house. Every sound sound was crystal clear against a backdrop of expansive silence. I was perfectly present, awake, clear, relaxed. I felt like all the tension I had been carrying just melted away. The teacher stopped me and asked how it was. "Good," I replied, barely able to force sound from my throat. He said, "This is how we meditate...."
It wasn't long before I found myself in Colorado Springs in a "Science of Creative Intelligence" class. I was working at Western Forge for $3.50 an hour, living alone, practicing TM twice a day and saving money to go backpacking and eventually attend school at Maharishi International University. The SCI class was completely nourishing to me providing theoretical understanding for what I was experiencing in meditation. And the people were so special -- not just Ron Carpenter that was leading the class and the other TM teachers, Patti and Phil Pierce, but the students were extraordinary people. Mrs. Labowski was quite wealthy but so incredibly kind and sweet. Karen, who was attending Colorado College, had the most penetrating eyes and was always so awake and yet laid back. The retired Air Force officer who was so relaxed and thoughtful. Watching Maharishi videos drinking chamomile and honey tea with this company was something I so looked forward to each week.
Finally, in January of '78, I arrived at Maharishi International University to begin a six year journey that was most enduring and fulfilling spiritually enriching experience of my earlier years. I learned the TM Sidhis program there and sat twice a day in the meditation hall with hundreds of other meditators bent on creating world peace through the purifying effect of group meditation. MIU was a very cool place. Quite a contrast from my teenage years of partying, there were no alcohol or drugs or crazy parties, but we had fun and the friendships I made at this special university have endured to this day and are among the most meaningful I've experienced.
It's been a long time since I practiced TM and the Sidhis. I learned Chan (Zen) meditation from Ven. Chan Master Sheng Yen in Taiwan back in the mid '80's because I was so impressed with his practical wisdom, kind nature, and penetrating presence. I was impressed with many of the Buddhists I met in Taiwan at the time. They were so giving and selfless. Also, money was never required, though donations were accepted. I attended a Chan Qi, as seven day Chan retreat with "Shifu" in New York in 1985 and took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha becoming a Buddhist formally at the end of the retreat. Shifu let me meditate with TM the first day and a half, but I started having visions of a radiant gem-filled paradise and then of hellish beings and Shifu suggested that I practice just following my breath, a beginning Chan method. I practiced this method for several years until, little by little, concerns of my career and family slowly displaced my practice and I found myself relaxing at the end of the day with an import beer or glass of wine rather than sitting in half lotus on a meditation cushion.
I would still meditate from time to time and tried to be in the moment and mindful but for the most part, my practice eroded to the point that it became a spiritual crisis for me. I tried to return to my Catholic roots and find encouragement through some of Thomas Merton's writings. Later, I read a lot of Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating on Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. After I remarried in 2002, I became very interested in the Eastern Orthodox practices. I even started the 3 year St. Stephen's course to become a deacon.
It was at the end of the 1st semester of the St. Stephen's course while on vacation at Lake Tahoe in 2005 that I realized how deeply I disbelieved what I was studying. While I retained great love and respect for Jesus, I felt his teaching and ministry paled in comparison to the Buddha's teaching and 45 years of helping thousands of people to become fully awakened. I couldn't accept the dogma about Jesus being "the only Son of God" and even the idea of a Creator God that set the world in motion only to watch the human drama unfold was somehow very disturbing to me. I fundamentally could not accept Christian dogma and when I returned to Fort Wayne, I apologized to Fr. David at St. Nicks and told him that I couldn't continue the program and that I would be leaving the church as well. There is no middle ground in Orthodox Christianity. You either fully believe it or you don't.
In April of 2005, I found myself back in New York on a seven day Chan retreat with Ven. Guo Jun, a Dharma heir to my Shifu. This was the most wonderful time and really made me see that the Buddhist path is the path I must tread from here on out. I went to several other 10 day Chan retreats and then the Bodhisattva Precepts retreat, in which Shifu led, his last retreat in the U.S. before his passing last winter. I subsequently attended 2 Vipassana meditation retreats with Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw in Springfield, IL. Between the Chan retreats in 2005, 06, and 07 and the Vipassana retreats in 06 and 07, Mindfulness practice has become well established and being in the present is no longer a "peak experience" that comes when it will, but a daily living reality. For this, my gratitude to Maharishi, Ven. Sheng Yen, Ven. Guo Jun, and Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw is unbounded and unending. My faith in the Buddhist path has become unshakable. I still have trying days now and then, but for the most part, my life is blessed.
With deeper moment to moment experience naturally comes deeper contentment and insight. And with deeper contentment and insight naturally comes the desire to help others also experience this blessed state. I know I have a long path to travel, but have seen enough of it that my faith in the map is resolute and with this faith comes great confidence. Ven. Guo Jun asked me to open a Dharma Drum Mountain liaison office and branch in Fort Wayne. I set up a Meetup site and soon the most wonderful people began entering my life again, like old friends that have reappeared time and time again from the distant, beginningless past. This great affinity I feel for people I meet on this path is also the greatest blessing. And as practice continues, this joy and compassion spills over to everyone I meet. They are all capable of experiencing the same Buddha Nature. I know of nothing more important and worthwhile than this.
I am now in Elk Grove, CA and am once again organizing a Buddhist meditation Meetup group. In the first 3 meetings, I've met such wonderful, interesting people. It's very satisfying giving people an opportunity and a venue to practice together and have fellowship with other practitioners.
Now, here I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger, reconnecting with so many meditating friends from the past! What a blessing this is! All the friendships and times of my life become condensed onto a single social media page and I can see everyone making progress in their lives, having insights and enjoying life. This is great stuff!