Journey to Ti-Sarana

I go to the Buddha for guidance. I go to the Dharma for guidance. I go to the Sangha for guidance; three simple statements that have changed my life.

My early religious upbringing was Roman Catholic.  As a child, the world of miracles, saints, and Divine intervention captivated and enthralled me. Things were simple. The priests and the catechism told you all the rules. If you violated the rules and committed a sin, you went to confession, were repentant, did your penance and all was forgiven. Fail to do so, and upon death, depending on the severity of your sins, you went to either Purgatory for an indeterminate time before going to Heaven, or you were condemned to eternal suffering in Hell. No need to question, just believe. However, then something happened. I became a questioning teenager.

The mid-1960’s were a time of change. Kennedy had been assassinated. The civil rights movement was in full swing. Far away, in Vietnam, a war was escalating. I began to question many things, among them my religion. How did the teachings relate to the world around me? What was the explanation for the contradiction between my experience and the teachings of the church? Whenever I asked these questions, I was either ignored or told to “just believe.” I continued to go to church every Sunday to please my mother who was a devout Catholic. This changed when I went away to college.

Now, it was the late 1960’s. The social and spiritual landscape had expanded greatly and I participated fully. Thus began my over twenty years long exploration of belief systems. The Upanishads, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Gnostic teachings, Plato and the philosophers, I read them all. I encountered the new age teachers, Leary, Casteneda, Watts, and other,. often in person, yet still no answer. The Dhammapada, and books by what I now refer to as “old dead Englishmen," provided an exposure to Buddhism. The teachings spoke to me, yet they seemed to be suitable to another time, another world. This changed when I came to the Buddhist Temple of Chicago seventeen years ago.

At first, I was confused. Rev. Kubose’s books made the relationship between my life and Buddhism tangible, however, the ornate altar and talk of the Amida Buddha and birth in the Pure Land made me feel as if this was just Christianity with a different god. How was I to reconcile this seeming contradiction? Two events stand out as turning points. The first was a Hanamatsuri that fell on Easter Sunday. Sitting in service, I thought of how odd it was to be in a Buddhist temple on Easter Sunday. (No one ever said that leaving Catholicism behind was easy.) Rev. Ashikaga told the story of the Buddha’s birth, of Queen Maya’s vision, Gautama’s emergence from her side and the seven steps and birth cry. My mind screamed, “Oh no, more mystical mumbo-jumbo.”  Then Rev. Ashikaga said, “Of course, we know this didn’t really happen, but it is a nice story and here is what it means.”

The second event was one of Dr. Haneda’s Ho-On-Ko seminars. This was the first seminar I had attended.  He spoke of the Pure Land, and how we are in it now; our mind is just too clouded to see.  He said the Buddha never spoke of what happens after you die, but rather, he focused on this life. He explained that the Amida Buddha is symbolic of the interconnectedness of all things. Dr. Haneda made clear that Shinran, Kiyozawa and Akegarasu all, in their own way, expressed this approach to the teachings. At last, I felt I had found my spiritual home.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to take Ti-Sarana, yet, I have never done so. The question arises, “Why now?”  The first reason is pragmatic. BTC is starting a lay leader program in which individuals will train to perform basic functions such as Sunday service if no minister is available. One prerequisite is having had Ti-Sarana. The second reason is more personal. This is my path. I have experienced the truth of the teachings in my life. Every joy, every sorrow, every moment reconfirms for me the truth of the Dharma.

My journey to Ti-Sarana may be complete, but my Dharma journey continues. Rev. Ashikaga has chosen “Gyo Jin”, “Going Deeper” to understand the Dharma, as my Dharma name. With renewed dedication, I go deeper seeking the light of liberation.

Namu Amida Butsu.