An Awareness of the Transcendent
Even during my childhood years, I began to be aware of something deeper in life – the spiritual dimension. In elementary school, I was given a pocket-sized New Testament gift by the Gideons International which I enjoyed dipping into. Also, a young pastor couple coincidentally lived opposite to our home in a country town in the state of Victoria, Australia, and invited my two younger brothers and me to attend Sunday School.
I found meaning in the narratives and principles of the Scriptures during high school, teacher’s college, university, and my adult life. Much later in life, Christian spirituality beckoned my interest, and I enjoyed learning about the contemplative life. I’ve also had a penchant for an inter-faith perspective.
In early adulthood (aged 23), I had an opportunity to follow my heartfelt desire for theology by studying at a small co-educational Christian college, set in an idyllic, peaceful, Hertfordshire country estate setting, close to Bricket Wood (between St. Albans and Watford).
During the two years (1972-74), important lifelong spiritual disciplines were developed – daily morning prayer, study and reflection; daily evening prayer; weekly day retreat; occasional fasting; and celebration of special feast days during the year.
Mornings were spent in classes; afternoons in work tasks (toward the maintenance of the property, such as gardening, janitorial work, kitchen duties, etc.)
Retrospectively seen, this experience partly paralleled a monastic life in that our lives were devoted to a spiritual calling!
In the years that followed, I completed a Bachelor of Arts (with an emphasis in theology), as well as two Masters degrees (with an emphasis in Christian spirituality). Additionally, I completed a Masters degree in education.
Introduction to Daily Meditation
Much later in life (early sixties), a distinct turning point occurred when I came into contact with The World Community for Christian Meditation (https://www.wccm.org/). This group teaches the Christian tradition of meditation, and it was a vital introduction to the faithful practice of daily meditation. I also appreciated learning more about the contemplative life.
Father Laurence Freeman is the head of the WCCM, and has been involved in inter-faith dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A good book in this context, I have found, is The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Also, a pivotal book for me (written by theologian Paul Knitter) was Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. This book helped to broaden my Christian worldview.
In listening to a CD recording, Laurence Freeman caught my attention by quoting the Dhammapada. This whetted my appetite and it became a door-opener to learn more of the Buddhist teachings because of the resonance I felt with Christian living principles.
To summarize, I came into contact with Buddhist teachings relatively late in life (beginning of 2012). Since then, I have taken online Buddhist courses and purchased many books.
The following teachers, in chronological order, have been as “spiritual friends” (Kalyāna-mitratā,Skt.):
http://vipassana.com/ (Andrew Quernmore – Vipassana Fellowship; following the Theravada tradition of Buddhism)
https://fpmt.org/ (Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche – Discovering Buddhism program; following Mahayana Buddhism)
https://www.jamyang.co.uk/ (Geshe Tashi Tsering – Foundation of Buddhist Thought program; completed ‘The Four Noble Truths’ and ‘Relative Truth, Ultimate Truth’ modules)
http://www.chungtian.org.au/ (Venerable Master Hsing Yun – Chung Tian Temple [Foguanshan Buddhist order]; Humanistic Buddhism; location for my Taking Refuge)
https://www.southwales.ac.uk/ (Nick Swann – distance MA Buddhist Studies program with the University of South Wales. Completed ‘Buddhist Traditions’ module, but exited from the program due high tuition cost as a foreign student, whereas tertiary studies were generously subsidized in Australia)
http://media.sbinstitute.com/ (Lama B. Alan Wallace – Shamatha meditation; Dzogchen teachings)
http://www.samyeling.org/ (Ken Holmes – Home Study Dharma Course)
https://tergar.org/ (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche – Vajrayana teachings; Mahamudra teachings)
https://ahs.org.uk/ (Lama Shenpen Hookham – training in meditation, reflection and insight from one’s own home)
The following program is my present commitment: The Contemplative Studies Program (CSP).
The Contemplative Studies Program (CSP) is a two-year training for personal development. It offers earnest students who have already begun a meditation or yoga asana practice, a deeper, more enduring immersion into the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism integrated with contemporary perspectives from neuroscience, trauma research and psychotherapy.
The CSP is an online wisdom school, available anytime from anywhere, and designed for communal exploration, rigorous study, critical self-reflection, embodied practice and honest application of spiritual values into everyday life. The curriculum is based on Miles’ book Gradual Awakening supplemented by classical texts from Tibet’s gradual path (Lamrim) literature as well as contemporary writings. Source: https://www.milesneale.com/csp
Making a Commitment to Buddhism
By November 2013, I had a desire to become more committed to Buddhist spiritual practice. In Buddhist circles, this is known as “taking Refuge”.
A memorable location for participating in the “Refuge” ceremony was the Chung Tian Temple, about half an hour’s drive from our home. I was kindly received, and given the name Zhen De (meaning “Appreciation of Virtue”) during the ceremony.
Yet, the Chung Tian Temple did not become the Buddhist community that I would wholeheartedly participate in – even though the Sangha (community of followers) is exemplary in its Buddhist devotion and outreach. Still, my wife, Eva, and I always enjoy visiting the Temple, located in a peaceful, Australian bushland setting (http://www.chungtian.org.au/).
In Closing . . .
Interestingly, my contact with the Buddhism emerged from within my Christian background in Australia. While differences exist, many meaningful points of convergence also occur between the Buddhist and Christian understanding of life’s meaning.
Therefore, there has been continuity in my spiritual path, rather than an abrupt new beginning with Buddhism, and a total abandoning of all prior spiritual teaching. (As an aside, I have found the Dalai Lama’s affirmation of other faith traditions most reassuring.)
Much more could be written. For example, only recently have I discovered the rich spiritual heritage of Hinduism (particularly Vedanta) – and again I see wonderful convergence with my Christian and Buddhist studies. But, that will have to be writing for another day . . .
Alexander Peck (February, 2020)
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