A personal experience
Hundreds of students around the world are working their way through the first eight modules of FPMT’s Discovering Buddhism at Home. The FPMT Education Department expects to have the ninth module, Samsara and Nirvana, out in July: when complete, the total number of modules will be thirteen. Dallas Christopher of Washington, DC, tells what it is like to discover Buddhism in his own home – an experience which is proving to be fairly typical of the profound effect this course is having on Westerners’ ‘monkey minds.’
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.
– John Milton, Paradise Lost
I started the Discovering Buddhism at Home (DB) correspondence course in February of 2003. I thought that DB would be a wonderful way to fill in the blanks and correct and support the knowledge I thought I already possessed about Buddhism and Buddhist thought. It has since turned into a much more fulfilling and challenging endeavor. In fact, it has evolved into a life changing and eye-opening experience.
As I am a student of life, DB piques my interest not only because it provides an excellent space for the cultivation of Buddhism, but also because it truly engages one in actualizing the positive. That is, through understanding the mind and how it relates to itself, others, and the environment, we begin to tap into something wonderful. More precisely, we become familiar with, embody, and eventually share the best of our human potential. We can literally raise the human consciousness.
At a more personal level, I find that I am learning quite a bit about myself through this fun and exciting process. It has not only academic, but also practical, real life applications. I have acquired tangible, reproducible methods of stress release and indeed a reduction of suffering. I have been given the means to a better-balanced work environment and even a way to cope with my partner’s habit of snoring! Consequently, through the reflection and familiarization techniques taught here, I see others and myself more clearly. Where once there was anger, there is now laughter. Where once there was despair, there is now growing optimism. People around me seem now to smile more than they frown. People seem to take notice and to take pause.
When I began with this course I would ask, “How awful is life?” By way of the lam-rim style teachings of DB, I have been able to challenge this outlook and say rather, “How wonderful is life!” By personal introspection and the guidance of DB staff, assessors, “elders,” and new students, I find myself moving slowly, yet ever more steadily, from a state of learned helplessness to a greater sense of personal control.
From a practical standpoint, the DB lessons are easily managed and well organized. The course offers a captivating reading list from monastic as well as secular authors and practitioners. The videos, books, CDs, and web-based chat, or a combination thereof, provide an invaluable broad-based learning environment, no matter what one’s favored learning method may be. Moreover, as a method of self-discovery, DB provides a platform from which to build the confidence, practice, and knowledge to better handle life’s stressors. It creates the environment wherein one can evolve mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I can say from the heart that since engaging in and taking an active role in the study of my own mind, there have been more ups than downs compared to previous progress. More importantly, however, my awareness of the law of cause and effect has increased. It has produced a means to obtain not only present happiness, but a lasting future happiness as well. What a contagious feeling it is; one that I only want to share. All it takes is an open mind and an open heart.
This is the first of a four-part series featuring FPMT’s standard programs, which will include Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Basic Program, and Masters Program.