In August of 1990, our oldest son was deployed from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma to Saudi Arabia as part of the United States military operation known as “Desert Shield”. Although he was career military, the news hit me hard. Later, when he was deployed for “Desert Storm”, it hit me harder.
Even though his tour was short, it tore me up. I could deal with “Shield”, but “Storm” almost wrecked me emotionally. During Desert Storm and for weeks that followed, my life began to crumble. I experienced periods of depression, anger, worry, and frustration. I had difficulty focusing at work. In the evenings, in fits of pique, I would storm out of the house, jump in the car, and drive recklessly through neighboring rural areas — almost out of control.
When I tried to discuss it with a Psychologist, I couldn’t talk about it without breaking down. After one session, it was clear that the solution would have to come from within me.
The next day at lunch I went to a local book store to comb the shelves for help. Among the magazines, the latest issue of “Yoga Journal” caught my eye. On the cover was a description of an interview with Philip Kapleau on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his book, “The Three Pillars of Zen”.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, I read and re-read the article. It described how, through Zen meditation, students with all sorts of issues similar to mine had been helped. The next day I bought the book and began to devour it. Some comments had described Zen as a means of self-realization and awakening; I could sure use some of both.
To learn more, I spoke with a professor of religion at a local university who had taken a group of students to a Buddhist Temple in Grand Prairie, Texas. They met an American monk called Ananda, who led weekly Zen meditation. The professor said Ananda was quite congenial and he was sure I would be welcome there, so I decided to try it.
Ananda began to teach me meditation and to lend me books on Buddhism. I meditated and read voraciously. He stressed that reading was no substitute for doing. He said you can’t cure hunger by reading about food. I focused hard on meditation, but I continued to read. Through those studies I learned the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:
- All existence is suffering.
- The cause of suffering is attachment.
- Suffering can be eliminated.
- The way to eliminate suffering is to follow the Eight-Fold Path.
The second Noble Truth came home to me when, on my regular weekly visit, I found the door to the meditation room locked, and Ananda was gone. Right then, I knew the suffering of attachment. Fortunately, I had also learned a couple of other things, words of the Buddha:
- “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts”, and
- “Work out your own salvation – with diligence.”
The second has become my motto. I spent the next four years studying and meditating at various centers throughout the Southwest and California. One day, I learned of a monastery in Keller, Texas, where monks from Thailand were building a new Temple. This would take me on another journey, a journey which I describe in “On Becoming a Novice Buddhist Monk”, Parts One and Two.