Finding My Buddha
By Ryan Canissario (Won Jee Sung)
I was initially introduced to Buddhism in college by a friend of Chinese descent. He was a practicing Buddhist and member of a Zen meditation group on campus. I recently read a book on Buddhism and expressed an interest in learning more, so he invited me to join one of the Zen group sessions. After pushing through my first hour of sitting and walking meditation, I asked the group leader, a monk from a local temple, if he could suggest any reading to further my understanding of Buddhist concepts.
Unexpectedly, he laughed and told me that most Westerners attempt to understand Buddhism by intellectualizing it. He suggested that the best way to understand Buddhism is by coming to your own realizations through the practice of meditation. Being a confirmed Catholic, this approach to spirituality was new to me, but I took his advice and began meditating regularly. I soon found that there was truth to the monk's suggestion, and over the past several years I have been on a spiritual journey through which I have come to develop my own understanding of Buddhism.
One of my most significant lessons as a practicing Buddhist has been recognizing the importance of cultivating your consciousness as you would care for your mind and body. Back in college, the Zen Buddhist monk told me that I have been trained to constantly use my mind as a student. Meditation, he said, is an opportunity to relax your mind. Once the mind is quieted, he continued, you will begin to recognize the true self. I was intrigued by this notion, so I maintained my practice and soon began to recognize the distinct difference between the body, mind and consciousness. This paradigm shift helped me to understand that a spiritual journey starts from within, and it was now clear to me why the monk was apprehensive to provide reading suggestions - understanding Buddhism would be a natural consequence of truly knowing myself. If I were to intellectualize Buddhism, I may have missed this point.
After graduating from college, I found my discipline waning. Between meditating less frequently and growing accustomed to the fast paced New York lifestyle, I began to realize there was an emptiness forming in my life. Upon this recognition, I decided to search for a temple in order to reconnect with my Buddhism, further my understanding of Buddhist concepts and better maintain the discipline of my practice. I searched for Buddhist groups on a website called MeetUp.com and came across the "Won Buddhist Temple of Manhattan." At the time, I was less interested in meeting other Buddhists than I was with developing my own spirituality. Yet I came to comprehend that my experience practicing Buddhism has been significantly enriched by the interesting and friendly people that attend the temple. Each member is sincere in their practice, and motivated in their spiritual development. I take heed in their conviction and willingness to uphold Buddhist values. In a city that often seems driven by materialism, it is refreshing to know that a group composed of such people exists. In this way, the Won Temple of Manhattan has notably contributed to my journey.