What got you interested in doing Woodenfish HBMLP?
I became interested in Woodenfish HBMLP when I asked about a couple fliers for study abroad programs that my professor for Survey of World Religions had outside of his office. I told him about my active Buddhist practice and financial situation, and he recommended applying to Woodenfish HBMLP program. After looking into it, I saw at as affordable and attainable goal and an incredible opportunity to deepen my understanding of Buddhism and my personal Buddhist practice. I also knew that this would mean for the first time I could travel outside of the United States and see some of the greatest wonders of the world, like the Forbidden City and Great Wall. Once I was accepted into the program, I knew it was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was.
What was a very memorable moment for you from the program?
Hiking up Mt. Wutai and taking the five precepts was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The slow hike, and the hundred or so times my forehead kissed the path of the mountainside from prostrating up it, made it all the more real. I see that day as a coming of age for me, and the consummation of my resolve to end suffering and achieve liberation for the benefit of all beings.
What was the experience like for you overall? What were the main takeaways?
As a whole, the trip was an eye-opening experience into a different culture and environment that really forced me to shed my home-body. The immersion into Chinese culture and Buddhism really gave me a whole new appreciation for the both. I took so many things away from this trip. I now have connections with people from all over the world. I've met more people from more cultures in a month than I ever have in 18 years of living in the United States. I learned what humility feels like after shaving my head. I learned about some of the rituals Chinese Buddhists perform in their services, how they meditate, and other ways in which they practice by doing it with them. I learned that drinking tea is quite possibly enlightenment itself, amongst so many other things. But I don't want to spoil it all. In short, it was awesome, breath-taking, and an experience I will never, ever, forget.
Why did you decide to start a meditation group at your university?
I decided to start a meditation group at my university because meditation is very important to my life and starting a group helps give myself and others a time and place to be responsible for practicing. I also very much love meditating with others, as well as teaching and talking about meditation with others. I also find meditation groups to be places where people feel comfortable and safe talking about their problems, and the co-regulation of emotions is a really good thing that not everyone can get in the other environments they find themselves in. It's kind of like having a little family, which is especially nice when you're away from your own living in the dorms.
Has it been well-received by other students on campus?
It has, although it is not by any means a large group. I sort of expect people to come and go, but above all, there are no problems that I'm aware of. We are trying to shy away from any strict religious afflictions, but as a Buddhist, I an open and honest about coming from that angle in the way I talk about and teach meditation. If we have people who come from different religious or non-religious backgrounds who feel the distinctions must be clearer, we are open to exchanging ideas and making the group work for a multiplicity of meditative styles. This has yet to happen, and everyone so far has been happy with the meditations and discussions we've had.
What role do your learnings from HBMLP play in your life now?
I realized that the world is big, yet small. Traveling almost halfway across the world put it into perspective. There's so much out there, yet everything seems to be intimately connected. One example I have is when I saw a John Deere tractor in the middle of one the fields of the monastery we were staying at. I stopped in awe while everyone else continued on our walk. That tractor was probably made in the city I was born in--Waterloo, IA. I thought that was so crazy. It was as if I ran into a family member I didn't expect to see. Also, I'm now closer to two individuals who have also participated in Woodenfish HBMLP who live in my city. And now that I'm back home, It is an amazing program to be able to promote to those interested in traveling and exploring world religions and/or Buddhism. People to seem to be interested when I tell them about it, or maybe that's just me. :)
What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing HBMLP?
Just do it (not sponsored by Nike). If you get accepted, after everything is planned, let all your expectations you have go, and just do it. It will unquestionably be worth every hoop you have to jump through to get there. Oh, and if you've never been to China, or don't know when you might be able to go back, plan a week or two for yourself before or after the trip. Living there for a couple weeks is not that expensive once you're there.