Back in those days, they weren´t that many options to practice Buddhism. The internet was starting its boom, so beginning an online practice was still considered as something out of “The Jetsons.” If you wanted to learn, you had to join a local Buddhist center.
There were two options: Tibetan or Zen Buddhism.
To be honest, I didn´t know much about Tibetan or Japanese cultures, but I guess it was Tibet´s exotic mysticism that prevented me from just flipping a coin.
So, I went to the local Tibetan Buddhist center and knocked on the door, and, as it opened and I walked in, little did I know I was stepping into a wonderful new life.
When I entered the room, a practitioner instructed me to sit on a cushion with my back straight and to imagine that a very intimidating Tibetan Master was throwing lights at my body as I recited a mantra. Even though I had no clue who he was or what it was I was doing, I went ahead, and it felt nice, a little bit incomplete and strange, but all and all it left me with a good feeling and more importantly, a thirst for learning what the whole experience meant.
I hit the books with a lot more orientation and learned that the Tibetan Master I had visualized was the late and great 16th Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. I read his biography as well as the biographies of other great Masters of the Karma Kagyu Lineage and was completely amazed by their lives and their achievements. I felt an undeniable pull, and I let go.
I would spend the next seven years of life in that center and continued to study and learn, and as I dug deeper, I began to understand the logic and aim of the practice I had done.
Once I had grown a little more comfortable and had practiced for a few years, I proposed to the leader of the center that an “Introduction to Buddhism” course should be taught to help all newcomers. The “just sit and imagine” approach had somehow worked for me, but I knew that a more thorough explanation would be of much help in opening the door a bit further for those seeking the path.
The center´s administrators appointed me to the task, and that´s how my first book came to life.
I was delighted to teach the course; it challenged me and forced me to study much more. Thankfully, by those days, the e-commerce boom had begun, and books were much more readily available in El Salvador.
In all my years in that specific Buddhist center, I met all kinds of people, many teachers, and made great friends, especially with Latin American teachers, particularly with a great Mexican Buddhist Master whose knowledge was unparalleled.
However, I also discovered many things about that organization that were in absolute disaccord with what I had learned Buddhism should be. Please don´t get me wrong. I´m not trying to imply that it was bad; it just wasn´t for me.
Here´s my first advice: if the teachers or center leaders don´t portray the kind of person you wish to become, something about the organization does not resonate with your ethics, moral values, local customs, or contradicts what you know to be right just run away. Take the good, leave the bad, and never look back.
Sometimes the lessons that are harder to grasp are those that teach us what not to do, so always be aware. I will go into the delicate teacher-student relationship in Buddhism another day.