My family members were all Buddhist practitioners, from my grandmother to my parents, and I just went along with them. But I didn’t really know much apart from the fact that we are Buddhist. We would go to the temple once in a while, mostly for the New Year, or when there was a death. We’d go there to pray for good fortune or good health. Only about 10 years ago, when I started to research Buddhism more, I found out that Buddhism is much more than the golden Buddha, the Jade Buddha, or reciting the Buddha’s name. There has to be a reason why people recite the name or read the Sutras. I never understood what they were reciting because it didn’t sound like Vietnamese at all. That’s why I never got into it, because I didn’t understand. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books have helped me to develop a better understanding of Buddhism. His writings made sense to me, and it made me explore more about Buddhism.
My wife comes from a Buddhist background, but when she came to the US she started going to a Christian church. She didn’t really believe in Buddhism. I went to church with her a few times and it was okay; I went to support her. She came across a comment from a person on the internet, talking about one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, and it clicked with her. So she wanted to look into it. I happened to have that same book and offered it to her. She loved the book, and so I bought some more books for her. After reading two books, she felt very happy, so I suggested we go to a retreat at Deer Park Monastery with the whole family. We have three kids who are getting older, and we thought that someday we won’t be able to teach them anymore, but maybe if we now go there, they might listen to the other kids and the monks and nuns. We wanted to do this before they get too old.
I look at things differently than before. I try to be more mindful. At work, I try to help my co-workers more often. Before, I just wanted to get my projects done. But now, when I see my co-workers struggle, I try to help them out, or take some work off their shoulders after I am done with my own work. At home I try to pay more attention to my children. I have three children, and I help them with homework every night. Before, I just expected them to be smart and to get things done, but now I sometimes feel like I need to take time out to help them. I realize that when I help them out, I am also helping myself out. My time and their time is not separate, it is the same thing. I don’t think of it as taking my time to give it to them, or wasting my time. I hope to be an example for them. I don’t preach to them, I just want them to see what I am doing and to realize in their own time that I have changed a little bit.
I don’t think or worry as much as before. Most of the time I go with the flow. I cannot control the future. The reality is that everything is impermanent. I am just thankful for what is here right now. There are times when I am not as mindful as I’d like to be, but I try to remember to come back to myself and pay attention to my breathing. I am happy with my life. As long as I can breathe, as long as I can see, as long as I can be with people that I love, I feel joyful.
I normally don’t bring up religion in conversations. I don’t discriminate against any other religions. Most major religions teach people how to live a happy, peaceful life. If somebody starts talking about their religion, I look at it as a positive thing, and I try to find similarities with Buddhism.
My father passed away about 9 years ago, and my mother lives in Southern California. Growing up, there wasn’t much communication between us. It might have been for cultural reasons. In Vietnamese families there isn’t too much hugging or kissing going on. But I know we have much love for each other, even if we are not that affectionate. Sometimes I feel that my mom and I should talk or visit more often, but I also feel we have much love for each other. My mom meditates daily, and I know she sends out the energy of love, including to us. When I meditate, I sometimes invite my father to sit next to me. And occasionally I feel a burst of energy, or some strong sensation in these moments.
A sangha to me is a community of practice. I took the Five Mindfulness Trainings at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido. The monks and nuns there encourage everybody to find a local sangha and continue to practice. Even though I have learned that you can be a Buddhist without a temple or meditation center, I feel there is a positive effect to having a sangha. And with sangha you also find friendship, somebody who has the same believes as you. It encourages me to keep going. I look forward to the time with my sangha on the weekends. If I cannot meditate one day, at least I know I will go there, and it will bring me back to my practice.