Beginner’s Mind is a special project from BDG collecting insightful essays written by US college students who have attended experiential-learning-based courses related to Buddhism. Some of the authors identify as Buddhists, for others it is their first encounter with the Buddhadharma. All are sharing reflections and impressions on what they’ve learned, how it has impacted their lives, and how they might continue to engage with the teaching.
Anisha Anisetti wrote this essay for her Socially Engaged Buddhism course at the University of Southern California. Anisha is a senior majoring in Economics and minoring in Gender Studies. After graduation, she plans to begin a career in finance in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she hopes to bring capital to underrepresented entrepreneurs. Anisha loves yoga, walking her (bratty) dog Luna, and doing crossword puzzles . . . in pen.
The Path to Peace
Growing up, Buddhism was like my third cousin: relatively familiar, but distinctly distant. If you were to ask eight-year-old Anisha any questions on Buddhism beyond what I knew from my mom, I would have probably ignored you and asked to play hide-and-seek. It’s interesting how far my journey has taken me now that I am seeking out answers to some of life’s unanswerable ponderings. Learning about Buddhism over these past two semesters has been enlightening . . . sorry for the bad pun.
I really appreciate the strong foundation in Buddhism I was given last semester. We spent weeks covering complex concepts such as the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, and the concept of non-self. I still only have but an elementary grasp on some of these ideas, but the familiarity with Buddhist analogies and Pali dictionaries has become a skill that I continue to hone. Our discussions on concepts from the Khmer Rouge and Buddhists to anti-Asian hate in America do get a little heavy, and I know that I can always turn back to the foundation of what the religion means to me for comfort and grounding. If I had not taken the time to study the basics, I know I would be floundering.
I like that Buddhism challenges me to think. Whether it is about the concept of reincarnation or the question of if monks should be politically active, the religion allows me to come to conclusions different from those of my peers but grounded within the same framework. This semester has especially challenged my conceptions of what faith is; learning about the evolution of socially engaged Buddhism has shed some light onto the importance of change for survival in different times and cultures.
One common thread through all these months of learning has been that of appropriation. In America especially, when appropriation comes with monetization and commercialization, the question becomes less of appreciation and more of gentrification. The demographic makeup of American Buddhists speaks to this, as do other institutions, such as CorePower Yoga, for example. At first, I struggled with this chasm because I’ve always wanted more people to be exposed to different thought systems, but I could feel that something was wrong with this capitalistic model. I really appreciate our discussions on the lack of diversity in American Buddhism and how faith and religion do not exist in vacuums exempt from the structural violence of misogyny, racism, or classism. Buddhism gives me a better framework for understanding that things can be right and wrong at the same time, and that my judgements and attachments to certain ideals are affecting nothing but suffering for me.
The readings we discussed in this class were incredibly insightful, and I constantly found myself forwarding quotes to friends interested in education or ecology. I especially enjoyed David Loy’s EcoDharma; in the face of constant news regarding climate change and inaction on the part of governments and corporations, Loy’s book showed me a wonderful way to frame my distress and my agency. In addition, I am so grateful that we had a chance to read Dr. Martin Luther King’s seminal “Beyond Vietnam” speech from the 1960s; more than 50 years later, his ideas are just as relevant and the questions he raises just as germane. Another gem of a book to which I will always return is from last semester: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. This book is written in such an accessible and simple manner, all while being incredibly profound and concrete.
A wonderful part of Buddhism that I fell in love with is its stories. Growing up, I was surrounded by Hindu mythology and colorful stories spanning generations and universes. This mode of learning comes naturally to me, and when I realized how similar the Buddhist teachings are, the religion felt a little bit like home. For me, it feels far more natural to digest the moral of a story rather than an etched commandment in a tablet of stone. In addition, the constant use of flora and fauna in stories is a reminder that we are not separate from nature—rather just another of her children. The characters in all the fables are from thousands of years ago, and yet we can all see ourselves in them; this continuity and connection to our roots has been neglected in Western neoliberalism, and Buddhist stories bring me back home.
I appreciate what this course has taught me, both in the classroom and in my daily life. The habits I have been trying to form for the past months—meditation, mindfulness, yoga—have undoubtedly been the foundation for the peace that I have found this past year. One of the powerful aspects of Buddhism is its emphasis on personal agency. This is the body I have been born into and the karma I carry; what am I going to do with my breaths on this Earth? This self-determination that speaks to my personal ability to affect change and to move away from ill-intentions is a reminder that I am responsible for my own thoughts, actions, and liberation.
The freedom that comes with Buddhism has been so enriching. In the past few months, I’ve found myself praying at Hindu temples, taking mindful morning walks, chanting the Lotus Sutra with my roommate, and journaling more consistently. The breadth of what brings me peace is limitless, and with the framework of Buddhism and social engagement in my mind, I am able to take chances to create my own contentment.
Last semester, my final project focused on the question what is love? Months later, dozens of articles read and discussion posts written, I’ve come to my own personal definition: to love someone is to help them find their peace. I know that Buddhism loves me.
Loy, David. 2019. Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Singer, Michael. 2007. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.