Young Voices is a special project from Buddhistdoor Global collecting insightful essays written by high school students in the US who have attended experiential-learning-based courses rooted in the Buddhist teaching. Running in parallel with BDG’s Beginner’s Mind project for college students, Young Voices offers a platform for these students to share essays expressing their impressions and perspectives on their exposure to the Buddhadharma and its relationship with their hopes, aspirations, and expectations.
Wendy Wang wrote this essay for her Global Buddhisms class at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.
A part of me has always craved music. I never doubted when they said that “music is the only legal drug.” Walking on pathways, brushing my teeth, writing an essay . . . my ears were chronically plugged in during any motion of life. Music was my refuge—the one thing that I took with me everywhere I went. When I met people with music blasting in my head, I cared little about how I presented myself or the conversations between me and others. When I was in the gym working out, music created a bubble that partitioned me from other sweaty individuals. I lived a life of constant distraction, one that I believed was a refuge.
This was why when Mr. Housiaux, my instructor for Global Buddhisms, a philosophy and religion course at my school, suggested that we hand in our phones as a Buddhist practice, I chuckled. No way! Does that mean I have to actually feel the moments in my life? It must be torture. A week later, however, out of pure curiosity, I decided to give up my phone for an indefinite period of time.
Without the escape of music, the outside world seemed daunting. For the first time in a long time, I noticed the myriad qualities of my surroundings: construction noises, chatter, laughter, sunlight, pavements, carpeted floors. . . . At first, I belittled such trivial sensations that bored me. I noticed myself constantly looking around, searching for the source of a sharp laugh or a loud sneeze. As I was doing my homework or walking outside, I felt a lack of stimulation that greatly disturbed me.
Without my phone (and with the help of 10,000 sheep jumping across the inside of my eyelids), I fell asleep at 10 p.m. and woke up at 6 a.m. to go on my nature walk and write a poem. I told myself that if I was going to bathe in that lack of stimulation, I might as well bring it to the forefront and find its true value—my nirvana following all this self-flagellation. Under the dim street lamps barely peeking through the morning fog, I merged with the world around me, soaking in my subsequent stanzas.
In his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva questioned: “So why am I so timid on the path of freedom?” (Shantideva 6.13) There was no reason to be. Even on the first day when I took a walk, the tranquility of the foggy morning didn’t seem so disturbing anymore. Instead, it was meaningful and, indeed, tranquil. In retrospect, nothing in my life had deterred me from finding the path of freedom except for my own fears and feelings of discontent. There is a path of freedom everywhere; I just have to look. For me, that path looked like the walkway in front of my dorm room, where I can see Samuel Phillips Hall across the lawn.
Through this experience, I also learned the power of habituation and discipline. Two weeks into my practice, my class visited Chua Tuong Van, a Buddhist temple in Lowell, MA. The interior was so well curated and meticulously cleaned. Books of Buddhist teachings were lined up neatly in the corner; the floor was spotless. In front of the immaculately shiny Buddha and Bodhisattva statues were fresh fruit plates and other tributes. The place looked flawless. I know this was the result of consistent, repetitive cleaning and organizing with a peaceful and solemn heart. Habituation is a gradual process that yields fruit over time. Every careful placement of the statues, just like my every early rising, is a repetitive yet meaningful ritual.
After two weeks away from my phone, I had to get it back for an important event at school. The following afternoon, as I sat in the library doing homework, I ran into Mr. Housiaux. I handed over my phone without hesitation. Through habituation, I had relinquished my attachment to my phone and the distraction from reality that music offered. I continued my biology homework as if nothing had changed.
Just like the Buddhist song we had sung at Chua Tuong Van says, “I found an island within me.” I take refuge in my inner island, a seemingly mundane one. In reality, it is incredibly beautiful and music-free.
Shantideva. 2006 The Way of the Bodhisattva. Translated by Padmakara. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.