Young voices is a special project of Buddhadoor Global bringing together insightful essays written by high school students in the United States who have taken experiential learning-based courses rooted in Buddhist teaching. Working in parallel with BDG Beginner's mind project for middle school students, Young voices provides a platform for these students to share essays expressing their impressions and views on their exposure to the Buddhadharma and its relationship to 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 wanted music. I never doubted when they said “music is the only legal drug”. Walk the trails, brush my teeth, write an essay. . . my ears were chronically blocked during any movement of life. Music was my refuge, the one thing I took with me wherever I went. When I met people with music in their heads, I cared little about how I presented myself or the conversations between me and others. When I was at the gym, the music created a bubble that separated me from the other sweaty people. I lived a life of constant distraction, a life that I believed to be a refuge.
This is why when Mr. Housiaux, my instructor for Global Buddhisms, a philosophy and religion class at my school, suggested we hand over our phones as part of a Buddhist practice, I laughed. Certainly not! Does that mean I really have to feel the moments of my life? This must be torture. But a week later, out of pure curiosity, I decided to give up my phone indefinitely.
Without the escape of music, the outside world seemed intimidating. For the first time in a long time, I noticed the countless qualities of my surroundings: construction noise, chatter, laughter, sunlight, sidewalks, carpet. . . . At first, I minimized these insignificant sensations that bothered me. I found myself constantly looking around, searching for the source of a high-pitched laugh or a loud sneeze. While I was doing my homework or walking outside, I felt a lack of stimulation that was very disturbing to me.
Without my phone (and with the help of 10 sheep jumping inside my eyelids), I fell asleep at 000 p.m. and woke up at 22 a.m. to take my nature walk and write a poem. I told myself that if I wanted to bathe in this 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 lights that barely pierced the morning fog, I merged with the world around me, soaking in my next verses.
In its Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva asked: “Then why am I so timid on the path to freedom? (Shantideva 6.13) There was no reason to be. Even on the first day of walking, the tranquility of the foggy morning no longer seemed so disturbing. Instead, it was meaningful and, indeed, peaceful. Looking back, nothing in my life had deterred me from finding the path to freedom except my own fears and feelings of discontent. There is a path to freedom all over; I just have to watch. To me, this path looked like the walkway in front of my dorm, 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 organized and meticulously cleaned. Books of Buddhist teachings were neatly lined up in a corner; the floor was spotless. In front of the impeccably shiny Buddha and Bodhisattva statues were plates of fresh fruit and other tributes. The place looked immaculate. I know it was the result of consistent, repetitive cleaning and organizing with a peaceful, solemn heart. Habituation is a gradual process that pays off over time. Each careful placement of the statues, like each morning rising, is a repetitive but meaningful ritual.
After two weeks without my phone, I had to get it back for an important event at school. The next afternoon, while I was sitting in the library doing my homework, I ran into Mr. Housiaux. I handed over my phone without hesitation. Through addiction, I had let go of my attachment to my phone and the distraction from reality that music provided. I continued my biology homework as if nothing had happened.
Just like the Buddhist song we sang in Chua Tuong Van says: “I found an island within myself”. I take refuge in my inner island, seemingly banal. In reality, it's incredibly beautiful and without music.