Lanell, born and raised in Philadelphia, navigated a childhood marked by her mother’s conversion to Jehovah’s Witnesses, introducing her to a non-traditional upbringing. Despite her family’s diverse religious backgrounds, Lanell found solace in academia, eventually becoming a psychology professor.
Her academic journey led her to a predominantly white university, where she faced racism, prompting a search for fellowship and spiritual connection. Lanell explored various religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hebrew Israelites, Nation of Islam, Hare Krishna, traditional African religions, and more. Dissatisfied, she earned her master’s degree, returned to Howard University for her Ph.D., and continued her religious exploration.
Teaching psychology and African philosophy, Lanell realized the interconnectedness between the two. Struggling with personal fulfillment, she sought deeper meaning and eventually found herself drawn to Buddhist practices. A chance encounter with monks and a visit to the Juan Temple sparked a profound spiritual experience, leading her to embrace Juan Buddhism.
Through practicing Buddhism, Lanell not only found personal peace but also integrated practical aspects into her teachings. She redefined the concept of “Man know thyself” as “Soul knowledge,” recognizing the importance of experiential understanding. This journey transformed her approach to both life and education, allowing her to share a more profound and practical wisdom with her students.
Dennis, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was born and raised in a Polish Catholic family. After 18 years of following the Catholic tradition, he began questioning aspects of it during his college years in Denver, Colorado. This led him to explore various Christian denominations, ultimately embracing Presbyterianism and becoming a born-again Christian, a faith he has followed for 15 years.
Married for 25 years with a 21-year-old daughter attending the University of San Diego, Dennis shared a pivotal moment from his early dating years when he attended a seminar at a Zen Center at the suggestion of his future wife. Intrigued by Zen teachings, he found the philosophy to be more open and inclusive than his previous religious experiences. Dissatisfied with certain aspects of Christianity, such as the concept of salvation and the fear of hell, Dennis delved into Zen Buddhism, appreciating its fluidity and lack of strict doctrines.
Dennis encourages individuals to explore different religions, emphasizing the importance of finding a belief system that resonates personally. He challenges the notion of faith driven by fear, particularly the fear of hell, and suggests that overcoming this fear opens one’s perspective to a broader understanding of spirituality.
Discussing Zen, Dennis highlights its focus on unity and oneness, contrasting it with the rigid distinctions of good and evil found in some religions. He draws parallels between Zen and ancient beliefs, such as Native American spirituality, which acknowledges the interconnectedness of all living things.
Reflecting on personal experiences, Dennis shares childhood traditions, such as a symbolic crawling choice at age 11, offering insights into one’s inherent preferences. He suggests that early passions and desires often get overshadowed by societal expectations but may resurface later in life.
In conclusion, Dennis advocates aligning internal passions with external goals for a more fulfilling life. He believes that understanding and embracing one’s innate gifts and desires contribute to a sense of purpose and well-being.
Ani Palmo Lodro, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun, resides at the Vulture Vedere Retreat Center and Monastery, representing the College You lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. As the center’s manager, she oversees its diverse offerings, welcoming individuals of varying spiritual backgrounds and experience levels. Ani Lodro’s own journey began in the corporate world, where she pursued conventional Western ideals of success, only to find emptiness and discontent.
Her spiritual exploration started with Hindu teachings, focusing on Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga. After a decade of dedicated practice and encounters with enlightened beings, Ani Lodro experienced a profound shift in perception. Recognizing the impermanence of self and diving into self-inquiry, she found a new reality characterized by love, happiness, and a sense of purpose.
This transformative phase led her to the Vulture Vedere Retreat Center, where she became deeply involved in various roles, from a retreat participant to managing the construction of a new wing. Ani Lodro’s commitment to serving others and her profound realization of happiness as a birthright eventually led her to ordain as a Tibetan Buddhist nun in 2020.
Now, as the center’s manager, Ani Lodro strives to create a space where guests can experience the benefits of a monastic environment. Her journey emphasizes the shift from self-centered pursuits to a life dedicated to the well-being of others, embodying the Tibetan Buddhist principles of compassion and selflessness.
Cynthia, a 69-year-old divorced woman, reflects on her transformative journey from a tumultuous upbringing in a violent, alcoholic household to her pursuit of happiness through conventional means like marriage, career, and religion. Despite achieving societal markers of success, she found herself unfulfilled and embarked on a spiritual quest.
Cynthia experimented with various religious paths, including Catholicism and the United Church, but none provided the lasting contentment she sought. Battling personal struggles, she eventually turned to alcohol as a means of coping. The turning point came when, contemplating suicide, a friend introduced her to a 12-step program for adult children of alcoholics, reigniting her commitment to a spiritual path.
She narrates her progression through different spiritual practices, including Carlos Castaneda’s teachings, and her eventual immersion in Buddhism. The 12-step program, which she credits with saving her life, paved the way for her deeper exploration of Buddhist teachings.
Cynthia shares the challenges of balancing her spiritual journey with the demands of daily life, family responsibilities, and career. She emphasizes the significance of emotional balance and the transformative power of Buddhism in providing a stable foundation amidst life’s ups and downs.
Currently, Cynthia is an active Buddhist practitioner in the Vajrayana tradition, following the teachings of the late Choegyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She serves as a practice instructor and facilitates study classes, integrating her spiritual path into all aspects of her life, including administrative roles within the Buddhist community.
Her story unfolds as a testament to the profound impact of spiritual practice on emotional well-being and the ability to navigate life’s challenges with equanimity. Cynthia’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of mindfulness, acceptance, and a commitment to inner peace.
Annual update on progress of project.