Interview Transcript

History and Discovery

I’m a combat veteran, I work with veterans. I teach martial arts. I teach haiku. I’m the resident haiku poet at the Japanese Culture Center and the Labor Lay Buddhist chaplain at the Jesse Brown VA Hospital. It’s interesting because my grandmother and grandfather were from my grandfather’s, a Protestant minister and Presbyterian Church and Deep South. I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, so it’s deep south. I’m long away from those those roots. But they said as a kid, they would tell a story that when I was an infant in the crib, I always had my hands like this and they kept and my grandmother was thinking, Well, maybe I was going to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. And now, of course, we know that, you know, we’re talking about God show that. And later on, she came to accept that my path was not hers, but that my path was as equal in its validity as hers was. But I kind of came to Buddhism first.

Traveling with her as a missionary, my grandfather died early. My mother had some health issues, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and we traveled all over the world Central America, South America, Pakistan, all sorts of different places. And I’ve got some funny stories about my grandmother, but that’s, you know, that’s for a different time. But as she took me around, I saw so many different cultures and so many different paths that I felt. Hmm. Maybe there’s something else out there for me, and I would spend hours I would talk to not just my grandfather before he passed away, but to other ministers throughout my life and ask them questions and read not just, you know, the Bible, but the by the gate to the Koran. I would read, you know, all of the different things that come about. And I would just keep on reading voraciously. Then my grandmother got older and I went to a Protestant. Orphanage, because at that point, no one knew no one knew what to do with me, I was a teenage boy about to start getting in trouble. It was good that a seven year old woman wasn’t having to take care of me. That was the point. A friend of mine. I’m still good friends with gave me a copy of Guarino Show, which is Miyamoto Massage, his book, A Book of five Rings, and I started studying martial arts. And in the intro to that book was probably my first foray into Zen Buddhism because he talks about a little bit of Buddhism. Later on, he goes on to say that it doesn’t. What he practices doesn’t have to be Buddhist, but there are some of some of the influences the head and there are other books on that . And even in his own, the Kaido, he talks about respecting the Buddha and so forth. But doing that, and of course, I’m at a Protestant orphanage, a big Presbyterian Church. We went to church 23 times a week and to sing in the choir. But even then, just some of the things just didn’t resonate with me. So I would go across the street to the Presbyterian College. It was. They would allow us to come into the library big library. And then I would just go and read every book that I could find on all the different Suzuki, all these different books . And so I was at school learning, learning from teachers, from martial arts, different type of traditions and just coming to understand myself better. Then when I got out of high school, I went into the military and learned and learned a different side about myself and exactly how far I could push myself. What was interesting is while I was in basic training, whether it was doing a run, training with weapons, those type of things, I kept in my mind that it was all impermanent, that no matter what they did to me, even if it pushed me to the point where I died, it would pass. I didn’t have to keep on suffering by holding on to my guys. They’re making us do 300 pushups. When is this going to end? I knew it would end, you know, either I would collapse and I couldn’t do anymore, or they would get tired of pushing us and would let us get up. But I really was still searching, and I didn’t really consider myself Buddhist at that time. It was more along the lines of still searching, but I knew that I did not go to the. The cat, the Christian or the Catholic services, any of that. I would go and sit with the monks practice taekwondo with the courtesies, which are Koreans augmented to United States Army. And I hung out with a lot of those guys. They would take me home. So I got a chance to visit traditional Korean homes and they experience wonderful kimchi that was homemade and bulgogi, all sorts of different wonderful experiences. And I think that this kind of not just from what I experience with my grandmother in Pakistan, South America, this was just another that we’re all just one group of people. This is a culture and any any religion that tries to set people apart wasn’t really my path because it needed to be more inclusive. And that was kind of my time in the military, then I f when I got out of the military, I was injured. I was injured and injured in combat, so I finished finished out my time. It was sort of in the meantime. So I spent the last year or so in rehab, getting my body back into shape, my mind back in shape. I also got TBI, so I got hit in the brain as traumatic brain injury. When I got out of the military, I traveled on my own consulting firm, worked for Apple, worked for Adalah and Sons, did print technology after that. Like I said, I traveled around. Up until about 20 years ago. Then I met my wife here in Chicago, and she convinced me that I needed to one. She took me to a doctor and I went to the neurologist, and he said, If you continue working like you’re going to, you’re going to be in a wheelchair. By the time you’re 40, I was 35 at the time. She got me to go to the Veterans Administration here. Jesse Brown. And I’ve been there for some time and they told me, yes. And I’m hundred percent disabled. I look pretty good, but there’s a lot of pins, a lot of Kevlar, a lot of nerve damage, a lot of things that I have to focus with. And by her doing that. She saved me. But also opened the door for me to be able to pursue. What I would have to say is my grandmother’s work continuing, maybe not. You know, passing along religion. But when she did that, she would take medicine to the sick. She would, and I’m dog and we would take Samsonite suitcases through customs. And I look back and I think my grandmother was a drug runner. She was taking penicillin and stuff, but she was still this was not legal. But it was the compassion that she had for the people that she went to help. She would build homes. She would put money so that they had infrastructure and it was amazing and look back on it. And with that, my wife, Renee. I wouldn’t be able to help I run a not for profit for veterans now that I help with them with PTSD navigating through the veteran’s system. I said, I am. I am at the Jesuit ground as the Buddhist chaplain there. I do memorials. I haven’t had to do too much. There’s not a lot of call for it. Most of the ones that are Buddhist, there are also my friends that we talk directly, not through the VA, but I do volunteer at the Jesse Brown answering phones, helping others, working with all the all the different faiths that are there. And so it’s definitely an interfaith. But is that carrying on that tradition that I was shown? By my grandmother, who I’d have to say, you know, she would deny it, but I would say she was a bodhisattva in a way because she just gave. We when I was a little boy. We sat at the Woolworth counter. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, during the race struggles, and she said at the black only table because no one would mess with her, so no one bothered her. And if anybody wanted to sit there regardless. They sat with her and I was at the. Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. And I saw that very counter. On the wall. That’s the type of person that I hope to be. To be compassionate giving. Dealing with adversity. And when I can get back on topic. When I moved after I was in Chicago, I had my wife and I were down in the Salvation Army down the street, and it was kind of odd because we saw these saffron robes and monks and we were like, Did you see that ? She was like, Yeah, I did. But then we turned the car around and they were gone like, All right. We both saw it. It’s not an apparition, so. So I looked and there is a man that her arm just right down the street from my house, probably to I think it’s two and a half miles from my house here. So I went and met them and I met them. Dr. Buncha, who is like, he was not the abbot at the time, but he’s an excellent guy and he did Vipassana meditation, walking meditation every Friday evening. I went to their services there on Sunday. Did it? He suggested that I do the reverse on a ten day retreat, which I did, which was. Kind of like basic training, it was, you know, meditation, basic training, it’s not 13 week is only ten days. So I knew if I can make 13 weeks, ten days of not talking was not that big a deal. The I guess it’s all what you’re used to, but the more I talk to him and the more I learned about them, they’re about a tradition. It was kind of like my grandmother’s tradition. It just wasn’t quite the path for me. With the monks, I mean, they have a shaved head, so that wasn’t the problem. It was just. I wanted to be more involved, and I felt that. It wasn’t just the people that were on the cushion that could. Achieve enlightenment or it could achieve something positive. They were supported by this song. I felt that everybody could do so. So even though I’m still friends with Dr. Boucher today and I’ve gone back and spoke at that temple now from Angela Shinta tradition, they still invite me back because they know that. Or at least I hope they know where I’m coming from is of the same type of. Path, just a different tradition. So I was this was still 20 something years ago, I had met Reverend Campbell say when I was in Chicago long, long ago at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. And then when I came back, he was no longer at the temple. He had moved on. Reverend in Chicago was there, teaching showed up, which is the calligraphy. So I went and did some calligraphy classes with reverend in Chicago. And I. Was talking to him, and he was a World War two veteran from. He was in the Japanese Naval Academy and his parents were killed. And he and I were discussing what it means to be have been in combat, having to deal with those type of things. Being a warrior and then also trying to be a Buddhist.

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