I was born and raised on the little Caribbean island of Jamaica. Jamaica is one of the English speaking islands, having been under British rule until its independence in 1965. In Jamaica I attended Anglican Boarding School before immigrating to the U.S. with my mother and siblings. America was a very difficult place for me to be—the culture was so new, so different, and I had a hard time adjusting to this new life in the U.S. My mother constantly encouraged me: “Speak up, don't be so quiet, be more assertive. You are not in Jamaica; you are in America now and in order to survive you have to use your mouth,” she would tell me, in an effort to protect me. But despite her worry, I had a hard time becoming Americanized. My siblings assimilated a lot better than I did, into American culture.
The years passed by and I journeyed on, with education, profession and relationship being my major focus. Underlying all this, deep within, I yearned for spiritual fulfillment. Christianity did not satisfy that “void”, so I wandered on through life “soul searching”. I encountered Hinduism, I looked into Rosicrucianism, I wondered about the teachings of the Kaballah, I looked at the Holy Koran and attended Mosque with Islamic friends, I read New Age materials, but was not moved by any of these. I wondered if I would ever have a spiritual teacher, but was always reminded that “when the student is ready, the Teacher will appear”—so I decided to wait—“maybe I would even have to wait till next life time,” I thought. I was willing to do that too. I have always had a tiny statue with me. About 15 years ago when I worked in a school near New York City's Chinatown, one day after work I walked into Chinatown and bought this statue—I didn't know who he was, but I thought he was cute and chubby, with a big stomach and a big smile on his face. I did not know anything about this happy faced Buddha, except that he felt like a “precious jewel”, and so I prized this tiny statue throughout the years.
My work as a school speech therapist began to feel unfulfilling. I began to wonder and wish for my “Life's Work”—the work that I came into this lifetime to do. Financial rewards were meaningless to me; I just wanted to find this work, this “Calling”. Then in the year 2000 things collapsed around me and I finally felt freed to do the 2 things I most wanted to do (1) to do volunteer work and (2) to live outside the U.S. so I signed up with the Peace Corps. Then, just before I was to leave for my volunteer assignment, a medical issue arose for me and so I was unable to go.
Later I returned to the States and stayed at a friend's house—she happens to be a Buddhist. In her meditation room, the pictures and statues of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas caught my attention. My friend began telling me about these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and I was awestruck. She showed me books written by Master Hua and I couldn't stop reading them. I began writing out the Shurangama Mantra in case I never got the opportunity to see it again. She lent me tapes and I played them continuously, reciting the Buddha's name even though I did not understand its significance. I was so captivated that I remember waking during the night and hearing “Namo Amitofo” being chanted, perhaps because I'd been listening to it nonstop for many days. I would hear these beautiful sounds in my head whether the tape was being played or not, for the next few weeks. I became consumed with the Buddhism being taught to me by my friend and by her books. I would awaken at night and go to the meditation room and bow to the Buddhas, as I'd seen my friend doing. I didn't even know how to bow! I just knew that I felt humbled and grateful in the presence of these Buddhas.
On one occasion when my friend spoke to me about the precepts, I excitedly said, “They should be teaching these in school.” When she told me that there were schools where these principles were being taught, I was overjoyed. One day, I bowed to the Buddhas to ask their help. I poured out my heart to them asking them if they could help me find my True Path in this life. I asked them to show me a sign if they could help me. I somehow felt that they would forgive me if I didn't know how to bow properly. I came before them like a child would—I told them that I wanted to serve and help humanity in any small way that I could; I asked forgiveness for wrongs that I had done. I asked from the depths of my heart to be shown how to be a better person and how to do only good. I asked them what I should do now. Sometime afterwards, I got up and walked over to the bookshelf where I picked up a copy of Ven. Master Hua's Dharma Talks. I flipped the pages and came across a list of Buddhist Monasteries. I could not believe my eyes! I thought “great!” So I called at a branch and was directed to CTTB.
Two months after arriving at CTTB, I took Refuge with the Triple Jewel, and took the Five Precepts as well. I am deeply grateful to be here. There are no words to describe the gratitude that I feel.