Following the Footsteps of the Buddha - March/April 1999
by Chuck Pettis

"There is no highway to enlightenment, only tracks. 1"

Darjeeling, a small town located in northern India, is at 7,000 feet and very, very far from Seattle; it takes three days just to get there. They call the mountains of Darjeeling "hills" because the nearby Himalayas rise to 29,000 feet. To me, the Darjeeling hills look like Seattle's nearby Cascade Mountains.

The Sakya Monastery is in Ghoom, a small village a few miles south of Darjeeling. What motivated me, a middle-aged businessman, to travel half way around the world to spend a month in a monastery studying the Tibetan Buddhist "Lamdre" teachings? I, like many others (according to USA Today2 ), want to understand my purpose here and what happens after death.

A stream of enabling circumstances eliminated all excuses. An Internet stock payoff put me in the position for the "Universe" to ask me: "So now you've got money, now what?" Add to that the captivating melody and lyrics of Van Morrison's song "Enlightenment," positive experiences with Tibetan Buddhism, reading the book, The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception, and the respect I have for my spiritual teacher, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya (Rinpoche). The encouragement and support of my wife, Claudia, was key. As she told my curious parents, "He's a nicer person when he meditates."

According to Tibetan Buddhism and many other religions, there is a vast hierarchy of spiritual and enlightened beings whose job is to help all beings attain enlightenment. The walls inside the Monastery are covered with faded paintings and Thangkas (painted fabric artworks) of these Buddhas and Deities.

The purpose of enlightenment is to change our everyday perceptions into the way enlightened beings perceive the world. Enlightenment is about altering consciousness, the mind, so it can perceive things differently and, most importantly, improve the quality and virtuousness of our actions, speech and thoughts.

I am judging my progress along this path by observing: have I become a kinder, more forgiving, wiser, more patient, and calm person?

The word "Lamdre" translates as "The Path and Its Fruit." The path to enlightenment and the result (enlightenment) are intertwined; everything that happens to us during each day, good or bad, is an opportunity for us to purify our perceptions and become a more perfect being.