Lazy_eye wrote:or were otherwise exposed to the dharma during childhood.
I wasn't raised Buddhist but was exposed to the Dharma growing up although this was unusual. My parents divorced when I was about 10. Later my mother spoke to me about the Dalai Lama (she isn't Buddhist and doesn't remember this). I was somehow left alone in my Great Aunt's and Great Grandmother's house in Ashville, NC one day and just turned on the TV and saw the great movie "Harp of Burma"
. To me this is a very profound Buddhist movie. I ended up seeing this movie several times on TV over the next few years. Also I should mention that back in Germany (I was born there and partly raised there too) at US military movies I would often see Buddhist imagery in various movies including on TV. There was also an early Tarzan movie that involved Tarzan protecting a kind of tulku. At least for me exposure to this imagery was significant.
When I was 13 I went to live with my father who was stationed in Hawaii. There was a Buddhist temple right next to my high school in Wahiawa and there were various Buddhist temples around (I never visited those temples though). My father took us to a famous temple on the other side of the island (Oahu) twice: Byodo-In
and that was really significant. This is a non-denominational Buddhist temple that is a replica of a Pure Land temple in Japan. I began meditating spontaneously just before that visit or just after it and spontaneously came to a direct realization that all beings were deeply interconnected (of course these and other ideas were also current in Hawaii at the time). I also had a dream of flying over a magical version of Oahu and seeing a gigantic Buddhist statue that I flew around twice. I read the Huston Smith book on the world's religions and realized that Mahayana Buddhism explained the deep interconnectedness that I had experienced although it was tough at first: expressions of Hinduism and Jainism were close.
I spoke with Buddhist kids in high school, most of whom came from a Buddhist elementary school near Wahiawa (there were a couple of these Buddhist elementary schools associated with the Jodo Shin churches in Hawaii) who were very guarded. When I said I was Buddhist they responded that it was impossible because I wasn't Asian. But I also had a substitute teacher who was haole (Hawaiian for foreigner but it is exclusively used for white people) like me and she was a Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist practitioner down in Honolulu (I knew this because somehow I asked her about meditation to try to get a handle on what had happened to me).
Nonetheless I began to read sutras. I would also walk down to the Wahiawa Botanical Garden on some days after track practice and I found out that it had a Bo tree, the type of tree Shakyamuni attained enlightenment under. Actually there are several of these kinds of trees in Hawaii. However overall life was still difficult for me as there were major family problems and I wasn't popular in school. Still, Hawaii had lots of opportunities to come in contact with some Dharma and Hawaiian values are sort of Buddhist-lite without directly saying so (although some people might say Hawaiian values are modeled on Christian Methodism as well).
The last two years of high school my father was stationed at Fort Meade, MD. In the Laurel high school library there were sutra compilations that I began reading. Most of these were Mahayana sutras and I was just absorbing the imagery, some of it quite fantastic. However I became associated with a fundamentalist Christian youth group and then followed Christianity until I was 26 or so but tried to form a kind of syncretic view of Christianity and Buddhism. After I was 26 I just dropped Christianity although I didn't really tell people that I considered myself a follower of the Buddha and spoke outwardly in conventional Christian terms. I dropped Christianity because of lots of hatred toward people I saw expressed in Christian circles, esp. toward gay people and also because I could not reconcile the direct experience that I had of the deep interrelatedness of all beings with Christian thought. However I did also openly speak about Zen Buddhism and went to a Zen Buddhist sitting group. I was probably viewed by friends as a kind of New Age person at the time. In my late 20's I began telling people that I was Buddhist if they asked. They usually promptly forgot this and some people were taken aback.
But basically outwardly I was pursuing a normal life of a person in their 20's and aside from trying to help people Buddhism had little influence on my behavior although it awakened in me the necessity of dealing with severe anger (I was raised by three rage-aholics) and over time that was transformed.
So basically that's my Buddhist story about growing up in a Buddhist place. Basically the exposure to Buddhist imagery, some people and some Buddhist teaching mostly through reading was very significant for me.
Through my 20's I was often exposed to some Buddhist teaching. In fact I saw a book about the Tendai kaihigyo practice, Stevens "Marathon Monks of Hiei"
and would often chant the Japanese version of Amida Buddha mantra as I ran. After my 20's I began to pursue Buddhist practice seriously. So these seeds from back then blossomed. This probably would not have happened for me without living in Hawaii.
If I had children I would raise them directly in a Buddhist environment which would mean taking them to my lama's place but I would also try to create a Buddhist school for them.