Hey everyone, I'm (do pronouns get quotation marks on Buddhist forums?) a sophomore undergraduate psychology student from Tennessee. I've considered myself a Buddhist [is this sentence contradictory?] since my early teenage years, but mybabiding faith in what I saw as the clearest and deepest expression of truth and reality within the philosophy/religion/ultimate truth of Buddhism has mainly been an isolated one. Tennessee is not exactly a thriving hub of Dharma activity (to my knowledge), and the few meditation centers I've visited didn't exactly inspire me for the deep explorations of pratitya-samutpada, dharma combat, sunyata, koans, Buddhist logic, Tibetan meditation, Vajrayana, vipassana, and tantra (realize I'm drawing freely from all three vehicles here) that interest me particularly in Buddhism and lodged it firmly in the center of my affections, convictions, and allegiance. I came to Buddhism through its texts, its words, whether it was Hanshan, the Suttas of the Pali Canon, poring over Nagarjuna's Mulamadyamakarika, or repeating koans endlessly and privately to myself, thinking about the way they played with logic and context.
At some level, Buddhism may be the most precious thing in my life. Every day I live is, in ways which seem absolutely unapparent to nearly everyone but me, informed by my understanding and resonance with the core teachings and insights that my years-long study of Buddhism has brought me. I want to sharpen and make more apparent that interest, through dialogue and experience of other dharma practitioners as well as trying to find and pursue goals of making a deeply informed and authentic formal practice a regular part of my life, along with all the ways that that is a transforming and even paramount life experience.
One of the central dreams of my life is to spend some time practicing in the home countries of Tibetan Buddhism and Zen, the two schools of Buddhism I am most strongly attracted to, perhaps at one of the great Tibetan monatery-universities or one of the more austere and rigorous Zen monasteries in Japan. I still have an opportunity to study abroad soon, and I suppose one of the central questions I have and one of the main reasons I've decided to use the Internet to connect with the larger Dharma community (aside from my aforementioned dharma-isolation here and a host of attendant reasons) is in pursuit of this dream-goal. Are there any forum-goers who have done either of these dreams, whether in Japan, Dharamsala, Chinese-held Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, etc? Could you comment on your experience and how you made it happen?