Bodhi Day: A Transgender Buddhist's Note of Gratitude
This article was originally submitted to and published by the Huffington Post. It is reprinted here with permission from the author, Jack Cooper.
Dec. 8 is Bodhi Day which commemorates the Enlightenment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Though there are a variety of ways that one might choose to recognize this holiday, as there are many sects of Buddhism and a range of specific customs within each of them, I will speak for myself as one trans-identified Western practitioner of Vipassana meditation within the Theravada tradition of Buddhism.
In honor of this auspicious occasion, I would like to compose a gratitude list of sorts and focus on the gifts that Buddhist practice has afforded me on my journey.
First and foremost, I am grateful to Siddhartha Gautama for the courage and fortitude, the patience, diligence and dedication that he embodied by resolving to simply meditate until he found the root of suffering and the key to liberating oneself from it. Furthermore, I am deeply thankful that he did not hoard the information that he gleaned from this beneficial practice but instead offered the teachings freely to all beings so that they too would have access to the precious gift of freedom from suffering.
Two thousand five hundred years later, because of one man's willingness to consistently look within his own heart and fearlessly befriend his own mind, I, a garden variety human who is trans-identified, have at my disposal a set of practical tools that have enabled me to respond to what is as skillfully as possible.
As I reflect on my own story, just over five years ago when I stumbled onto the path and fell to the cushion, I am pleased to report that much has shifted. Not unlike a lot of folks that seek a spiritual path, I was drawn to practice because of extreme suffering, a sense of emptiness and an unsettled sensation that no amount of busyness or things with expiration dates could soothe. The pain and the corresponding need to alleviate it were finally great enough to override the nagging dread of what I would discover if I at last sat still, paid close attention and listened to the roar within me.
Everyone's roar is different. For me it stemmed from a lifelong struggle with gender variance and my difficulty relating to it. I am female-bodied and male-identified. I grew up in the '70s and 80s in the Bible Belt, near the heart of Texas and became aware of my gender identity pretty early in the game; however, I lacked the support, tools and information to skillfully navigate this fact about myself so for survival purposes, I learned to deny and suppress the core of who I was. This came at a huge cost to my well-being and led to a vicious dependence on alcohol and other substances that had nearly put me in the ground by the age of 34. Needless to say, existing that way was not effective, and it became vital that I face the Truth about myself or else.
And so it happened that after the fog of substances had lifted and I had begun to gain my bearings a bit, it was necessary for me to seek solace and I found it in the Buddha's teachings (Dharma) and a meditation practice that started at five minutes a day.
As I sat in silence, focusing my attention on the breath, I learned to, one moment at a time, be a light unto myself. What I have experienced over time has not always been pleasant, but more and more I am able to be with what is and to use skillful means to make choices that allow me to align with myself and move closer to an unshakable freedom. Though I have yet to reach Enlightenment and am not sure that I will in this lifetime, I remember that the Buddha taught that it is available to all beings, and I know beyond a doubt that over the course of these five years, I have awakened to my personal truth and have begun to embody and relate to it more fully, one breath at a time.
In closing, I would like to say thank you to all of the wonderful teachers and fellow practitioners whom I have met along the path who have not only encouraged me in my practice, which has grown to over an hour a day and includes active participation in my sangha (practice community), Philly Insight Meditation, but who have also affirmed and accepted my identity; therefore, giving me the courage to continue to look unflinchingly at myself and to embrace what I find.
May we all be Peaceful. May we all be Awakened to our True Nature. May we all be at Ease. Happy Bodhi Day!