I stumbled across Buddhism somewhat by chance, rather than discovering it after a lengthy spiritual quest or something. Eleven years ago, somewhat beleaguered and stressed out trying to adapt to a new job, my girlfriend suggested I go to a Buddhist meditation class. It could have been aerobics!
Despite arriving pretty suspicious and cynical about anything religious, I soon warmed to the teacher, who seemed fresh, open and full of life. At a emotional and gut level I felt drawn, and it seemed to make sense rationally too.
I got hooked. Not so much to Buddhism in itself, but to what it points to: the possibility and scope for shedding habits that limit our lives. In becoming a Buddhist, it didn't feel like I then had to obey or take on certain beliefs or rules. More that with a heart connection to its spirit, I wanted to orientate my life to test out, and put time into, its teachings and practices.
About seven years later, as my connection deepened, I was wearing robes, in a remote mountainous region of Spain, and on a four month ordination course.
I was given the name Balajit, which means 'he who is mastering spiritual qualities'. The name reflecting more what I aspire to, rather than any attainments!
Coming back I decided I wanted to live in the hills and focus more on meditation, reflection and simple living. So I gave up my job in the city, and joined a small team of guys who run the Vajraloka meditation centre, a few miles outside Corwen.
People come on our events here from all over the world. They receive some teachings, do lots of meditating, and saunter around the quiet surroundings. All our food is vegan. Most of the time there is no talking, as that seems to support people's practice.
Buddhist practices, such as meditation, are all tailored to help people see themselves, others and the world more clearly, by increasing awareness.
According to the tradition, awareness can be cultivated to such an extent that 'awakening' happens (the 'buddha' translates as the 'awakened one'). But it's not all about just one 'big bang' reward, as, in the run up to this, qualities such as kindness, creative thinking and contentment develop as awareness deepens.
Whilst there's no concept of a creator god, there is reference to the 'truth' which is a revolution in the way we normally interpret ourselves and the world.
Buddhism helps me navigate through life. I've become more aware of myself and others and feel more open to the mystery that is life.
It hasn't been a magic wand though. Life is often still not easy or pleasurable, but it's instilled in me more meaning and purpose. Any deepening of faith has come from seeing, very gradually and with many ups and downs, that it seems to work.
I'm glad I followed that gut response all those years ago.