How I Got Here

A little background first …

I was brought up with very little formal religious training.  My parents subscribed to Christian beliefs, but I only remember going to church for weddings and funerals.  We celebrated Easter and Christmas every year, but in a very secular way.  By the time I got to high school, I started searching for a belief system that matched the system that I was starting to develop for myself.

When I was in college, I took an Asian Studies class as an elective at the University of Illinois.  It covered the religions of Asia.  Since the instructor was Hindu, we spent quite a bit of the semester covering Hinduism.  Eventually we moved on to the other religions of India, including Buddhism.  I was very surprised to see that Buddhism matched a number of things that I believed, but at the same time I was disappointed that it didn’t match my beliefs exactly.  There were a number of other things that I disagreed with.  I filed all of that for future reference, deciding that I should eventually take a closer look at Buddhism.

We moved on to the religions of China.  When we started covering Taoism, I perked up.  Taoism matched a number of other things that I believed, but again I was disappointed that it didn’t match my beliefs exactly.  I remember telling my girlfriend at the time, “I wish there was some way of taking everything I liked about Buddhism and everything I liked about Taoism and meshing them together.”

We moved on to the religions of Japan.  The very next day, the instructor came into the classroom and, without saying a word, wrote on the blackboard:

BUDDHISM + TAOISM = ZEN

You could say I had a satori experience at that point, an awakening of sorts.  At that moment I realized that I had been a Zen Buddhist all of my life.  It just took me 20 years to figure it out.

In the late 1980s I stumbed across the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, a wonderful venue for Zen practice.  I’ve been entrenched in Zen ever since.

Flash-forward a decade and a half …

One day, my wife traded musical interests with a friend.  Her friend liked Celtic music, but somehow had never heard of The Chieftains.  My wife liked drumming, but somehow had never heard of the taiko group Kodo.  On a whim, I figured Chicago was big enough that there should be some sort of taiko drumming classes somewhere in the Chicagoland area.  Sure enough, there was a four-week taiko workshop starting up soon.  I jumped at the chance to sign up for it.  Shortly after the four-week workshop ended, they started offering regular weekly classes.  That’s how I became a student of Tsukasa Taiko.  I’ve been entrenched in taiko ever since.

Now, my musical practice has evolved enough for me to pick up the shinobue (transverse bamboo flute) and shamisen (many call it a Japanese lute, but my son refers to it as a Japanese banjo).  The new taiko semester starts this weekend, and I’m really looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.

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