Guest Contributor – Håkan Hagström
Article submitted by Håkan Hagström
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How Dharma has benefited my life
I’ve not always been a Buddhist. I was born into Christianity but as I grew older I realized that the religion wasn’t compatible with my mind. In the beginning of the millenium I left the Lutheran church, not ascribing to any religion.
In the summer of 2008 I was having a rough time. I was in a constant state of stress and was starting to feel detached from the world. I had read that meditation could reduce stress and hoped that it maybe could help me regain control of my life again. A couple of years earlier I had bought a copy of Alan Watts’s “The Way of Zen” in a second hand store but it had only collected dust in my book case until now. I picked it up and started reading.
A few days later I tried meditating for the first time. It was so hard! I had no idea what I was doing or how it was supposed to feel. My legs ached. I was trying to fight my way to stillness and the smallest movement or sound would break my concentration. When I think back, those memories feel so foreign to me compared to how meditation feels now.
After some time I found E-Sangha, a very large Buddhist Internet discussion forum at the time, where I started enquiring about the Dharma. Many helpful persons frequented the forum and I learned a lot there. When my father passed away, a lady there helped me with Bardo prayers for him.
But there was also controversy in the E-Sangha forums. There were topics and opinions that were not allowed; traditions that were not deemed real Buddhism by the administrators and moderators, and members breaking the taboos were banned. I didn’t really understand much of what was going on there back then. One day the site didn’t work anymore and would never do so again. I had nowhere to go with my questions.
The thing is that I live in a small town in Finland. Only 0.1% of Finland’s population are Buddhists and the closest Sanghas and Dharma Centers are roughly 80 km away from my town. I had been somewhat dependent on my virtual sangha and roamed the Internet for a while trying to find a similar site. Being unsuccessful, I finally I decided to start my own. I set up the freesangha.com forums where I wanted members of all Buddhist traditions to be welcome. A few others and I banded together and tried to create the correct framework and atmosphere. The first year or so was quite shaky with lots of drama until we found a good balance. Today the forum is quite healthy and I like to think that it has benefited both me and others.
Last year I had the chance to Japan to work for three months and during that time I had ample possibilities to visit temples. It was a very important time for me as there are no similar places where I live. I hope I get a chance to visit a country with a rich Buddhist culture again some day.
I think the Dharma has benefited me in many ways. I’m calmer and happier; more content with life. I’ve quit drinking and even joined a temperance society. The alcohol culture is very strong in Finland; people drink often and much. Some people even think that there must be something wrong with you if you don’t drink. Among working-age people in Finland, alcohol related death is the most common cause of death.
A lot of the members of the temperance society are senior citizens and they were about to dissolve it, after having celebrated their 50th anniversary just the year before. They could not find enough members willing to take positions on the board but when I applied for membership and accepted the position as secretary, it made it possible for them to continue, so in a sense I like to think that the Dharma has benefited them as well even though they are not Buddhists.
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