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Lions Roar : March 2016
“There was no affirmation from the external world about what I was experiencing inside. I felt frozen and unhappy,” says Salzberg. “I think that’s always the case when children are kept from the truth, however hard the truth is to bear.” Salzberg writes in her bestselling book Faith that she felt like she lived a separate, shadowed existence from the rest of the world: “Feeling so different, I liked playing it safe more than anything, seeing life from a distance; never really engaging.” But something within her knew there was more: “There was some voice inside that was very positive,” she remembers. “I was waiting, because I thought there was something, something good, out there.” When I ask her where that sense of possibility came from, Salzberg shrugs. “That is beyond me,” she laughs. In college, Salzberg took an Asian studies class, where for the first time she heard the Buddha’s first noble truth— because we are born, we experience suffering. Something within her came alive. “I knew it to be true. The circumstances of my own life proclaimed it,” she writes. “It was like, ‘Right! This could be it!’ ” THOUGH SHE’D NEVER TRAVELLED farther than Florida, Sharon Salzberg decided to go to India to study meditation. “The methods were not available in the West in the way they are now,” she explains. “If you actually wanted to practice, one way or another you stepped out of conventional reality.” A few days before her departure, she went to a talk by the famed Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. When Salzberg asked him for recommendations about what she should do in India, Trungpa Rinpoche replied, “In this matter, you had best follow the pretence of accident.” Salzberg had no idea what he meant. It was the first sign that this would be a journey beyond anything she had ever experienced. Arriving in India was scary. Salzberg writes that she had “never seen life displayed so openly before, with joy and suffering all jumbled together. Nothing seemed hidden, and there was nowhere for me to hide.” However, her quest to find a teacher proved fruitless until she heard Daniel Goleman, later the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, mention a meditation retreat in Bodhgaya. When Salzberg arrived there, she sought out the bodhi tree where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. There she encountered an elderly Tibetan monk who offered her a seed from the bodhi tree to eat. His name was Khunu Rinpoche, and he was one of the Dalai Lama’s teachers. Sitting by him, Salzberg began to feel the possibility of defining her- self by something other than her family’s painful struggles, of “knowing, even in the midst of great suffering, that we can still belong to life, that we’re not cast out and alone.” “Even though it was hard, I thought, ‘There’s truth here. This is it.’ ” “An incredible love would come forth from her”: Sharon Salzberg (left) about her teacher Dipa Ma (seated right). Salzberg (right) in India in 1972 with Dipa Ma’s daughter, Dipa Barua (center), and IMS cofounder Jacqueline Mandell-Schwartz (left). PHOTOSCOURTESYOFINSIGHTMEDITATIONSOCIETY LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 68