By Greg Suffanti
QFWF no. 1, February 2018
I was in my early thirties and was diagnosed with a serious, albeit treatable disease. Over the previous five years I’d worked my way up the corporate ladder and had reached the level of General Manager. With almost two hundred clients and more than a hundred employees, I’d achieved the goal I’d set for myself and everyone seemed to be happy but me.
I very soon thereafter came to the conclusion that I’d been the victim of my own success: I’d proven myself in both managerial and sales capacities and had been asked to move from one coast to the other to open a new facility.
I remember very clearly my dissatisfaction and inner restlessness as I struggled to reconcile this “promotion” and my duty to myself to achieve as much as I possibly could and the fact that I found my experiences in the business world to be hauntingly meaningless.
My diagnosis seemed to only amplify my daily struggle and eventually I chose to resign my position and start an entirely new life in the Netherlands. I’d reached this decision after becoming interested in Tibetan Buddhism. I was already in love with Amsterdam, which I’d visited a couple of years earlier. A chance viewing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on CNN’s “Larry King Live” sparked an inner fire when I recognized and felt the genuine happiness of His Holiness and felt determined to find out more about how this was possible.
My dream was to come to Amsterdam and to study Tibetan Buddhism, and I very happily write that twenty years later I’m still following my dream of living (now as a Dutch citizen) in Amsterdam and studying Buddhism.
To be honest, the majority of the last years have been difficult: living alone in a place I was not born, various illnesses, including a stroke, working at entry level jobs (like so many foreigners), not having stable housing and the list goes on.
It is very clear to me that stability in my personal life is crucial to stability in my spiritual life. I personally feel that my study of Buddhism has helped me very much to cope with the difficulties I’ve faced. Further, helping as a volunteer the last seventeen years at the Maitreya Instituut in Amsterdam has given me a feeling of inclusion as well as the feeling that I’m helping to support something I believe in.
This feeling of helping and being a part of something positive is far more satisfying than anything I felt when I worked in the business world. I do believe I’ve benefitted through having qualified teachers guiding me in a safe direction. Through becoming more aware of the suffering of others I’ve gained a greater appreciation for my own life and am more willing to try to help others. I cannot imagine my life now without Buddhism as my reading and study have become daily habits for which I am definitely happier than I was prior to my interest in Buddhism.
People say Buddhism is more a way-of-life than a religion and I think there is a lot of truth to this.
Firstly, to be considered a Buddhist it is said that you must have faith in the Triple Gem: Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. Beyond that, I would say that personally, Buddhism has given me a way to relate to myself and to the world.
Following the Buddhist Path is a daily affair and so you have to be yourself and this is then a way of life. What continues to stimulate me is the practical side of Buddhism: it’s about me and my mind and how to grow in the direction I want. To me it is as relevant today as when I started twenty years ago.
Buddhism has given me a direction in life, which has led to a new life in a new country, and the possibility to continue to grow and evolve in the direction I choose. My contact with the teachings, and especially with my teachers, has been truly meaningful and life changing.
Tibetan Buddhism is an oral tradition and so I don’t think there is any substitute for a traditional teacher/disciple relationship. Also, I’ve been greatly inspired by my teachers through the years. Buddhism teaches that our fate is in our own hands.
Apparently in Tibet there is no name “Buddhist”, rather, such a person is someone who looks inside to resolve his/her problems.
I like this very much. I’ve seen changes in myself through the years. Unfortunately, my changes have been slow. That I have the power to change at all in a positive direction I still find incredible! Buddhism for me represents the possibility to always be learning and growing in the direction I want.