Ann J's Experience

OBERF Home Page
Experience Stories
Share Experience (Web Form)

Experience description:   

I wanted to share this with you, since it was definitely a spiritually transformative event for me -- well, actually two events, which are linked in my mind. I have to tell you beforehand that I was not brought up as a member of any particular religion. My parents wanted me to choose my own religion (or none at all) which they seemed to think was very spiritually advanced of them, but in reality it just made me feel lost. I had looked into Judaism and Catholicism, since the ritual of both appealed to me, and I was even baptized in the Jordan river in Israel (I happened to be traveling there at the time and thought, why not) but I was never able to become a Christian in my own mind, even though I wanted to. I was simply not able to make an emotional connection with any Christian religion (which was difficult for me, since I was raised in Texas, in the Bible Belt).

When I was 14, I happened to be in Kyoto, Japan, traveling as a part of a well-known children's choir, on a singing tour. They took us around to various museums and such to see the cities we went through. I found the landscape and old buildings of Japan beautiful in a way I had never felt before, even though I had been through Europe with the same choir and seen the great cathedrals and museums of Europe. One day in Kyoto, we went to a small temple (not the famous Golden Temple but another one) that had a long staircase that you had to climb to get in, and when you reached the top, there was a large shrine or altar made of intricately carved cork, encased in a glass case.

Well, I had been to other temples and thought they were really cool, but had not felt anything in particular. But when we got to the top of the steps of this particular temple, I immediately went down on my knees -- as if it were the most natural thing in the world and something I did every day. That was just the feeling I had, a very strong feeling -- like "Oh, here's the temple, time to get down on my knees now." It felt very casual and natural. But then in the next instant, I felt really shocked at myself, and worried that other people would ask what was going on, and I immediately popped up again and brushed myself off. But the feeling stayed with me, and though I am 40 now, not 14, I can still see that temple and the altar very clearly.

I guess some people would have investigated why they felt this way, but to tell the truth, I felt afraid of it. I felt very isolated as a teenager, and I didn't want to do anything that would set me further apart. So though I never forgot the incident, I did not investigate it in any way. I did not read anything in particular about Japanese history or religion, or ask anyone how to interpret it. I didn't even make a note of the temple's name, and so I don't know now exactly where it was.

Then when I was 20, I was dating a young man who was a member of the Lutheran Missouri Synod, and he wanted me to go to church with him. So we went one Sunday morning, and I remember being fairly bored with the sermon (though I don't remember what it was about). The church was a modern one, with a large, unadorned cross of wood up in front, on the wall behind the altar. As I sat half-listening to the minister, I slumped down in my seat and stared up at that cross. I remember that I was interested in how they had lighted it from behind.

Then I had what I have to term my transformative event. As I was staring up at the cross -- with my eyes wide open -- I had what I guess was a vision. I saw what seemed like a slide show of a bunch of places. They flickered past me very quickly, and I don't think the whole thing took more than a minute

-- probably less. I saw a bunch of images, but unfortunately only a few stuck with me. The first one I remember was an image of the interior of an old temple. The walls were all painted a faded red, and there were very large columns (two to three feet in diameter) throughout the space. A number of Asian men, dressed in red robes, with their hair either very short (a buzz cut) or with no hair at all, were all sitting on the floor cross-legged, praying or meditating or something. I had the feeling that I was male, I was also dressed in a red robe, and I was standing looking down at all the other men. The predominant color of the scene was faded red -- the temple was all red, the robes were red, and even the light seemed red.

The next coherent slide was an outdoor image, of an immense Buddha carved out of the side of a mountain. I still remember it very clearly. The exposed stone of the mountain was a light to medium gray (not red or yellow like sandstone) and the Buddha was carved in a cross-legged position (that I now know is the Lotus position, though I didn't know it at the time). He wore robes over one shoulder but the other shoulder was bare, and the wrinkles of the robe were very finely carved. The statue was probably about 75 to 100 feet high. (This was not one of the statues that the Taliban destroyed in Afghanistan -- I looked up their pictures and checked after I heard about that.) It seemed to be a nice day, with a blue sky, in a warm season, since there was dark green vegetation on the hillside.

The last image was of a man wearing a red robe, draped over one shoulder, the other shoulder bare. I saw him from the back, and realized it was me! He was a little stocky though not fat, and his hair was black and very short. I think he was about 35 to 45 years old. As I looked at him, I started to move forward, as if I were operating a zoom camera. I felt things about him/me as I moved forward. I knew he was a merchant (despite the robes, which seemed to have religious connotations), and that he wasn't a very nice person -- the kind of guy who would take advantage of a cute female worker in the back room, for instance -- but he wasn't a horrible person, not a murderer or anything. I kept moving forward, and as I got really close I suddenly realized that either he was going to turn around and I would see his face, or I would go around him and see his face. Either idea scared me to death. I felt suddenly that I did NOT want to see his/my face, and I jerked back mentally -- and suddenly I was out of the vision and back in the church, still staring at the cross.

The reason it was transformative was that that was the experience that first got me wondering about reincarnation as a fact. I had always thought the whole idea was silly, but suddenly I had a strong feeling that I had *been* someone else before, and even got a little look at him. I didn't know what to do about it, though I thought about it quite a bit.

Years later, my husband (not the same man I went to church with) attended a lecture by a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Seattle. He really liked her ideas, and so he started attending Dharma talks and hearing her lectures. I was very skeptical and resistant and thought he was being really silly at first. After all, he was raised Catholic, so why was he interested in Buddhism? But he brought home some tapes of the lectures and asked me to try listening. After a while, I finally did ... and I felt as though I had come home. I was experiencing tremendous anxiety and depression at that time in my life, and was seeing a therapist. But when I listened to the Dharma talk tapes, I felt very peaceful and at ease, in a way I never had with Christian sermons. To make a long story short, I have now become a Buddhist and a Deist (that is, I follow Buddhist principals, regarding it as a philosophy, and pray to God, though not Jesus or anyone else).

As I have studied Buddhism, some of the details in my vision made more sense. I still don't know where the red temple was or is, but I do know that Tibetan monks wear red (also saffron, but often solid red), as opposed to Thai or Japanese Buddhist monks, who wear other colors. So all the men in red robes now made sense. Also, I learned that (before the Revolution and the Diaspora), young Tibetan Buddhist men would very often enter the monastery and become a monk for a period of two or three years, almost like doing community service. Then they would "give back their vows" (this does not have the taint that giving back vows does for a Catholic monk) and go back into the community. So that explained why the "me" I saw was wearing the red robes of a monk, and yet I felt strongly that he was a merchant, not a monk. He had apparently done both in his life. I am still searching for a photo on the Internet of the gray stone Buddha on the mountainside, but have not had any luck with that yet. However, I know now that there are a great many very large Buddhas throughout Asia, so I have hopes I will find it sometime. I also found it interesting that I happened to connect up with Tibetan Buddhism, instead of Zen or Japanese (Amitaba) Buddhism.

This was transformative because it really made me believe in reincarnation, since I felt I had first hand proof. Also, my strong interest in Buddhism seems explained. Everything just seems to fit together. I am no longer in therapy, and indeed, I have found meditation practice and prayer to be much more useful for me than therapy ever was. I feel I have some answers in my life, and that makes me happy.