My Speech to the 2004 Brandeis Interfaith Baccalaureate

My name is Doug Van Hollen and I'm representing the Brandeis Buddhism Club,
I gave this speech because I was asked to.  I have no idea why; there were much better Buddhists at Brandeis.  It was a hot May morning, and each religion on campus was represented by a speech from a student in cap and gown.  The campus priest helped me adjust my ridiculous hood.

My name is D__________ and I'm representing the Brandeis Buddhism Club, and in addition I'd like to represent the Brandeis students who were not born into their chosen religion, but found it while at Brandeis.

I came to Brandeis because I wanted to be surrounded by smart people; 4 years ago my spiritual experience was mostly shaped (I see now) by some kind of power-by-way-of-intelligence-worship that I probably picked up from watching too many action movies as a kid.

The thing is, when I was a kid, I was allowed to be carefree and hedonistic, in the tradition of generations of white, male, middle-class, Christmas-and-Easter Christian but really quasi-nihilist American kids, and I thought that the pleasure that I got from this kind of innocent freedom was in fact happiness.

But one of the bittersweet consequences of growing up and going to college, was that I saw the world as a place full of conscious beings other than myself who wanted happiness just like me.  In fact, the more that I lived amongst these bizarre not-Me creatures, the more I felt that my feelings of pleasure, especially sensory pleasure, were less gratifying because my world was beginning to contain more than just me;

For example, at college, I found that the pleasure of eating a really good ice cream sandwich does not actually fill the entire world with that incredible sweet, creamy, chunky sensation because some people who like ice cream sandwiches as much as I do are not having one right now.

I found at Brandeis a community of people intelligent enough and therefore brave enough to wear their spirituality on their sleeve, which enabled me to really understand what the Buddha meant by the absence of any kind of separation between myself and anyone else.  I saw that they too underwent an identical process of recognition of the world outside the self as I did when I first came to college, and that they too daily face the spiritual task of meeting the challenges of life with wisdom and love and just a good disposition.

I still see myself in these people around me and I still see them in me, and I guess I always will.  It's this sense of love and wisdom and unity of purpose that makes me know, absolutely know, that my journey here has done irreparable good to my heart and my mind.  The spiritual practice that I discovered while at Brandeis finally gave me some insight into why I kept seeing other people having my same problems: I heard it described once that it's as if each of us is a drop of water that reflects every other drop of water; so it's impossible for me to see myself without seeing the amazing people that have helped me on my way.

I know now that when the Buddha said “Look within: thou art the Buddha”, he was referring to how each person is actually a crossroad of all the beings that have helped to peel back the illusion of separation between the self and the world.  It's this sum of these positive spiritual influences that constitutes a consciousness of perfect understanding and infinite compassion that is in each one us just waiting to be discovered.

I feel really lucky to have found all of these spiritual influences at precisely the time when the development of my inner crossroad would determine who I would be for the rest of my life, and really I hope that everyone who's graduating this weekend realizes that this institution fosters not only higher learning, but an atmosphere of loving, intelligent spirituality that enables people like me to find their own personal answers and their own path to a greater understanding.

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