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An Open Life

by Michele Di Mascio
USA

Michele Di MascioMichele Di Mascio

I was introduced to Buddhism 13 years ago in Rome, Italy. I was 28 and facing a big challenge: coming out as a homosexual man.

Attending Buddhist meetings, I was enchanted by what I heard--everybody had a story of overcoming fear, sickness, financial problems or emotional issues. I was starting to deal with my own fear, dismantling the shield built around myself over the course of my life that separated me from others.

And, without doubt, the time had come to fully deal with my fears. My partner, the man who had introduced me to Buddhism, was HIV positive. At that time in Italy and throughout the world we still knew little about the disease. I began closely following the clinical course of the disease, accompanying my partner to his monthly doctor appointments, supporting him in his number one challenge: to live and to fight AIDS.

I was studying neuroscience and three months away from completing my PhD, but I was experiencing a growing desire to understand the science behind the virus causing AIDS and be part of the fight against it.

One day I drove home in a depressed mood because of the recent results of my boyfriend's virologic test. That evening I found the courage to write to one of the world's most famous scientists in the field of HIV, telling him, in my poor English, about my interest in working in this field. It took quite a bit of courage to push the send button.

To my surprise, he replied the next day. It was like a dream--an invitation to discuss further the possibility of studying in the United States.

In October 1999, landing in the snowy town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, I asked myself, "What have I done?"

I began working on HIV studies with the brightest scientists in the world. The focus of my chanting--my prayer--was to eradicate HIV from the human body. It was a challenge so big that I could not even say it at Buddhist meetings, let alone among my colleagues. In the scientific community, after the failures of the first studies in the mid-90s, the term "eradication" had been sort of banned from the scientific agenda, and the more I studied, the more I realized the reasons for this pessimism. But I was not going to give up.

Eleven years later, many things have happened. I have been through victories and failures both in my life and in science; but both outcomes have made my faith stronger. It's been a process of becoming wiser and more compassionate. I realized that achievements in science are not only the result of intense study and bright minds. Important goals are achieved by expanding our lives through a strong determination to create value.

The man who introduced me to Buddhism is now doing well. After 17 years of infection, his immune system is like that of a healthy young person.

The goal I set 11 years ago has not yet been achieved, but it now no longer seems unrealistic. As a result of some successes, eradication objectives have come back strongly onto the scientific agenda.

A committee of 30 well-known scientists in the field of HIV was mobilized in 2011 by the International AIDS Society to specifically attack the question of eradication, and I am one of them.

But the discovery of how Buddhism works in my life is the most exciting of my experiments. It is an amazing adventure. I really feel that Buddhism has opened my life in directions that go beyond the ability to advance scientific discussions. I am able to work at the forefront of my field today not because I am the brightest scientist, but because of the way I have learned to face challenges and to continue to strive to open up my life.

[Courtesy, January 2012 SGI Quarterly]

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