Born in New York City to Panamanian parents, Wendell Garnett dropped out of high school and was homeless for four years, hitchhiking around the United States, learning to survive on the streets, and searching for purpose in his life. At age 21 he was inspired by Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Roshi Shunryu Suzuki, to begin a meditation practice. He soon decided to complete his education, and enrolled in Berea College, Berea, Kentucky. There he met several Tibetan students from Tibet, Nepal, and India, and declared an independent studies major in Asian studies with an emphasis on Tibetan culture.

After graduating from Berea College, Wendell spent a year in Dharamsala, India, volunteering at a Tibetan NGO and studying the Tibetan language. With the encouragement of his root teacher, HH Sakya Trizin, he is continuing his studies in Buddhist philosophy at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics at Dharamsala, India. He is one of the few western students enrolled in the 16-year dialectic program, taught entirely in Tibetan, that ultimately leads to becoming a geshe.

“I believe that with the help of Khyentse Foundation, I will be able to help others in the same way that I have been helped. I believe that in this world, many capable individuals miss opportunities because they do not have a certain racial and/or financial status. Folks like me, for example, who have lived homeless, born with negative marks so to say, as an African-American of poor financial background, uneducated, etc. have been given a chance because of others; to have had the opportunity to go to college and to India to study Dharma, to fulfill ones dreams and aspirations, is of tremendous worth. For me this is a true sign of the commencement of assisting all sentient beings.

“My spiritual understanding at this point of my journey is very low, but I firmly believe that beginning at this level is the impetus of assisting all sentient beings at higher levels, and it is this feeling that I have sensed from Khyentse Foundation. The more this is able to happen, the more this sentiment of assisting will spread, uplift, and benefit many, and I am so hopeful that with an organization such as this one, this process will increase through me and through those that are helped and so on and on.”

Read Noa Jones’ interview with Wendell in the Fall 2010 issue of Tricycle magazine.