Bethel author shares Buddhist teachings

Musician and author Janet Kathleen Ettele of Bethel is inspired by her background as a student of Buddhist dharma and brings its teachings into contemporary practice through both her writing and her music.

She has authored the How Life Works Series that is based on Master Shantideva’s teaching, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” also known as The Six Perfections. From this series, she has published How Generosity Works, How the Root of Kindness Works, and How Patience Works.

Ettele’s also released a CD, Piano Mandalas, meditatively inspired piano music that she intended as accompaniment to her books.

On Feb. 25, Ettele will be at the Ridgefield Library at 2 p.m. in a program called Inner Peace as a Way of Life, in which she will tell the story of her journey into studying Buddhism, how she came to write books based on Shantideva’s teachings of The Six Perfections, and about the every-day practicality of certain Buddhist principles.

Those include interdependence, impermanence, karma and equanimity and she notes that understanding and working with these principles can help cultivate peace.

“If we can learn how to channel that outrage that so many people feel, and convert that energy into something rooted in compassion, it can be so much more effective,” she said.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: “World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.” This is a philosophy by which she lives her life, explaining that if there are a lot of angry people running around, there won’t be much of a peaceful world.

“During the event, I’ll be speaking about the books and what’s going on with them and what my intention was in writing them,” she said. “It’s more than a book talk. I hope to explain how these teachings can be relevant in everyday life, even though they are 2,500 years old.”

The books, she said, are very profound, but are a great read for those interested in learning about Buddhism and its practices.

“Ordinarily, Buddhist texts are very dense and very difficult to get your mind around,” Ettele said. “The intention of the teachings is to not have it be about Buddhism but illustrate the practical application of having this be an avenue to create more peace within yourself, and therefore, the world around you.”

Additionally, Ridgefield record producer Gary Lefkowith will introduce the event and perform some of Ettele’s original music with her.

“He has composed a song that we will be playing with some other musicians and I will also play songs from ‘Piano Mandalas,’ and they are all meditatively inspired. I don’t prepare it in advance but improvise it on the spot,” she said.  

Ettele first became interested in practices of Buddhism when her parents — newly divorced — sent her to a Quaker boarding school on a farm at a young age.

“At that time in my life, my parents had divorced, my brother had gone to Vietnam and I found I was at such a place in my life where the best thing to happen was to be in environment where the ability to sit and develop meditation was something that helped me, and I carried it with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “After high school, I took a little time off, and when I did go to college, I went to Berklee College of Music and a few years later was married and had two children, and when they were very young, my husband left the marriage. That’s when I started teaching piano to be home for them and keep income coming in.”

When her eldest son went off to college, Ettele knew the time was right for her to do something that she could “grow old” with and learned about life coaching.

“I thought it fit rather nicely with what I was doing with the teaching I was doing with music, which was much deeper than just the music itself; it really touched on life,” she said. “This avenue of life coaching appealed to me, and I did a two-year program.”

One of the last books she read in that program was “The Mindful Coach” by Douglass Silsbee, and it referenced a great deal of Buddhist philosophy and Ettele grew more interested in the subject.

“I started to seek out books where I could learn and read more. And every book said you really need to find a teacher,” she said. “I didn’t know how I would find a Buddhist teacher in my town, but it turns out that 20 minutes from my house was a Tibetan Buddhist Center and I went and found the most amazing teachers.”

Those in the community are familiar with Ettele, who lives in Bethel. She was part of the committee that brought the Dalai Lama to Danbury in 2012. Last year, Ettele helped organize “Living Compassion, The Dalai Lama’s Life Story in Music, Words and Pictures” at the Ridgefield Playhouse, and even performed in the concert alongside Tencho Gyatso, the niece of the Dalai Lama, and Nawang Khechog, a Grammy nominee and renowned Tibetan flutist.

Ettele is excited about appearing at the Ridgefield Library and welcomes those who want to learn more and hopes a strong discussion emerges.

“I do think the value of any spiritual teaching lies in the ability to be applied in daily life,” she said. “Most everyone I come in contact with are feeling effects of the tumultuous now pretty intensely and through these characters and books, which are very relatable, it gives us a glimpse on how we can bring about positive and powerful changes and peace into our own lives.”