Alumni Spotlight: Ken Cannata, BA '09, MA '18
The following is an interview with Ken Cannata, 2009 graduate of the BA program and 2018 graduate of the MA program.
What are you currently up to? Quite a lot it feels like! I'm an artisan incense maker, working on what is basically a PhD in scents with KyaraZen in Singapore. I also work on staff at DRBU in recruiting, outreach, and hosting. I am a long time practitioner of tea serving, and greatly enjoy hosting and having conversations about our programs with prospective students and other guests. I also practice archery and martial arts as I find they help maintain focus and well-being.
How have you applied what you learned at DRBU to what you are currently doing? My undergrad at DRBU in Chinese Studies launched me into a life of "cultural enthusiasm" I could never have imagined. Since graduating in 2009 with my BA, I have helped start multiple tea houses across the country, and fostered the emergent tea culture of the US through education and passion for sharing meaningful experiences as best I could. DRBU challenged me to ask who I wanted to be in terms of my character, not just what I wanted to do in terms of a job. Both of those questions have been a deep struggle for which I am definitely the better for asking. After graduating in 2018 with my MA from DRBU's new Buddhist Classics program, I became even more interested in directly mitigating the suffering and mental afflictions we all face. I make incense that is integrating the genius craftsmanship of the East, with ingredients of the West. My graduate studies at DRBU challenged me to become clearer in my thinking through reading and writing. That has now become my process in making incense. I read the ingredient as a "source text". I aim to see it for what it is and what it is offering. Then, I make rough drafts of scent to get clearer and clearer, until ultimately articulating its essence in such a way as to be both healthy for the human being and allow its beauty to be shared in a new way. How I apply what I learned at DRBU to my current work could be a whole dissertation on its own haha!
What is a favorite pastime / memory from your time at DRBU? From my BA it would be drinking tea with pilgrims from all over the world in the dorms during retreat sessions, and sitting by the fire as rain pours down in the utterly silent winter meditation sessions. From the MA, I'd say the overall (small) classroom experience of learning through opening and changing/developing my mind/heart is still quite vivid now.
Insights, advice, and/or words of wisdom you'd like to share with new/current students: Stretch yourself to the point you are capable of, and see what happens from there. Taking your role as a student seriously is dignifying, and is time granted you by society to practice becoming who you know you could be if you had the support and the discipline. We all need your best you. Believe in yourself by learning how to discern confidence from arrogance. Treat yourself with the same sense of deep care you would for someone you are actually responsible for, and then go beyond.