Thursday, April 21, 2011


(About as close to religion as I can come.)

I have been a practicing Buddhist since the 1970’s when I first read The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau.  I have studied under a number of teachers (books) since then; my favorite is Steve Hagen’s Buddhism Plain and Simple.

As you might have noticed, my Buddhist beliefs do not align with any particular Buddhist sect; and this, I think, is probably as the Buddha would have intended. Most Buddhist sects will insist that the only way to be a Buddhist (to find enlightenment) is to have a teacher, meditate, practice the Darms (Buddhist teachings) and belong to a Sangha (Buddhist community/ church.)
Buddhism and the Sangha  

I have read, in many Buddhist magazines, that enlightenment is only possible through the trinity of meditation, the Darma and the Sangha.   This, of course, has been promulgated by teachers who are, or were involved in Sanghis; and who also state “you must trust your teacher.” 

I visited my first Sangha a few months ago.   I experienced all the robes and the gongs and the ceremony.  Everyone seemed to be focused on who could endure the most discomfort by sitting the longest in meditation  – who could count the highest before the squirrel ran through their mind (attention deficit), and who could honestly avow that it was all being done for nothing – with no expectation but to emulate the Buddha.

It was unstated that if you must ask why am I doing this?   The answer was - there is no reason – and if you had to ask you didn't get it.

I have no problem with people who feel they benefit by guidance from direct transmission, and for those whom the religious overtones of the Sangha make a connection.  I do, however, take exception with the idea there is only one way. 

I could make the analogy that all the members at the Possum Lodge (the Red Green Show) must play dead whenever they hear a loud noise in order to immolate the passivity of the possum (Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati - when all else fails play dead.)  And why would you want to do that?  If you have to ask you obviously haven’t obtained the possum truth. 
I believe the Buddha’s message was that you do not need Gods, or religions (Sanghas,) or ceremonies; you do not even need the Buddha (What should we do if we meet the Buddha?...Kill him.) .

 He taught that each person has the ability of the Buddha. What part, if any, of his story is true is not important – his life is an analogy of teaching.   You pass through here for a short time – a mere point in the space time continuum. You can not control your life – yesterday and tomorrow are illusions – you can only try to live fully and consciously in the NOW before it’s gone. 

The Buddha sent his teachers out, not to form churches as the necessary path to enlightenment, but to inform the masses that their quality of life, regardless of their situation, could be improved if they would release their stress and live in the moment – that they must accept the things they can not change and change things that need changing, and learn to be satisfied with their lot. 

How marvelous,
How Wonderful:
I chop wood,
I carry water.

Before enlightenment,
I chop wood,
I carry water.

After enlightenment,
I chop wood
I carry water.

Buddha gave us the Four Noble Truths to explain that there is no happily ever after, and that the monkey that constantly runs through our mind is a major reason that out life wheel is out of kilter; that in order to bring our life back into balance we must be able to accept our hardships and focus our minds in order to cage the monkey.  

This is where I take exception to the idea that there is no objective to be desired from meditation.   In meditation there is no one blinding instant that we suddenly realize we are brighter then we were thirty seconds before.  However, it is only through the practice of meditation that we can discipline our mine; and, only by disciplining our mind can we cage the monkey that is a major cause of distraction to living in the NOW.    We can only achieve and maintain mindfulness through the continued practice of meditation.

After presenting us with this realization, the Buddha offered us the Eight Fold Path as his suggestion for living a wholesome life of fulfillment. 

The Buddha stressed that we should believe no one – not even himself.   That we should accept no doctrine on faith; follow no guiding principles, except those that we personally find valid.   


Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well.
After a near death experience I came as near to enlightenment as possible.   There was a dawning that I was alive in the moment.  Everything that I saw, felt, tasted and experienced was magnified and grandiose: colors appeared more vivid, smells were exotic and the feel of rain, or snow or cold on my body was exhilarating. 

Unfortunately this last for a month or six weeks, or three months at the most, but gradually my life morphs back into the distracted existence where concerns, worries, prejudices and other distractions send me blindly through an existence of reaction and consequence.  It takes a conscious effort through attention and meditation to remain conscious of how wonderful and fragile life is.

Buddha sought the meaning of life by experiencing religious dogmas and seeking learned teachers.   He performed strict regiments of austerity and self discipline rejecting all pleasures of life while seeking some magical moment where he could experience an awakening beyond the mere conditions of human existence.  But when he was near death and at his lowest ebb, he perceived the beauty of a young girl; the wonderful taste of rice and the refreshment of cool water.   This was his awakening.   The meaning of life is – that for the moment we exist – and during this moment life is wonderful if we will only pay attention, and NOW IS ENOUGH.   Beyond this there is no meaning of life.  

1 comment:

  1. I'd been studying the history of religious development through a number of written sources over the course of several decades before I began exploring Buddhism. Gnosticism (Stephen Hoeller is a good resource as is some early Jung - The Lost Gospels), the Tao, Sufism (my oldest friend is a Sufi in Philadelphia), Shamanism, and Advaita (Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) have all been major influences but direct interaction with any of the original sources is, of course, impossible other than through reading.

    The unfolding of understanding from the heart's point of view is a long and entirely subjective process. Modern western Buddhism has naturally taken its own course but all I had to do was see the advertisements for fancy meditation gear and environments in magazines like Shambala Sun and Tricycle to know I'd best stay away from physical sanghas. Like Groucho, I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.

    Your posts about the subject are very good reading.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."