Coming out of sleep I lie in bed
The fan blowing a gentle breeze across my body
I kick off the covers and stretch
I clear my mind from monkey dreams
And listen to the quietness of the house
I have been a Buddhist practitioner since the late 1970’s when I first read The Three Pillars of ZEN by Roshi Philip Kapleau.
Since that that time I have read and studied numerous books by numerous authors on Buddhism, and particularly Zen. I have also attended a Zen Sanghi and practiced with a Buddhist community; but I find this type of practice unrewarding and particularly contrary to my needs and my feelings of what Buddhism is about.
To me, formal Buddhist training is elitist and probably drives away many westerners who might otherwise benefit and desire to live the Buddhist experience without the commitment to a ritualistic practice of religious nature.
My Buddhist practice in No Bullshit Buddhism. To me, Buddhism, and particularly Zen, should be practiced at its most basic level. The practice need not be about teachers, or koans; not about robes, bells, icons or timed meditation.
After hours of meditation the Buddha found enlightenment (or realization) when he saw a beautiful young girl, was refreshed by cool water and tasted a bowl of rice. It is that simple. The Buddha realized that contentment can come from stopping our search and simply focusing on beautiful and satisfying things around us at the present moment.
The Buddha achieved enlightenment without teachers and community or adopting someone else’s ideas and values. The Buddha is important only for sharing his realization that to truly live we must be conscious of the moment. We each have a Buddha nature and by starting from the Buddha’s enlightenment we each have the ability to seek our own way. And there is no One Way.
In my No Bullshit Buddhism the role of meditation is not to stress myself in a painful meditation marathon. I do not believe that the Buddha was awaken because he spent hours in painful meditation; he was awakened because he became suddenly aware of the beauty of the moment.
However, meditation is a necessary practice to discipline our mind to more fully appreciate the NOW.
Many Zen writers and teachers say that you should not seek an outcome in the practice of zazen (meditation.) This flies in the face of western thinking and calls for that leap of faith that I refuse to make.
In my No Bullshit Zen I find a quiet, comfortable and familiar location. I seat myself on a zafu; but a pillow, bench or chair would do – comfort being the object. I place my right hand in my left, touching my thumbs, bringing both the right and left sides of my brain into equilibrium. Some texts recommend counting your breaths, but I prefer to gradually slow my breathing while visualizing the air entering my nose and filling my lungs then exiting. The object is to empty my mind of all thoughts. If my mind wanders I bring it back to empty. I sit until it becomes uncomfortable; then come back to the present calmly and gradually. As I have practice over time the length of my meditation has naturally increase.
Meditation can lower your blood pressure; it can calm you in stressful situations; and eventually it will allow you to conquer your monkey mind and enable you to more completely focus on the NOW without distracting thoughts. These are the goals of my zazen practice.
In the Shambhala Sun article Essential Teachings of Thich Nhat Han - Beyond Words, he states, “Zen doesn’t travel along a path of learning through writing and words; it relies on direct transmission between teacher and student.”
This may be cutting off the head of the Buddha, but I could not object more.
I read and enjoy many Buddhist books and periodicals and therefore have am insight from numerous different perspectives; but I take nothing on faith and follow no one else’s path. A teaching or account must make sense to me before I adopt it.
At the most basic, The Four Noble Truths attempts to explain the cause of our discontent and the Eightfold Path offers a guide to live by.
There are as many paths to living with Buddhist values as there are peopled. I prefer No Bullshit Buddhism because:
- I do not feel the Buddha intended his teachings to come at a price.
- I do not feel the Buddha intended the path of the Buddhist way to be difficult
- I do not feel the Buddha intended teachers and Sanghis to set themselves as the only path to enlightenment.
- I do not feel the Buddha intended enlightenment to be sought; but for contentment to be lived.
I have never felt more alive that the moment I released my grip on the wing strut and stepped off the wheel of a small airplane becoming unattached to the earth; or in the stern of a canoe rocketing down a mile of rapids on the Allagash River in Maine; or during the erotic throws of a sexual encounter with a partner responding with abandonment. These moments far outweigh the experience of the almost zombie state of walking meditation.
In our mundane times we should not fail to stop and smell the roses and contemplate the beauty of the time and place; but life experience and reward goes far beyond that.
It is my belief, with the exception of monastic training, the Buddha intended his teachings be simple, to help everyday people in everyday life to understand that hardship, reward, elation, monotony and finally death is a natural part of our existence; and that by living consciously in every moment we live this short life more fully.
I am well into my seventies, and at this point in my life impermanence is real.
All people in their younger days understand that someday they will die, that time will erode the mountains and that at some point in the future the sun will turn into a red dwarf and the oceans will evaporate; and even perhaps in the far distant future the expansion of the universe will slow, stop and finally reverse shrinking into a massive black hole where time and space do not exist; but the realization of impermanence does not actually register until we are faced with the experience in our immediate future.
Introspection helps me accept that death is the final obligation I owe to nature; but in the meantime life is to be lived fully by being unrestrained by concepts and being conscious in the NOW.
For what it is worth this is my No Bullshit Buddhism.
I retired from the military; graduated from the University of Maine and the University of Alaska; my wife and I taught school for eleven years in the remote Indigenous People’s villages of Alaska. I am now retired to a small post and beam cabin in rural Maine where I cut fire wood in the summer and feed the wood stove in the winter.