Saturday, 21 November 2015
A Very Limited Explanation
I am Buddhist, although I am neither religious nor spiritual. The teachings of Buddhism allow for a secular form, an embracing of the philosophy without the religion. If considering philosophy alone, I could also wear the label Existentialist and Epicurean, for a start and probably end up like an old time suitcase covered in stickers from every place it has been. I am no friend of religion but philosophy is a passion. To illustrate how my secular Buddhism differs from a religion I can offer this comparison. In order to be a Christian one must believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is assumed that if one does so, one also follows his teaching though just how to interpret that teaching can be problematic. Buddhism was originally a teaching without a divine teacher. It grew out of and alongside Hinduism so some of the religious assumptions flowed from there, but the teaching of Buddhism was how to free oneself from the endless cycle of death and rebirth and instead finally reach the state of nirvana which is not near the state of California though some might think so. The path to freeing oneself, to living a life that would allow for enlightenment, was what the Buddha taught. It turns out that the way to do this allows for a world view, a philosophy of living, a practice, that suits me. I particularly like the word practice, as it implies that I am not likely to get it right so readily, but that the practice, or the journey, is what matters.
You could find many a Buddhist monk who would tell you that I am doing it wrong. This is where being secular comes in handy. I am not interested in their more orthodox opinions. Buddhims, as it became a religion, had to branch off into different schools of thought, different ways of doing, just as most other religions have. Ways of living are always entwined in their situations, the culture and the habits of the people who are doing the living. Buddhism made it's way west and adapted, sometimes with the insistence that certain ways of doing things were still required and other times with more flexibility. Buddhism also became popular as an add on. People remained Christian but tacked on or borrowed from Buddhism. It mingled a bit with yoga, which also became popular in the west, and allowed for a God who could be better understood or communicated with by the addition of eastern practices and beliefs. I'm looking at you chakras.
Wherever religions and philosophies go they are adapted by the people they encounter. Some, like myself who prefer philosophy, found something of interest and practical application in a secular form of Buddhism. I have no interest in rituals, idols, pantheons of gods or one god, no interest or belief in an afterlife. I am interested in this life. It's the only one I have empirical evidence that I am ever going to experience so I want to do it well. Having said that, Buddhist philosophy will definitely take you down a road where you must question whether or not there really is a self at all to experience this life, and thus it is sometimes accused of being a nihilist perspective. I think that is to misunderstand it. The point of discovering no-self, is to realise that we can get attached to things that are less permanent or solid than we think they are. Who are you right now? Is that the same you that you were yesterday, a week ago, three years ago? Consider this at a cellular level as well as one focused on your character and personality.
Meditation: How Not to Do It
So when people think of Buddhism or yoga they think of meditation. Yes, I do practice that but I have to admit I do not do it well. I like to mentally challenge the Buddhas and point out that perhaps this is because I am not attached to meditating. They are probably not paying any attention to me, being busy with bliss in Nirvana. I am not good at doing what I am told or doing something the way I am told to do it. This is a large part of why I am not in the military. You do not want your country's safety dependent on me. I will ponder, I will question, I will do it my way. I am also not terribly interested in teachers and gurus. Tell me you are an expert in something and I will immediately doubt you. I was one of those children who lived to please authority and adults. I grew up to be someone who questions most authority. (There are some exceptions. My doctor knows more than I do about medicine in general, though I know more than he does about M.E. and he has told me so) The Buddhist experts, insist on regular meditation, done a certain way. I do very few things regularly. Off the top of my head, I'd say you can predict that on a daily basis I will empty my bladder, brush my teeth and drink some coffee. It is hard to say exactly when I will do those things.
Away from my bladder and back to meditating....
The goal of meditation is to push aside all the thinking and quiet the brain. There are only two things that have ever done that for me easily and one was gardening which I can no longer pursue. The other one is painting. When I am painting I am inside it and I am no longer in my own body. It's this very experience of being inside the painting as I create it which causes me to eventually have to stop at some point, step away from it and set it up some where so I can look at it for awhile and decide what it needs next. When you are inside something it is difficult to separate yourself from it; you are being it. This is why we do not see ourselves the way others do. We are too busy being ourselves. I write to work with, control, play with or simply release all of the thoughts in my head. I paint to escape them.
I keep attempting sitting meditation but getting up early and meditating every morning while sitting on a cushion before I do anything else just has not happened in my life in any way that could be called regular. I keep telling myself it's a goal to meditate every morning but then I keep asking myself why. Meditation practitioners swear it changes you, and I suspect it's a bit like that runner high that dedicated joggers get and about which I also ask, why should I chase that. If I had a meditation teacher I'd want to spend our sessions arguing whether or not it is a form of attachment to do things one's own way or to follow the teachings of another. The teacher would say I am attached to my own opinions and desires and I would say he is attached to his one way of meditating. This is why I am a bad Buddhist.
As a writer, I rely on my busy brain. When lying or sitting still and letting my mind relax the best ideas come to me and the whole point of the practice of meditation is to let them go. Overcoming the urge to jump up and make notes is very difficult. I am not even certain that I find the benefits of meditation substantial enough to compensate for the loss of these thoughts I want to save. Ah, attachment. The cause of all suffering, according to Buddha. In this case, I'd say my attachment is not a problem but the damn meditating is. You can see why I make an irritating student.
Sometimes it Goes Like This
I sit struggling to relax my body and empty my mind, to not be distracted by a cat who wants attention, a plant I know that needs watering, or hangnail I want to clip off; I remember that I am practicing compassion. Compassion for myself as a non-perfect being is just as important as compassion for others. I've heard it said that we cannot love others until we love ourselves and I'm skeptical about that. I think many of us find it harder to be kind to ourselves and are much harder on ourselves than we are on others. I certainly know I am. Sitting on my cushion I am observing myself being quite humanly imperfect and I remind myself to accept that. I wiggle a bit and scratch my nose and catch myself thinking about something I want to write. Then follows the thought that I am not supposed to do any of those things. I take a deep breath and sink back into the meditation. I do this as frequently as I need to. This is why meditation is often called a practice.