Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Buddha?

I thought it might be informative or interesting to talk about why I choose to study Buddhism and why I feel it's the most beneficial choice for me. I'd also like to say that while I would absolutely recommend trying all of the practices I discuss on this blog I do not necessarily think that Buddhism is the perfect option for everyone.

I was raised in what you would call a "Christian" household, but we weren't regular church goers and we never practiced outside of the few holidays we attended church. My grandmother is what you would call a practicing Christian, so when I stayed at her house I would go to church and Sunday school. My hometown is 98.8% right-wing Christian and I often found myself at church as well as Sunday school with friends. I also participated in other Christian themed things such as summer bible school, church play, abstinence class (?) at the many many Christian facilities scattered about my town. There was a time when I prayed and read the bible regularly, but even then, it never really came off as profound to me. This is not to knock Christianity or to make it sound trivial in any way. I know practicing Christians who are wonderful, at peace people and I know much of it has to do with their faith and what their faith has inspired them to do. I also can't lie and say that growing up in a town where, in my opinion, Christianity was too often used as an excuse to judge people and reject new ideas, didn't add to why I was only briefly interested in becoming a serious Christian.

By High School I had pretty much discontinued any kind of Christian practice and when friends requested that I attend church with them, I politely declined. Even when my crush tried to pursued me with the gift of a praying beanie baby(why I liked a guy who bought me a beanie baby is another question for another day), I refused to attend anymore church. This was also when I became aware of other religions (including Buddhism) via my ninth grade world history class. I can liken this experience to this week's release of the Verizon iPhone, for so long I wanted another option and then I FINALLY got one. I remember writing an essay for a test in that class and filling up every square inch of the page. I think my teacher just gave me an A because she got tired of reading my personal philosophies on world religions. What drew me in was the fact that Buddhism seemed like nothing more than a guide on how to be a good person. Every aspect of it was simple, yet profound. There didn't seem to be this threat around not adhering to the rules. It was just kind of like someone saying, "here try this, it might help" instead of, "if you don't try, this there will be serious consequences."

Knowing more about Buddhism now than I did at the time, I could argue that Buddhism does threaten you with being stuck in Samsara, but I guess the difference is, you're already there, you're already suffering. It's kind of like what my mom said this one time, "I think we are in hell." My mother...yeah. Anyway, point is, Buddhism, in my opinion, had a softer approach.

If I had had the resources I may have become a Buddhist right then. But alas, I had no clue where to begin being as there wasn't even a Jewish Temple in my town, let alone a Buddhist one. Yup, diverse my town was not.

On to College. Women's studies class, which was more like humanity studies class i.e. studying lots of interesting things like religion, sexuality, service work. When we got into a discussion on religion I chimed in, "Oh yeah, I was going to be a Buddhist, but I don't know where to start."

My instructor was actually really cool about this and gave me the name of a group she knew of. Problem was they met 45 minutes away and after some further research I got the impression they were a bit sketchy/cultish...If I had really wanted to I'm sure I could have found somewhere else to go, but I was in college and therefore highly distracted by freedom and boys and FREEDOM. So, once more Buddhism got lodged away somewhere like a bugger between two couch cushions, left to dry up and flake away.

Enter desperation (and a little more exposure to Buddhist ideals). When I finished school in Virginia, I moved to New York. Lots of shit went down and I was left thinking, "something has GOT to change, the gym isn't really cuttin' it anymore."

I'd been living in the city for about two years and my life wasn't really what I had hoped for. After feeling sorry for myself the entire day for at least an entire year, I finally reached that point where I was ready to take some action. I considered therapy, but that wasn't an option I liked. I felt really uncomfortable with the idea of paying someone to listen to me (and frankly I was sick f listening to me) and I had heard many stories about how difficult it is to find a decent therapist in New York. Also, I didn't have the time or money to go shopping around. My mind just wasn't open to it at the time. I remembered someone telling me that a mutual acquaintance of ours was a Buddhist and I realized, "hey! I'm not stuck in Virginia anymore, there are lots of like-minded people around here!".

After a quick internet search I found a place that was near my work and had an monthly intro class coming up. Jackpot! That Saturday I went. Man, what an experience. I was running late, wearing workout clothes (they said wear comfortable clothes!) and felt totally out of place. I burst in all irritated Woody Allen style and everyone in the room looked so peaceful and relaxed. I was very much out of my element, but I had a great time. For the first time in months I felt free of my ridiculous irrational thoughts and safe from all the commotion of the streets. Everything the teacher said made sense to me on a spiritual and logic level. So for a while I started thinking differently and meditating when I could. I bought a book. And then I got distracted again. My life started to get better and much busier, so Buddha got all crusty again.

I didn't forget about him though. I didn't forget about how the little bit of effort I put in was more powerful than anything else I had ever done for myself. I guess you can say I developed faith in Buddhism, I know that it works. Soon the idea of this project started knocking around in my brain and now here I am, posting daily updates on my practices. I've been thinking of it in my head as marrying happiness. We've been seeing each other on and off for years, but now I'm committed. Buddhism is a large part of it for me, but if you take anything away from this increasingly long post, I want you to put some time into being happy from the inside out. Take some time out from each day to really focus on nothing. Try to let your brain turn off. If you can't do it, don't judge yourself, just be an observer. But try again the next day and the next day. And when you think you've got it, keep practicing. Then all those other things that you thought filled your life before, they're just icing on the cake baby.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. My mother has the same thought about life on earth being hell...

    Gives more credence to the idea that hell is a self-created experience, rather than one that is put on you, no?

    I was way lucky in terms of college, and getting to study buddhism in school. And hang out with actual buddhist monks and stuff. One of my areas of focus was southeast Asian religions, so I studied buddhism and hinduism pretty intensely for a while (and ended up practicing hinduism for a bit there. Interesting stuff.)

    On a personal level, I read and read and read about every Buddhist tradition I could find and finally found some resonance with Zen (specifically Soto). I'm still not at the point where I can forgive organized practice (or religion) for being organized, (yes, I know, major personality flaw) but at some point or another, I'll get over myself and go. There's apparently a good zendo in Brooklyn.