Monday, October 9, 2017

I am a 'bad' Buddhist

In many of my posts I try to use an even, careful tone. This is because I do my best to not assume anything about whoever may be reading BCB and be as inclusive as possible. When I think about the fact that someone who may be searching for information about Buddhism actually happens upon this blog, it is truly humbling. 

However, please do not mistake this statement as an attempt to portray myself as pious or somehow spiritually 'accomplished'. Despite the careful written tone, I do get angry sometimes. Sometimes I feel frustrated and resentful. I can be self-centered and speak harshly, even to those I love. It is often difficult for me to calm my mind and to be grateful for what I have. 

Being pretty familiar with human nature, I also guess that I am probably like many other people.

But how could this be, since, after all- do I not claim to be a Buddhist? Shouldn't I be able to meditate for hours and generate waves of compassion towards every sentient being? Shouldn't I have quenched the internal fires of anger and silenced the biting mental criticism of myself and others? Aren't I a more evolved human being, a gentle, wise vegetarian whose few words are full of love and meaning?

Though this caricature of a 'Buddhist' may seem a little over the top, I do wonder if this kind of imagery has not somehow crept into the collective psyche.  

Why do I say this? Though my experiences may be anecdotal, they are supported by independent events that assert the 'Buddhists are better' stereotype. For example, an outraged acquaintance (who was unaware I practice Buddhism) was discussing atrocities committed by Sinhalese against Tamil people in Sri Lanka*. She ended her statement with a breathless exclamation - ". . . and they are BUDDHISTS!" More recently I have heard similar statements regarding the Buddhist majority in Myanmar versus the Rohinga Muslim minority*. On a personal level, I recall on several occasions being chastised by family members for becoming angry or impatient being punctuated with, " . . . and you're a BUDDHIST!"   

Although I have heard similar exclamations hurled towards holier-than-thou Christians, this bizarre 'higher standard' regarding Buddhists does seem quite pervasive. Is it a bad thing? Probably not terrible, but it may prevent non-Buddhists from seeing Buddhists in a human (and more accurate) light, which could be disillusioning and damaging to mutual understanding down the road. 

So though I don't know how to approach (or even if others have experienced) this 'Saint Buddhist' phenomenon, I will say that in light of the standards by which others may view Buddhists I am definitely a 'bad' one, anger, impatience, harsh speech, meditational ineptness and all. 

However, I can only hope that my readers and those who know me personally would realize that these are the many reasons I practice Buddhism, that its ideas and precepts have been incredibly important aspects of my personal journey, and really have helped me become a more patient, more compassionate person. I have also learned that no matter what our background or philosophy, we are all unified by the simple aspiration of being our best self- Buddhist practice is just one of the many ways of working towards that.
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Have you experienced the 'Saint Buddhist' phenomenon (or even espoused this view)? Feel free to share in the comments!

May all beings be happy!  

*For some people, these topics may elicit strong emotions. I am only mentioning them to make a point regarding expectations about Buddhists around the world, and not to assert (or dispute) anything about the conflict/s themselves. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The moment is now

A while ago a dear friend was lamenting the fact that she had not yet found someone to spend her life with. She felt that time has been ticking away, and was also frustrated with the fact that she was 'still' a graduate student. Exasperated and clearly struggling to show a brave face, she exclaimed, "I keep wondering when my life is going to begin!"

This admission surprised me, simply because I have so much admiration for her. Not only talented, intelligent, and hard working, she has a kind heart. She has traveled the world and has had many work and life experiences, which also makes her incredibly interesting and fun to talk to.

So I couldn't help but be taken aback- How could someone who has so much to offer feel this way?

Then I remembered that she was not the only one. A few years ago (also while working on my graduate degree) I also felt like my life had somehow stalled, and that I was in a pretty deep rut. In fact, I remember thinking those very same words!

Of course, having these thoughts is not unusual, and I am sure that many people feel this way every so often. Fast forward to now, almost everything in my life has changed, with some adjustments having been easier than others. Though I no longer feel that I'm in a rut, or that my life has 'not begun', I do sometimes long for simpler times.

Having now seen both sides of this perplexing coin, I am reminded of a short post I wrote the same year I started BCB. It was about climbing the hill near the apartment where I lived during graduate school, where at the end of a long day my tired mind would chant, "almost there, almost there" as I hauled myself up that long hill. After being exposed to many great writings about mindfulness, I decided that it was important to not focus only on the comfy apartment waiting for me, but to also acknowledge the many moments that comprised my effort to get there. I felt that this approach potentially carried a lot of merit with all types of journeys, be they physical, spiritual, or emotional.

As time goes on, we are bound to encounter many peaks and valleys- such is the nature of life. But no matter where we are or what we're doing (or how 'stuck' we may feel) our lives all have begun, existing here and now in the present moment- the most precious of all gifts.

"The present moment contains past and future. The secret of transformation, is in the way we handle this very moment." Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind, 2006
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May all beings be happy!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Why the idea of 'minimalism' makes me chuckle

Over the past few years I have admired those who have pared down their possessions to live a simpler, less cluttered life. In this effort, many people have succeeded in becoming debt-free, less driven (and burdened) by 'consumerism'; perhaps even healthier. The 'minimalist' movement has had such an impression on me that I have also begun to follow suit with my own approach, which I like to call "Living Simply". 

However, the humor of this societal (and personal) transformation has not been lost on me. 

Reading about people living in one room with just a futon mattress and a few clothes (or going completely nomadic), I have noticed an unmistakable tone of pride and accomplishment. No doubt this is because people are excited about what minimalism has done for them, and wish to encourage others.

But what makes me laugh is that back in the day, these "lifestyles" of frugality were the norm. In fact, for most people it was what was called living (we also know that this- and even less- is still the norm for millions in the developing world).

According to many minimalists, the benefits of choosing minimalism include promoting sustainable living and reaching out to those in need. I believe these benefits are real. Since this is a choice within our current conditions (which are relatively cushy), there might be some justification for those attempting to live more simply to give ourselves a tiny little pat on the back.  

But I would also say not to take ourselves too seriously. Instead, I think it best  to just be thankful for what we have right now (and the choices we have), without attachment or aversion. After all, for those of us fortunate enough have access to education, vaccinations, safe water, and religious freedom, these things, while not physical possessions, are all 'things' we like to have- and would not want to part with. 

So in regarding paring down my possessions as some great personal accomplishment, I will remain cautious. Although I might feel 'skilled' in my effort to live with less, making this effort while in the midst of such abundance and stability also gives me yet another opportunity to smile amusedly in spite of myself.

"Whatever precious jewel there is in the heavenly worlds, there is nothing comparable to one who is Awakened." ~ The Buddha (Sutta Nipata) 
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What are your thoughts about the current trends in minimalism? What quirks have you noticed?

May all beings be happy!