Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If You Met Buddha on the Road - Would He Have Coffee With You?

In most societies there seems to be a "proper" arch to life. We go through childhood and become young adults. It is then that some adventure is undertaken which sets the tones of later life. I think many people live this way. In this model, Buddhist seclusion makes some sense. It is like a stint in the security forces of the region where you live. Isolate with like-minded people and do something extraordinary. Then come back "into" society.

For people that have discovered Buddhism later in life this is no longer feasible. Or it is feasible but with harsh consequences that do more harm, I would think, than good. A father or mother should not 'abandon' their family to isolate in a monastery to delve into non-thinking. A tree is in its forest, an ox is in its herd. It is un-natural to remove either to some new place. What fills the gap left behind?

I have often attended an Unitarian Universalist church, but I have not been in a long time... since before I started 'learning' Zen. Our family went last Sunday and it was a wonderful experience. Being among others with a common purpose of contemplating the benefits of simple kindness and peace had me in tears several times. UU's love live music. There were musicians playing violins and drums and other wonderfully 'woody', 'earthy' instruments. What joy. Joy that seems to be absent from the Buddhism I have seen so far.

I find this so hard to reconcile. At this moment, Bodhidarma seems like a fool more than a hero. These stories of historic/legendary Buddhists never seem to express the anguish of the isoloation they chose...of missing their families, and villages and friends....of missing the ebb and flow of society. As with the Bible we have today, the history of the thoughts of early Buddhist must be highly revisionist. The transmitters have decided what the message must be and passed it on with edits that send that message. Like tugs that nudge the direction of a supertanker. It may be only a little bit here and there, but eventually the course can be drastically altered.

Western culture perhaps is more accepting of private anguish and doubt. Some Christians embrace the idea of Christ having fear and doubt and pressing on anyway. The doubtful hero is as strong in Western writing as the resolute, unshaken hero.

Doubt seems to be scrubbed from the history of Buddhism. As the West has started writing about Buddhism we see some of the doubt appearing, but it seems to be absent from the East. We've got a much polished picture of Buddha after it all got good good for him. Buddha post-enlightenment. Buddha after its all clicked into place. I would like to know more about Buddha while he was working on it. Where is the Sutra of Black Doubt? The Song of Loneliness? The Chant of "What the F*** am I Trying to Accomplish?"

Maybe I have to hunt more?



Jordan said...

Yes, keep hunting.

Good luck, and please share what you find.


Lauren said...


Thanks. I'll do my best.

PS - fixed some typo's and did a little other editing.

Often the segues my mind runs through when I am brainstorming to 'paper' don't work well on second read and need a little tweak here and there to make my point clearer.


Jordan said...

I was thinking some more about your post.

For the Sutra you might want to ask Ted Bringer of the Dogen and the Shobogenzo blog. He is the most knowledgeable person on texts that I know. For Happy Buddhism you might want to look up Ajan Bram of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. He is not a Mahayana teacher but I enjoy his talks that are available for free as podcasts on itunes.

Take care and persevere brightly!