I first got interested in Buddhism in the mid-80s, during a time when I felt unbalanced and just generally "not myself." I read about Buddhism in the Whole Earth Catalog. A religion/philosophy, it said, where you were not expected to just believe what you were told; "faith" was not what it was all about, at all. And living a joyful life was the goal. It sounded to me like just what I was looking for. I bought several books on the subject, and started meditating on my own. It didn't actually help me re-center myself -- some problems are not so easily solved -- but the more I read about Buddhism, the more interested I became in what the Buddha had to say about how a life is best lived.
I did not have the courage to join any groups (I was then living in the Dallas area), largely because the "schools" of Buddhism I read about seemed steeped in dogma and ego-tripping just like all the other religious establishments I had been avoiding since I reached adulthood. While I could appreciate the wry humor of the riddling Zen koans, and certain meditations, as described, appealed to me, I had no desire to turn myself over to any Buddhist Master. I guess I suffer from an excess of ego, myself; I feel as though I can find my own way if I can find enough information on a subject. (And what is interesting, is that that's just what the Buddha said one should do. "Do not accept what you hear by report. Be lamps unto yourselves." 1).
Finding enough information on the subject was my greatest difficulty. Every text seemed to be written for Buddhist monks who would dedicate their whole lives to Buddhism, giving up the mundane world of jobs and families and going into retreats where they could meditate several times each day. All fine and good for those with a desire to do so, but all I have ever really wanted was an ordinary sort of life, with some spirituality included in it.
Skip forward about a decade and a half, to the present. Though I have not kept up with meditation, I have continued to name Buddhism as my religion of choice for all these years. I have had periods where I searched for books on the subject, and read them, but nothing satisfied until I found Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism without Beliefs 2. In this book, we are presented with the seeds for a new Buddhism, or perhaps a refreshed Buddhism, in which practitioners focus on the original teachings of the Buddha, the four noble truths of understanding the reason there's so much anguish in the world, letting go of the anguish, coming to peace, and cultivating a new way of life. When Buddhism was founded in India, about 2500 years ago, Hinduism was the most popular religion, and the cycle of life and rebirth was the accepted religious view. Many of Buddha's stories included tales of past lives and rebirth, but it can be argued that, because he repeatedly told his followers not to accept, unquestioning, the dogma of the ages, but to seek your own answers across the wisdom of the ages, it is reasonable to leave behind the remaining Hindu origins of the religion, and start fresh from what we do know, which is, really, nothing about what happens after we die. Coming to accept that we are not guaranteed a life in heaven, or threatened with eternity in hell, or promised a noble rebirth if we're good, or a lowly one if we're not, can be just as motivating as any Sunday sermon. If this is the only life we have -- and that's the only thing we can count on -- shouldn't we live it well? This perspective, taken along with the Buddha-given understanding that a life of purely hedonistic pleasures is not going to satisfy, in the long run, either, can provide you with the tools you need to live your life fully and in peace with yourself and all around you, rather than wasting it all, drifting along in a dream.
So I have come back again to the idea of practicing Buddhism. At the beginning of a recent week, I started "home schooling" my children in religion. I prepared myself for this first day of "church" by purchasing several books, both for myself and illustrated stories for them, and on a particular Sunday we sat for an hour and talked. Spending a lot of time thinking about religion, and reading about them, I am becoming refocused. The very next day a series of unlikely events conspired to let me know -- just in the nick of time -- that there would be a talk on Buddhism held at the local Unitarian Universalist church, that very evening. Despite a huge number of pressing obligations, my family made time to let me go hear a Tibetan Lama speak. Throughout, I wondered if all those attending were just curious, or if a few, or some, or most of them considered themselves Buddhists. I had considered, many times in the past, trying to start up my own practice group, but had never worked out just how I'd find anyone to attend. Perhaps here I could find an existing group. It took a small act of courage to ask, but I did, and I found out that, yes, there are Buddhists in Midland, Texas (aside from myself, that is). ((That was years ago, now, and we no longer sit together (interested in starting a group? Use the link at the bottom of the page to contact me))).
1 Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions. 1994 Harper Collins.
2 Batchelor, Stephen. Buddhism without Beliefs. 1997 Riverhead Books.
Copyright ©2000 Linda Blanchard All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Date Added: March 17, 2000. Last Update: January 07, 2009 .