The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Friday, October 18, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Spirituality ...

I’m in something of a bloggers rut right now. Just can’t think of anything all that interesting that I’ve read or seen or heard or thought about over the past week that I need to share with the world. So I’m just going to share a silly thought that I had this morning while brushing my teeth.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading some early Buddhist scriptures, trying to get a better feel for what Buddhism is really all about. Well, as with most big religious traditions, there really is no one “Buddhism” to get a feel for. What I’m trying to do is get as close as possible to what the Buddha himself was trying to sell to humankind. Over the past 15 years I’ve read any number of books, articles and web sites about Buddhism, and in my Zen practice I hear weekly lectures about it. And yet, if you were to stop me after all this and ask me to explain Buddhism and the arguments for following the Buddha’s teachings, I’d be darned if I could give you a good answer. Part of that, I suppose, is that I never really convinced myself to become a modern-day disciple of “Shakyamuni”, as the in-crowd likes to call him.

So, despite all my exposure to Buddhism, I’m not a Buddhist. Why not? Well, to answer that question, I’d have to finally get a grasp on what Buddhism is all about. Not that anyone really has a complete grasp on that – it’s way too convoluted, way too many people saying too many different things about what Buddhism is or isn’t. And there’s also a big east-west cultural divide, along with a gap of over 2,500 years. But still, I think that one can at least get a rough sense of the “essence” of the Buddha’s teachings. To be honest, I never really dedicated much mental effort into doing that. [And I can’t help but doubt that many western Buddhists have really thought it through either. I myself was attracted to Buddhism mostly by its “cache”, by its reputation, by the fact that some seemingly smart and hip people have embraced it. I’d bet that a whole lot of people get into Buddhism mostly because it’s “anything but Christian”, and because it seems cool, stylish, fashionable; and not because they’ve really studied the Buddha’s thoughts, and have decided “well, this makes so much sense, this is how I should live my life and how I should deal with the world”.]

So, I decided to go right to the source, by trying to read as much Buddha-talk as I can from the earliest sources. The earliest Buddha material appears to be wrapped up in a huge body of writings called the Pali Canon. Although the Buddha lived around 500 BCE, no one thought to write down what he said and did until just before Jesus was born. No one can read the whole Canon, but I’ve decided to hunt and peck through it a bit. And slowly, my mind is weaving something together about Buddhism. But not our modern American Buddhism in its infinite varieties, but the Buddhism of the Buddha. What did that fellow believe, what did he think he knew that was so important, what was he trying to tell people to do with their lives? It’s starting to make some sense to me, and I hope to write more about that in the near future. Will it change my mind about not swearing allegiance to the Buddha? Actually, no. The more I read and realize about Buddhism, the more I wonder how anyone in modern times who considers him or herself a thinking person can heartily embrace the full body of Buddhist teachings. (Not that there aren’t some very good and wise things about it – such as the focus on meditation practice, and the moral and ethical responsibilities contained in the precepts – I’m certainly willing to embrace those aspects of Buddhist practice.)

Anyway, one important and popular component of the Pali Canon is called the Dhammapada. In my recent readings, I have dipped into the Dhammapada a bit. So I’ve had Dhammapada on my mind. It obviously even sank through to my sub-conscious . . . that seems like what was happening as I was brushing away over the sink earlier today. A song came to mind . . . a silly song from when I was young, something that played on the pop radio stations in 1963. The official title to this song is “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)”, and it was performed by comedian Alan Sherman (not to be confused with Alan Shepard, who two years before had became the first American astronaut; and who was also a bit of a comedian, cracking jokes about Hispanics during his space trip). This song was a comical-cynical reflection of a kid having a lousy time at a cheezy summer camp. That camp happened to be called “Camp Grenada”. Hmmm, Hello Fadduh . . . Camp Grenada . . . Dhamma Pada. Amazing what the mind can pull together even while on autopilot at 6 am as it unconsciously guides a toothbrush over one’s molars. As I was rinsing and spitting into the sink, I started hearing the plea / lament part of the song . . . “take me home, oh muddah, faddah, take me home . . .” Well, the Buddha seems to say that wherever you are IS home, so just make the best of it.

Actually, the kid in the song eventually reconciles himself to the situation; the sun eventually comes out, kids start swimming and sailing and playing baseball, and the kid closes “Gee that’s bettah, Muddah, faddah kindly disregard this lettah!” The kid learns to “live in the moment” and he makes his home where he is, as modern-day Buddhists like to say. He has gone beyond suffering. Or at least for the moment, when the skies are sunny. But the clouds will return, the rains will fall once more. And then, in the dark times, perhaps we need something more than “pranja”; maybe that’s when “satori” and inner-stillness isn’t enough. Perhaps that’s when relationship is the key . . . something that the Buddha didn’t really focus on.

But for today . . . yea, maybe I will just enjoy the moment, just get a little laugh at the associations that my inner mind came up with over a mouthful of Toms of Maine. Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh, I’ve been reading Dhammapada . . . Buddha’s words are so enlightened, and Nirvana’s coming, once the skies have brightened . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:14 pm      

  1. Jim, The best time (and place) to get the best tho’ts is exactly those times you mention–when one’s mind is on autopilot and not “doing” much. This situation allows the un-/subconscious to come through, at least as I see it.

    A second tho’t: In the end it seems to me that all “religions” (or what might pass for religion) end up the same, a set of rules and conditions that one must follow to be a “proper” follower of (fill in the name here). So it doesn’t surprise me that what the Buddha may have said is far from what the various groups of Buddhism these days are saying.

    If one looks at Christianity, all the various “versions” of it, much of it seems analogous to the various groups of Buddhism you mention. Somehow it seems that that’s what humans tend to do over time–“fix” the original, established by the founder, to make it “right”. Humans just can’t seem to keep “fixing”–no matter the religion or group.

    Lately, I’ve given some attention to the Amish on TLC. While much of it may be “glitzed up” to make the program more “interesting”, still I find it surprising how varied the Amish are; I tho’t they were a pretty “closed” group; yet they are not. I suppose it’s the same with various other groups like the Quakers; another group that comes to mind here.

    It’s fascinating to go back to the origins of the founder of any particular group. But in the end those who do are often not easily, quickly, or perhaps not at all accepted by the current day followers of whatever group is being studied, discussed, followed.

    Somehow over time humans manage to reinterpret and “fix” what the founder has said and quickly manage to “throw out”, excommunicate, shun (all about the same in my book) anybody who wants to take seriously what the founder may have originally had in mind. I guess it’s just a human thing to do. And for those who are seeking, it may be the human thing to ultimately lose interest and search for another way.

    Then again, at some point some individuals decide perhaps that, no matter how things have changed from the founder, they will “stick with” what’s going on now. That’s not a bad approach either. Gives people structure that is often an important thing in one’s life.

    So perhaps it’s for the individual to choose: Go back to the founder, stick with how things have been “fixed”, or search for another route. I’d say the individual’s choice is likely the right one; each person has to make his/her own choice. Just that choice may be what is the important thing. MCS

    Comment by Mary — October 19, 2013 @ 9:09 am

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