For the past couple of years (and on and off many years before then), I’ve been studying Buddhism through its many prolific writers: Thich Nhat Hanh, Noah Levine, and Lama Surya Das being the ones I’ve turned to the most during this time. I ordered the book Dakini Power by Michaela Haas, which is about women in Buddhism, but it arrived in Ann Arbor after we’d already left for our jobs with the circus, so my hope is that the book was purchased by someone who needed it more than I did.
I’m currently working through Hanh’s You are Here which my mom found at a thrift store and mailed to me. I’ve dog-eared and underlined so many pages already and I’m only halfway through the book (yes, I’m one of those readers who marks in a book…I don’t find it sacrilegious at all; instead it’s a way for me to quickly reference quotes that get me through a particularly bad day or anxiety attack). Same goes for Das’ Awakening the Buddha Within. Both books have turned into texts akin to the Bible for me; truth and wisdom are found on every page and my self-concept expands.
I was raised Christian…I have a deep respect for the words of Jesus, not so much the churches and many figureheads of said churches. The good ones keep me from completely turning my back on the faith I was raised in, but I also realized I needed more. I wasn’t getting the answers I needed though I threw myself full force into it in my later teens and a good portion of my twenties. Now I’m not entirely sure what I consider myself, but I do know that my spiritual nature will always incorporate the wisdom of Jesus along with other spiritual influences.
I enjoy the idea that Buddhism encourages oneself to take responsibility, to always search, and to do so in peace. The mantra I’ve been using lately speaks of this: “Be mindful. Be present.” (“In Buddhism, a moment of mindfulness is like a ‘grace'; these moments can consecrate every activity, waking each of us up to the sacredness of what we do, as we do it.” – pg. 71, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das) I should embrace my anger just as I embrace my joy. I shouldn’t live in the past and I shouldn’t spend copious amounts of time wishing for the future. I need to be in the present, in the now, and take joy in the simple fact that I am here. Hanh writes about how every task you do, you should do in mindfulness:
“Stopping (shamatha in Sanskrit) and deep looking (vipasyana) are the elements of Buddhist meditation. Deep looking is possible once stopping has taken place. On the cushion, we must stop. During walking meditation, we must stop. Even when we are in the kitchen washing the dishes, we must wash the dishes in such a way that stopping is possible. Every moment of dishwashing should give you joy, peace, and happiness. If it doesn’t, you are not washing dishes as a practitioner. The kitchen is a place of practice…When we wash dishes, it is not only to get the dishes clean. It is to live every minute of the washing. So wash each bowl and each plate in such a way that joy, peace, and happiness are possible. Imagine you are giving a bath to the baby Buddha. It is a sacred act.”
I am inclined toward impatience and living for the future (“The past no longer exists, and the future is not here yet.” – the Buddha). That is where my natural tendencies have formed the habit of defaulting to. I am rarely satisfied in my present moment and I sacrifice constantly, hoping that such sacrifice will make my life in the future much better. But I never reach my future life because it’s always two steps ahead of where I am realistically (“What does it profit us to kill time just to get by while we wait for the weekend or the next summer vacation and consequently overlook the miracle of the present moment? – pg. 108, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das). I have trained myself to be immensely impatient with everything…something isn’t worth doing unless it can be done in a hurry and require the least amount of inconvenience on my part. Tie those together with my tendency toward perfectionism and you have yourself one stressed out lady. It’s no wonder I am drawn to Buddhist writers who show me how to slow down and appreciate each moment for what it is. It will take a lifetime to work on this, but at least I’m slowing down and learning to be mindful, sometimes one baby step at a time.
Buddhism has always intrigued me especially after meeting author/meditation teacher Noah Levine (Dharma Punx, The Heart of the Revolution, and Against the Stream) in Portland, Oregon when AtS came out. Powell’s Books hosted him at their store on Hawthorne and we crammed in with the large crowd to hear him speak. He spoke about his life (which most, if not all of us there knew by heart after reading Dharma Punx until the pages were falling out) and how Buddhism is relative and important for Westerners of all ages. He has devoted his life to helping young people discover meditation and breathing techniques instead of resorting to violence and drugs. He writes in a way that makes it easy to understand the basics of Buddhism and I appreciate everything he’s done to that end. After the talk, we all got in line for him to sign books and I heard story after story of young people saying they had always felt like religion had no place for them and they were feeling hope after hearing him speak. The fact that Buddhism is considered a philosophy rather than a religion helped also (“Buddhism today is best thought of as an ethical psychological philosophy or nontheistic spiritual practice, needing neither dogma nor belief to be practiced and accomplished.” – pg. 111, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das).
I guess what I’m rambling on about is that I’m excited and feeling optimistic about discovering something that, through studying, will help me have peace with my anxiety and with others. It already has in small ways and though I forget most of what I promise myself I will remember the next time I get impatient, angry, or intolerant, I always return to the small collection of books I’ve acquired and read through the underlined words to bring myself back.
Some quotes that have been good for me lately:
“Our universal tendency is to try to stay away from all this suffering, so we are always trying to escape from ourselves. Society offers us all kind of ways to do this: television, radio, novels, magazines, cars, telephones, and so on. We abandon our territory just like that, leaving it in a state of disorder and pain. We want to run away from it. Our culture and our civilization are characterized by this tendency toward escape. But the Buddha advised us to do just the opposite. We have to come back to our territory so we can bring order and harmony to it…We are afraid to face our inner pain, so we run away; but the Buddha says with great compassion, “Do not be afraid, my friend.” – pg. 53, You are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh
“If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: ‘Dear one, I am here for you.’ You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly with the energy of mindfulness and say, ‘Dear one, I know you are there and I am going to take care of you.’ There is no discrimination or dualism here, because compassion and love are you, but anger is too. All three are organic in nature, so you don’t need to be afraid. You can transform them.” – pg. 5, You are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh
“Each of us is like a river, whose waters are forever changing. Westerners often use ‘mind’ as a primary definition for the self. ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But Buddhism points out that you are not what you think; like the weather, what you think is unpredictable and subject to change.” – pg. 82, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das
“We all have a tendency to resist change, particularly in those areas where we most need transformation…The fact is that we all tend to hang on to our negative habits and frozen behavior patterns. We keep retracing our steps; we keep walking the same circular patterns. We don’t climb out of our ruts, our comfort zones, however dissatisfying they really are. Buddhist philosophy tells us that there is a way to take charge, change direction, and peel away ignorance so that we can see with total clarity.” – pg. 61, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das
“The traditional elder, Kalu Rinpoche, once told me that he didn’t believe that a seeker who had ties to Christianity or any other faith had to convert to Buddhism in order to practice Dharma. The truth, after all, belongs to anyone who cherishes it, lives it, loves it, and is committed to it.” – pg. 42, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das