Another Nasty, Divisive Article About Buddhism

There is a lot of division, and even derision, in the Buddhist world. And I plan on contributing divisive perspectives and sarcasm as much as I can. See, I’m asshole enough to argue that there is only One True Buddhism, and that’s the one based on the Buddha’s actual words.

It seems to me that the Pali Canon, which is purported to be the words of the Buddha himself, is by far the clearest and most understandable of all the ancient Buddhist writings. I base this on the fact that I can understand the Pali Canon, and I can’t understand the “other stuff,” you know, the Mahayana Sutras. I never claimed to be the best reader in the world, but give me a break. I have a masters degree. I know bullshit when I read it.

There was a 300 year gap between the Buddha’s sermons and their recording, and I have heard that as an excuse for looking askance at the contents of the Pali Canon. But it is not that much of a stretch to believe that disciplined monks couldn’t pass this wisdom down pretty much verbatim for three centuries, since that was what their whole lives were about. Many cultures had oral traditions that survived for thousands of years before being written down.

But whereas the Pali Canon is unsullied by the geopolitics of the eras in which other “holy” Buddhist writings were accomplished, the Pali Canon, for millennia, has been sneered at and looked down upon by the Chinese and Japanese and Tibetans and Westerners who have come up with their own “Dharmas” suitable for supporting the elites against the common masses. Buddhism didn’t come full circle and return to its simple, egalitarian roots until the Chan/Zen movement, which I have been told was started in rebellion to the doctrines of the more bull-shitty incarnations of Mahayana Buddhism. There is even a Buddhism with an eternal heaven called “Pure Land” Buddhism. If you’re into religion, go be a Christian or a Muslim. There is no heaven in Buddhism.

Seriously. There is more than one story about Westerners who yearned to follow the path and studied Buddhism at the Tibetan temples of Dharmasala, India for years, took vacations to sit with the Theravada monks of Sri Lanka, and never returned to Dalai Lama land. Tibetans worship deities. Fuck deities.

Think of Theravada Buddhism as the “mother church,” stern, insisting on the renunciation of sense-pleasures. Reformed in the 20th Century, there are plenty of demigods, heavens and hells in the Theravada belief system – none of it taken seriously. Some Mahayana Buddhists lost those parts of Dhamma they didn’t like (like “don’t think with your dick”) and replaced them with Hindu “tantra,” creating a “Buddhism” of self-indulgence, especially sexually. Theravada, the “Keepers of the Pali Canon,” known as “The Way of the Elders,” is primarily practiced in Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia/Indochina (Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand). Vietnam has its own Zen that is very rooted in the principles of the Pali Canon.

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I’ve been writing about Buddhism for fifteen years, and as such, must eat, live with, sleep with, and constantly study Buddhism. And it has been my intention (read my book!) to take stuff that is kind of hard to understand at first, and make it easy to understand. That’s why I write for lunks. See, if you can read it and understand it, then you don’t need geshes and other guys in funny hats to explain it to you. The wise man on the mountaintop might be sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck, drinking a beer.

The Pali Canon is the gospel of truth. It’s a big book (The Dhammapada), like, Bible big. (The Tipitaka is enormous, and the Dhammapada is only a volume in it.) But unlike either the Bible or the enormous collection of “Sutras” purported to be authentic Buddhist wisdom (and to be fair, most of it is wisdom), you can read the Dhammapada because it’s easy to understand. Not most of that other stuff!

Alas, there is not much Theravada Buddhism available in the U.S., and what there is, tends to be ethnocentric. It depends on community size. Most common would be Thai temples and monasteries, less so Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Sri Lankan. And certainly don’t write off the Vietnamese. The vast majority of Temple congregants are Asian, but they draw earnest Americans as well who are not adverse to swapping skills, or money, of course, for wisdom. In Tibetan temples they start hitting you up for money as soon as you walk through the door.

But it’s also not as rare as you’d think. The proprietors of Thai restaurants are good people to ask if you want to link up with a Theravadan monk. And a relationship with a monk or two can make all the difference in the world if it is your intention to benefit from the wisdom of the Buddha.

But Buddhism doesn’t come to you, there are no hellfire and brimstone monks standing on street corners admonishing strangers not to kill or harm any sentient beings. You have to go to Buddhism. Seek and ye shall find. If what you might encounter seems fishy to you, it probably is fishy, and if it seems snobby to you, it probably is snobby. Not Buddhist by definition.

If you want it bad enough you might want to take two or three months off and volunteer to teach English at a temple in Theravada country, in exchange for wisdom. They’ll feed you and give you a bunk to sleep in, but malaria prevention might be on your own. Don’t expect travel expenses. For that matter, don’t expect air conditioning, refrigeration, flush toilets or toilet paper.

Miracles (i.e., paradigm shifts) happen in the jungle. If you cannot renounce fucking your wife for 90 days, and do something of benefit for awhile, then you are not meant to follow the Way of the Elders. There is a Great White Sangha waiting for you over with the Tibetans, out in the burbs.

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The Most Haunted Place in the World

Recently I toured one of the most haunted places in the world, the old Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanitarium in southwest Louisville. It’s been featured on many “ghost hunt” TV pseudo-documentaries on cable TV, in fact, you can watch one on a giant screen while you’re queuing up for your tour and finishing your purchases at the gift shop.

The place has fascinating architecture and terrazzo and marble floors still in perfect condition. Otherwise, it’s an empty shell with no windows or many doors. The place is enormous – 135,000 square feet. They’ve been talking for years about remodeling it into a hotel.

But it seems to be doing pretty well as a mecca for ghost hunters. Apparitions, it is said, are frequent there. Like the nurse who hanged herself outside room 502, the little child with the ball, and the dark-haired woman in the white nightgown. For the most part, it’s pretty mild stuff. My wife took picture after picture of black rooms, hoping to grab a picture of a ghost. There is a photo of me and a woman, and behind her peeks out a ghostly face, but it turned out to be a reflection of the back of my head. One young woman took a photo and got excited when she saw what appears to be a ghostly face peeking out from behind her butt, until we figured out that it was only her hand.

“That’s the last time I drink margaritas before doing something like this,” she said forlornly. Her ‘I felt so stupid’ story is the best one to come out of the evening.

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The sanitarium was opened in 1928 and operated until 1960 and the development of streptomycin. It struggled on for a few more years as a nursing home, then began to decay. They say that at its peak of operation, someone died there every hour, twenty-four hours a day, seven days week. The treatment for TB at the time was rest, nutrition, and fresh air.

I sensed the presence of nothing supernatural there, but there were a few wacky folks in our group who picked up on some things. One woman said she felt a ghost dog brush against her leg.

“Oh, yes,” said the tour guide, “I’ve seen that dog.”

They do run an awesome haunted house on the weekends before Halloween.

I thought for a moment: what if I had experienced something supernatural there? What if I’d seen a ghost, or felt a deathly chill run through my body? What if I’d gotten the willies? Since I am so seriously anti-delusion and anti-metaphysics, not to mention anti-fear, what if I did encounter the supernatural?

Would that seriously shred my view that God is a delusion and that there is nothing after death, and if you can cozy up to your own certain mortality, then you are free of fear itself? You experience the void, (emptiness) and there is great comfort in the void. I don’t have to shiver like a mouse and profess belief in the mysteries of God’s ways on the chance I could go to heaven and abide for eternity. As a matter of fact, I can think of nothing more horrifying than heaven. I don’t want to live forever. At my age, all things considered, I’m on borrowed time as it is.

But I am very comfortable with the idea of ceasing to exist. Even if traditional Buddhist notions of rebirth are true, death is still the end of you. There is no soul to transmigrate anywhere. When it’s over, it’s over.

There is a word for people like that: enlightened. You’re not part of the disease, the mental disease of cowardice that compels people to believe in deities and life after death, and spooks, and goblins, and the Republican Party. You’re part of the cure. Nibbana (Nirvana) is the snuffing out of your flame. The Buddha tells us that life is grim at the end, but you don’t have to suffer, if you’ve got a strong mind.

George Carlin was right when he said that religion – the belief in God – is the cause of all the evil in the world. Just look around you. Anybody who professes belief in something religious see themselves as superior to people who don’t believe what they do. That’s the way it works. That’s why they exist. The promise of paradise is religion’s cynical way of supporting the political status quo. People are timid, and will believe anything. They’re easy to sway to conventional wisdom. Just look at all the religiously-tainted crap going on in the world today, from evangelical Christianity’s influence in conservative American politics to the absurd turmoil between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, ostensibly about a disagreement about what happened 1500 years ago – and heads have been rolling ever since.

So, nobody tours Waverly Hills in the winter because it’s too damn cold. I wonder what it would take to negotiate something out so that I could spend the night alone there? Wrapped up in my old Holubar Arctic sleeping bag, sipping bean soup and coffee out of thermos bottles, and no light source, of course. I never built fires back in my backpacking days, so that I could emerge from the dome of light and sound and appreciate the night for what it was, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a hissing Coleman lantern for this gig. Meditate all night and try to leave myself as open to new experience as I possibly can. Maybe they’ll find me frozen to death with a hideous look of terror on my face.

Then, along about 3:35 a.m., I can see a whitish blob way down the end of the hallway that sort of floats slowly toward me, and soon I see the apparition of a small woman with dark hair walking toward me. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, in fact, I feel an initial disappointment at seeing her: so much more now to learn, at such an advanced age. She sits cross-legged right in front of me, puts her elbows on her knees, and her chin in her hands, looking into my eyes. And I look into hers, squinting because she’s kind of hard to see. She tells me without words that there is more to heaven and earth than I can possibly fathom. And then she dissipates like steam.

Horrified by living a foolish life of disbelief and self-delusion, I hurl myself to death off the balustrade where so many TB patients went for fresh air.

The Dalai Lama said that if any empirical evidence came along to refute something that Buddhism holds true, that Buddhism would have to change. I said that I would undertake such a spooky night with a mind that’s open – bring it on ghosts! Convince me that the supernatural exists, because if you’re real, then the possibility that God exists is real. And then if God is real, then my opinion of humankind as a quivering mass of cowardice would be wrong, and I am in denial.

But until I see a ghost, or the hand of God in the world, I’m gonna kinda freaking doubt it.

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Tips for Buddhist Writers

Tra-la, it’s May, the lusty month of May, the time when yearly royalty checks, merrily they pay…

There is exactly only one reason for anyone to be a writer, and it’s because you can’t not write. You can’t make a living at it either. My book Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Buddhism is one of the most popular books about Buddhism on the market, and sales remain strong. But the money I make off of it doesn’t even cover my yearly weed bill.

Getting into writing for publication was like a loose Vegas slot machine for me. My first published article, the first one I submitted, appeared in 1975. It was about motorcycles. The same magazine bought my second article. It was about autism. I hit the jackpot early, and couldn’t walk away.

I became a part-time, and occasionally full-time, journeyman magazine writer. I’ve written about a lot of different stuff, most under the aegis of professional organizations wanting to look their best for the public. I was big in housing trade journals for a number of years, that’s where I made the most money. I was one of the first in the trades to write about radon abatement, and got nominated for a journalism award for it. There are no dull subjects, only dull writers. One of my favorite assignments in the late Eighties was an article describing the use of lateral lines to replace septic tanks in sandy barrier island environments.

One of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done was to teach “Writing for Publication” for eight years in the adult and continuing education program of my city’s school system. That’s when I really got into mentoring writers. Five of my students published books, two of them World War II memoirs. I’m always mentoring writers.

Then came 9-11 and my resolve to do something to address terrorist violence. Somehow my plans to go to Pakistan turned into six months in Sri Lanka during their civil war. That is where I studied Buddhism, and since 2002, that is all I write about. Fifteen years in this particular trench, three books written, and the last one got published. Now I’m the talk of the town.

Here are a few tips I’d like to lay on you.

  • Write outside your comfort zone. Most writers I run into are way too introspective when they ought to be out interviewing people, and traveling, and trying new things. Don’t turn your nose up writing helpful hints pieces for the weekly newspaper. It all counts.

  • If you write in the first person you’re not supposed to be writing about yourself.

  • Edit ruthlessly. It’s not called “killing your babies” for nothing. If it’s not pertinent, lose it, especially unnecessary personal references. Write in the active voice.

  • Expect to be edited ruthlessly. It may be your piece, but it’s their masthead, and they can do whatever they want to your work without your permission, though editing is usually a “give and take” process. There are incompetent editors out there and some who are on power trips. Don’t work for them. I once told an editor that if she was a man, I’d drag her out into the middle of the street and horse-whip her. Another editor was so capricious with her ordered changes that I yanked the piece just before it was to be published.

  • A really good editor, especially if you’re working on a book-length project, is so valuable you end up in a surprisingly intimate relationship. Your baby is now your-and-your-editor’s baby, and it takes months to get your “perfect” book to press. Expect lots more changes to your manuscript than you expect.

  • Don’t submit a manuscript full of errors and grammatical mistakes. You can always pay a freelance writer or editor to line-edit your book before you send it to a publisher. Really, with spell-check and grammar-check software built into your word processor, there is no excuse.

  • Do not be obsequious in your cover letters. Tell the publisher why your work can stand out in a sea of other books or articles that are about the same thing you’re writing about.

  • E-publish. Buddhism for Dudes was a Kindle book for three years before I submitted it anywhere. It would still be a Kindle book if my friends had not encouraged me to find a publisher for it. The book I’m marketing now is on Kindle, and as I submit it around for publication, I can tell publishers that a thousand people have already read it, and take a look at those reviews!

  • No one is interested in your personal tribulations and traumas. Writing isn’t therapeutic. Writing is hard work. Pay your dues.

  • It’s important to “write about what you know,” so if you’re not constantly researching and studying, you’re not going to get published. I’m working with a guy right now who researched the book he’s writing for 25 years. And it’s going to be one helluva read when he gets done with it.

  • You don’t need an agent if you’re not writing fiction. I’ve had three agents. None of them ever did me a bit of good.

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Two things that never get old: seeing your byline, and signing your books. But it is an enormously satisfying thing to hear from someone who says they actually benefited from something you wrote. Soldiers have e-mailed me from Iraq and Afghanistan saying how my book “kept them centered” during their deployments, and one Scandinavian woman said it jarred her out of her depression and “gave me my happiness back.”

That’s strong shit. Usually when I tell people about the Scandinavian woman, I choke up and start to cry.

Readers expect to become informed, and possibly even enlightened, by the things they read. Better yet, they like to be entertained. That’s the secret to my success: I’m writing about stuff people have been writing about since the Third Century BC, but my stuff gets read because I’m funny. Humor is a tool. Use it. Any teacher will tell you how effective it is to get a point across using humor.

You don’t have to beat your readers over the head with humor – you’re not Erma Bombeck. But turns-of-phrases, interesting word choices, surprising metaphors, and short stories used as illustrative examples can get readers to return to your work. Subliminally, it’s “I learned something from your piece, and it also made me smile.”

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Tips for Buddhist Writers II: Humor Me

 You know that serious meditation and scrupulous study of the Buddha’s wisdom leads the fortunate few to the edge of a precipice, beyond which there is nothing at all. It’s a void. Experiencing the emptiness that promises nibbana after you fall off the cliff means, among other things, that you embrace the ultimate truth: there is no soul, or God, or life after death. This knowledge frees you from the bonds of conventional wisdom, and it is oddly comforting. The ultimate happiness is the sound of one hand clapping. That’s when you realize that most people are boobs.

For one thing, effective humor is ambush humor. It is a grave mistake for writers to think that readers remember the first part of a paragraph, when what makes the most impression is what comes last. People walk away from the paragraph above chuckling about the delusions most people suffer from.

“Boob” is a very funny word. It means one of two things: a harmless stupid person, or a woman’s breast. Women use “boobs” a lot, since they come in pairs, but when women use the singular “boob” it can refer either to a mosquito bite or her husband. (See how that works?)

Now I am going to re-structure the sentence so that “boob” isn’t a punchline. By moving the one sentence, I am able to leave the reader with a completely different impression.

You know that serious meditation and scrupulous study of the Buddha’s wisdom leads the fortunate few to the edge of a precipice, beyond which there is nothing at all. It’s a void. Experiencing the emptiness that promises nibbana after you fall off the cliff means, among other things, that you embrace the ultimate truth: there is no soul, or God, or life after death. That’s when you realize that most people are boobs. This knowledge frees you from the bonds of conventional wisdom, and it is oddly comforting. The ultimate happiness is the sound of one hand clapping.

Get it? You could start the paragraph with a joke if you wanted, but if you end it with the words there is no soul, or God, or life after death, that is what the reader will take away.

You can avoid clichés by turning them on their heads. If he eats like a horse, but gulps his food down and is finished eating before anyone else, it means that in reality, he eats like a Labrador retriever. And since most people don’t know Labrador retrievers for the gluttons that they are, you’ve made a tired cliché funny, and you’ve also educated the public about watching your plate where there are Labrador retrievers around.

Schnauzers are funnier dogs, but they don’t eat like Labs do.

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Illustration for Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Buddhism by Ivette Salom

Metaphors are the stuff of life. Labels are meaningless, but comparing things to other things is how we understand stuff. Other than word choice itself, metaphors are also ways to brand your style with some flair and pzazz. Consider:

The meeting went fine until Jeremy announced that he was leaving the firm. Borrr-ing.

The meeting went fine until Jeremy dropped a bombshell by announcing that he was leaving the firm. Cliched.

The meeting went fine until Jeremy threw a grenade into the room by announcing that he was leaving the firm. Not cliched and more descriptive about the effect Jeremy’s announcement had on the people in the meeting. Hand grenades are funny. The only two sports where “almost” counts are horseshoes and hand grenades.

Writing in the active voice provides additional opportunity to use more vivid language. Avoid qualifiers. It may not be as grammatically correct as Mrs. Grundy expected in 11th grade English, but readers appreciate it. (Not readers will appreciate it, although that might be more accurate.)

Maggie walked to the corner store to buy some apples.

What’s the backstory? Did she lumber down to the corner store because she is overweight, or dance down the street, providing a kind of Holly Golightly feel, or did she limp down the street? Dashed down the street. Stumbled down the street. Skipped down the street. Dragged her tired ass down the street. Roller skated down the street. In each instance you’ve livened your writing up considerably by using a more active active voice, and added detail that tells you a lot more about Maggie than her mere destination and purpose. It’s funnier if you replace the apples with gefeltefish.

Maggie is having an affair with Kurt. Or, Maggie is shagging Kurt. Little turns of phrases, playing with single words, it’s that kind of thing that makes a writer’s work entertaining. For humor, it’s absolutely essential.

He flew through the air like a bird. Or, he flew through the air like a rock shot out of a slingshot. Once during a training exercise in Key West I accidentally got launched 30 feet into the air and landed 150 feet out into the Caribbean, and had to be rescued by Coast Guardsmen who were laughing their asses off. I did not feel like a bird. I didn’t choose to fly that day. I was definitely a rock.

My mom was a well-known laugher. Even her 1942 High School Yearbook talked about how she loved to laugh, and be around people who made her laugh, which was not hard to do.

But mom had a friend who was one of the most unpleasant, humorless woman anyone could meet. In a community context, my family was retired military in a community full of retired military people, and were friends with a number of retired guys who’d married German girls after World War II, until all the men died off, leaving my dad holding the bag for at least a half-dozen former frauleins. Among them was Hildeborg, the sourpuss no one could stand to be around except for Mom. But Hildeborg and my mother shared a passion for riverboat gambling and made several trips a year together to hit the casinos. No one understood why they were so close.

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When my mother died in 2010, I wrote and read her eulogy. In homage to her sense of humor, I started with this story:

I don’t know how many of you know this, but in 1943 my mother Dorothy DeBolzo, who was only 18, parachuted behind enemy lines with the OSS in German-controlled Italy. Before she was extracted, she had stolen the secret plans the Wehrmacht developed for their retreat. She also seduced an SS Nazi Colonel, and then cut his throat while he was sleeping.

A hush fell over the room. I continued.

And that’s just the kind of story that would crack my mother up.

Mom did serve in the WACS during World War II, but I doubt that she killed anybody. She was a clerk-typist. But I didn’t hear the rest of the story until several years later at the VFW, where I meet my dad and his Teutonic harem once a month for community breakfast. On one occasion, Hildeborg wasn’t present, as she had flown back to Germany to visit her family. In her absence, all the other German ladies took the opportunity to gossip about her.

That’s when I heard the rest of the story. I don’t know that any of the German women made the connection, but it seems that Mom and Hildeborg had more in common than slot machines.

“She vass in the German army, you know,” one of the women told me. She and Mom were veterans, once mortal enemies, then the best of friends.

The gossiper continued. “She vass a Nazi!

Mel Brooks once said that his goal in life was to get people to laugh at Adolph Hitler. Brooks was in combat engineers during the latter part of the war. You know what combat engineers do? They find and defuse land mines.

I saw the humor in my mom’s relationship with Hildeborg, and when the punchline “She vass a Nazi” came up, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Mel Brooks would have chuckled, too.

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Buddhism for Geezers

If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. But you can’t blame the drugs (unless you’re still using drugs). It’s just your mind going. Don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone. If you want to do something about it, take up mindfulness. But it’s a losing battle.

Talkin’ bout my gen-neration. You’re from the first half of the baby boom, the ones who sweated Vietnam, and now you’re retiring in droves. Fixed bayonets are now fixed incomes. No matter which side of the war you came down on, you’re now sucking on the teat of Social Security and Medicare – you know, the plans you already paid for?

Buddhism has a lot to offer geezers.

If you’re retired, you now have time to meditate. You can do it asleep, too. It’s called taking a nap. And since you don’t really have to wear pants anymore, you can be comfortable while you meditate. Some Buddhist sects believe that enlightenment isn’t for people who wear pants. The Buddha didn’t wear pants.

Elder Buddhists seem transcendent. That’s because you have to try so hard to keep up with conversations that you end up with the thousand-yard stare.

Erectile dysfunction is not such a big deal after all. You’re a Buddhist. You have equanimity. Everything in the universe changes, including your ability to get a stiffy. Someday the pills will quit working, too. You’ll find something else to do. I recommend writing a lurid memoir about what you were doing in the Sixties.

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Affixiated income. Since human misery comes from desire, you won’t have to buy so much stuff. You probably have stuff you need to rid of, anyway, like the cross-country skis you bought when you lived in Minnesota in the Seventies. You can live within your means, so long as you don’t buy anything.

That was no lady, that was my wife. Everyone needs a man cave or a sewing room, which is what you do with your kids’ bedrooms when they move out. Each one needs a Buddha figurine. Believe it or not, you can actually see less of each other when you’re retired and living in the same house than you did when you both worked, especially if you have a finished basement.

The threat of mindfulness. When your grandkids are running around like maniacs and fighting, tell them that if they don’t start behaving, you’ll make them meditate. It works great with obnoxious little yard-apes.

You don’t fear death. You’re not allowed to. You’re Buddhist.

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Baloney Buddhism

Man, if I had a dollar for every time somebody’s said to me that “you have to be an intellectual to get Buddhism,” I’d have enough for a case of beer. I laugh in their face and point to myself — do I look like an intellectual to you? I used to be a farm hand, and broke my back doing 60-pound pours of corrosive resistant plastic at 550 degrees when I was a United Steelworker. The work was so hard and dangerous I joined the Marines to get away from it.

Fact is, it’s intellectualism that makes American institutional Buddhism the joke that it is. Overshadowed as it is with expensive Vajrayana temples situated in suburbs, “The Great White Sangha” is put to shame for its lack of social engagement by even the most podunk Baptist church. The Tibetans espouse pacifism, charge membership fees to belong to their temples, and pray to deities. None of that crap is Buddhism. If you like religious processions and guys parading around in funny hats, you can get that at the Episcopal cathedral, and you don’t have to sit on the floor.

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Studying Theravada at the feet of the masters, literally the feet of the masters, in Sri Lanka, I would not have even had to know how to read to gain the appreciation of dhamma that now drives my life. I’ve known my share of rice farmers and household servants and elephants mahouts who were lay masters themselves.

Even though I am a working writer, when I read almost any book about Buddhism I feel like a functional illiterate. Maybe I am. I probably own 25 different books about Buddhism, but the only two I’ve finished reading have been Walpola Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught and Karen Armstrong’s Buddha: A Biography. All the others have bookmarks in them. The closer the bookmark is to the front cover, the more stultifying I found the book. B-O-R-I-N-G.

You don’t learn Buddhism from reading about it. You learn Buddhism by living it.

Fact is, Mahayana Buddhism is based on a lie. Those who ascribe the Sutras to documents the Buddha himself dictated late in life to more “intelligent” (that is, Chinese) people, because the primitives who made up the early (Indian) Sangha weren’t sophisticated enough, i.e., too stupid, to appreciate them, believe in a lie. Buddha didn’t establish Mahayana Buddhism, but tyranny did.

Fuck you. Call me a Hinayana and I’ll grab your nipple and twist it real hard.

When the Buddhist missionaries spread the dhamma to much of the rest of Asia, they weren’t selling Buddhism to the masses, it was pitched to the nobility and bureaucrats. Many of the Sutras were written (and mythologized) to support the elites against the masses. Otherwise, where would “Pure Land” Buddhism have come from, a “heaven” promised to the suffering peasants much like the same malarky sold to European peasantry by the Church in the Middle Ages? Sutras supporting vegetarianism were written so elites could hoard animal protein.

The Sutras is the territory of the Buddhist intelligensia. By comparison the Pali suttas are easy to understand. The Buddha spoke in nouns and verbs, causes and effects. Sutra-fying seems to have reached its apotheosis in certain forms of Japanese Buddhism. The Sokka Gakai say that all you need to do is to repeat the chant “nam-myoho-renge-kyo” a bazillion times and good things will happen to you, like job promotions and finding true love. Sokka Gakai is based on the “Lotus” Sutra, in which the Buddha supposedly denied everything he’d been teaching for 40 years so some Tokyo housewife’s husband will pay more attention to her.

Why obfuscate simple truths? So you can make a congregation dependent upon the clergy to interpret it. Modern Buddhism doesn’t need monks or gurus. Keep it simple, stupid. You start with studying the Eightfold Path. Google and read. If it doesn’t make sense, then it’s bad intel. Start with Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Mindfulness. If you can’t understand that book, you’re hopeless.

You know what drives these points home to me: the “After-Buddhists.” Two writers in this arena are Stephen Batchelor, one of the biggest names in Buddhist publishing, and Canada’s Stephen Schettini. Both of them went to India for years and years to become Tibetan monks and hang out in Dharmasala, where the Dalai Lama lives. During their tenures, they took vacations to Sri Lanka and sat with the Theravada monks. They then quit Dharmasala and took much more secular paths, and of course are atheists now. Like Buddhists are supposed to be.

And of course there are the various schools of Zen Buddhism, something I studied for four years with a Vietnamese monk. Zennies are cool, generally not nearly so institutional as the Dalai Lama set. Useful in bar fights, since a lot of them are also martial arts people.

I get along fine with Zennies, but I don’t read that stuff, either. They make their literature confusing on purpose.

We’re facing a tough century, and it seems that the forces of chaos, delusion, consumerism, capitalism, violence and demagoguery are the things we will all have to contend with. Buddhism, in its purest form, has the answers to the world’s problems, but the forces of ignorance and hate are momentous. America’s Buddhists could become a force for good, but hardly so when the richest and most powerful of them would rather pay homage to monks dead 700 years than hold a goddamn bake sale, organize a mission trip, or man a picket line.

Without social engagement, Buddhism is just so much mumbo-jumbo – authentic mumbo-jumbo, if you try to keep up with Tibetan chants. If you are a Buddhist, then you have duties you share with other Buddhists toward the alleviation of suffering in the world. People who take this seriously (especially if they meditate on the good they do), are more contented with their lives than people who are ignorant of this wellspring of happiness. This is a universal truth found in all religious doctrines and codes of ethics.

Do something that the world will benefit from, the people, or the environment. Planting a tree kills two birds with one stone. You’re not called upon to eradicate malaria, just checking on the old woman who lives in 34B is plenty. If you are a care-giver, and so many of us are, the child you picked up bleeding out of the mud on the soccer field, or the widowed parent you’ve brought into your home, bring merit to your life because you’re doing the right thing.

If you’re using Buddhism as an excuse to hang out with the Geshe and hide from the world, to avoid conflict because you’re “pacifist,” then you’re not fulfilling your obligations as a Buddhist. Then you’re a bad Buddhist. Or a coward.

If you hate people, go volunteer at the animal shelter.

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Soon will come the call for Ogichida, for tough guys to be diligent to protect helpless others from harm in these most precarious times

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