Sunday, January 04, 2015

what is a Buddhist?

McMahan talked about modern existence, and being disenchanted, and that we are looking for re-enchantment.

I'm not sure which I want. There were times in my life when I saw a rupa and had a visceral desire to prostrate myself to it, even though I was in a museum. I have done the prostration practice to the TBC refuge tree. On the other hand I would also like to just tolerate not knowing and not necessarily multiply entities beyond their necessity. I like the idea of Padmasambhava pinning down demons, but I also interpret that psychologically. I see great psychological benefit in thinking archetypically, but don't think there are unseen spirits beyond my mind.

I am deeply suspicious of "organized religion". I do feel the differences between myself and other Buddhists. One time a waitress had a Buddhist necklace on. I asked her if she was a Buddhist. She said yes. I asked her if she meditated, and she said no. I didn't even know at the time if she could have considered it presumptuous for me to meditate. I did not even know that.

I sat at a Wesak celebration onces, where Sri Lankan children played out various aspects of the Buddha's life in play. It felt weird to see that because the children were kind of being force, and the parents were so proud of their children for doing this thing they seemed to feel put upon. For me Buddhism is a choice that goes counter to the dominant culture I am surrounded by. To be sure in New York City, there is multiculturalism, but outside of NYC, there is a kind of Christian fog hanging over America.

At one point I was exploring various centers. I went to one where I was talking to a monk outside. I thought we were having an interesting conversation until he abruptly stopped the conversation to open the door for a Chinese woman to enter the temple. I got the message. This is for Chinese people. I have no problem with his commitment to cultural Buddhism. I even wish for an American Buddhism, though that's going to take hundreds and hundreds of years. I tried to read a memoir by a guy who grew up in a Zen family. I didn't really detect much that was Buddhist about it, it was more about how his journey was impacted by having Buddhist parents. He seemed to be into Buddhism, but it also seemed to be going with the flow, and not something he committed to. Perhaps he did later in the book, I honest could not finish the book, not much was happening and "hey look I grew up in a Zen family" wasn't enough for me.

McMahan has a term called Buddhist sympathizer, which he got from Thomas Tweed. I had a Buddhist t-shirt that said, "I am a Buddhist" and it was shouting it out loud. I remember once time in a cafe in Santa Fe someone laughed at the idea. I suppose they wondered why would someone have to shout that. I feel the need to distinguish myself from Christians, and to raise the profile of American Buddhists. Coming from NYC I feel as though what ever my religion is, that is fine, and that it won't hinder me to be Buddhist.

When I was a therapist I had a few patients that followed Soka Gakki. I didn't really feel like we had a common ground. My understanding is that they hoped, that by chanting a mantra about their devotion to the Lotus Sutra, to be reborn in a pure land where they could then become enlightened.  I was hoping to move towards enlightenment through my own personal efforts. I do think we need other power to help us, why not, but for me there's more of a personal responsibility.

In discussion with a friend on retreat, he thought it was pretty controversial to feel like you had to do it in one life time. Another friend says that it's hard to imagine the life force energy doesn't go somewhere after they die. Another friend suggested to me that the only important thing about reincarnation was that I kept an open mind to it, and I later read how Sangharakshita asserted that there was no Buddhist movement that didn't include reincarnation. There are various books about reincarnation in the movement that as far as I can tell, debunk the popular notion, and water down into something inoffensive. It's just conditionality. Who knows. I find the work of Stephen Batchelor refreshing.

There is a part of me that makes me think I can't just make it all up for myself. That there should be some bite to the spiritual life, the bending of my will.

On another hand I want to guard myself against the social control aspects of being manipulated by religion, for other people's goals. I'm individualistic in a way that will not jive with the more socially oriented versions of Buddhism.

I have been enchanted at times, loved puja, mantra, ritual, felt strong feelings towards the sangha. I wondered why someone wouldn't get a visualization practice at ordination, that was the final step in Sangharakshita's system of meditation. I like the idea of having a visualization practice about ideals, the embodiment of ideals. I like all that Jungian kind of thinking, but I do not so much think about these things literally, and put a modernist twist on what others take literally.

What Buddhism is, is a question for the scholars. What is my spiritual journey, is another question, and it's good to realize the modern/traditional split in Buddhism. I think of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. I'm ok with importing modern psychology and theoretical understandings into ancient Buddhism, making it my own. And that is a very modern idea, I have come to learn.

No comments: