Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I'm beginning to see the light.

Soundtrack time: I'm Set Free, by the Velvet Underground.
Hit play and start reading.


It's been a difficult decision to write this post. . . I've thought and thought, and struggled with how I'm going to share this news with my family back home, and I'm still not quite satisfied with the idea of just blogging about it, but whenever I think of getting on the phone, my stomach starts shaking and I know I just can't do it.

If you follow my blog, you've read some of my thoughts lately on faith -- I know I've seemed pretty harsh on Christianity here, here, here, and here, and especially here.

If you read between the lines, you might notice a kind of relaxing of the rigid lines that used to define my faith. . .

you may have also noticed this. Well, I don't know how to say this, but here goes.

Back in 2006, I had a pretty rough year -- you've also read my writings about that. In this post, I finished off my discussion of my own search for meaning with these words:

Maybe admitting "I'm not out of the woods yet" authentically IS the best thing I can come away with, and maybe The Lesson I've Learned is that life doesn't fit in boxes, nor needs to: Things I've Figured Out quickly become Prejudices, if I decide I don't have to keep thinking about them. Maybe some honest stumbling about in the woods IS an act of worship, and by being OK with that, or even celebrating that, it might even become a celebration of the fact we need never cease our search for meaning, that every part of our life can continue being deepened and enriched, long after we stop feeling sad.

I think a few of you have kind of read between the lines and spotted some of what I'm going through; I've spent the last two years or so trying to work out a framework where the things I believe, my spiritual life and practice, begins to focus more on the process instead of the destination -- gently stepping away from a destination helps me focus on the joys of the process, helps me to commit to being the person I am, in the place I am, rather than yearning discontentedly for some future, some heaven, some illusory attainment.

In light of that, I've been reading the Dalai Lama a lot lately, and finding that it makes a lot of sense to me, and I love the way that in Buddhism, it's more a question of finding a harmonious way to live, than of having the "right" doctrine or belief.

So I've decided to become a practicing Buddhist. I want to renounce the trappings of desire -- all those things that make me feel like a hamster running on a wheel -- and clear my mind, so that I can finally walk in the world as it is, instead of always comparing it with the way I want it to be.

"Renunciation is not getting rid of the things of this world, but accepting that they pass away."
Aitken Roshi

The thing I like about Zen Buddhism is that it's not so much about setting a goal or an aim, but more about letting go-- being in that neutral, mindful place helps me to feel like it's really ME who is walking through this life.

Another thing I like is that Buddhism doesn't ask you to renounce any other belief, ritual or practice you have; it just supplies a kind of different framework for understanding why we do the things we do. This means I don't have to throw aside the Bible, the (wonderful, wonderful) teachings of Christ, or the morality I was raised with; it's more that I add this new thing to the other things I've already learned!

(title of this post from this song: "I'm beginning to see the light" by Velvet Underground

Here is a passage of the Dhammavadaka, edited a bit for length:

Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveler passing through. your stay is but short and the moment of your departure unknown.
Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you talk much, this will make you deaf to what others say, and you should know that there are few so wise that they cannot learn from others.
Treasure silence when you find it, and while being mindful of your duties, set time aside, to be alone with yourself.
Cast off pretense and self-deception and see yourself as you really are.
Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are led astray by ignorance. If you ponder this truth always you will offer more light, rather then blame and condemnation.
You, no less than all beings have Buddha Nature within. Your essential Mind is pure. Therefore, when defilements cause you to stumble and fall, let not remose nor dark foreboding cast you down. Be of good cheer and with this understanding, summon strength and walk on.

To me, seeking the Buddha nature means becoming more alert and attuned to the people around me, and their needs. It means no longer clutching for the things other people tell me I want (money, status) or things that I can't see, and which can thus never satisfy my daily cravings and desires (heaven). By dropping this baggage, I can finally be free.

This is a kind of startling thing to finally announce! Sorry if it's a little shocking to some of you, but it's been really good for me. I've been writing more than ever before, and every bit of sunlight seems sacred now, every step I take seems like a celebration of life and creation!

In order to truly awaken myself to Buddha nature, and to finally die to the desires of the world, I have decided it is time to learn how to embrace silence. I'm taking a pledge of silence -- I'm going to stop all writing except the books and plays I'm working on. That means that you might want to read this post carefully, because it will be my last, until a year from today, when (hopefully) I've re-centered myself, and I break my vow of silence. Until then, I'll phone and be in touch with you that way, my loved ones! Thank you for enjoying my blog. I hope I'll see you again in a year.

(now, check the date of this post)


Dad said...

You had me going! I was thinking of your poor Mom turning over in her ... oh, yeah, she's not there, she's in that heaven you were not so sure about in your post!
I just hope that your April Fool's joke was with respect to that, and not just about being quiet for a year! It's hard to picture you doing either of those!

elizabeth said...

for a minute you had me too. Clever Clever Rob.

the thing that i do not understand is how some religions seem to be about becoming nothing. this is perhaps a huge philosophical discussion (after all i did a paper on The Search for Nothing for B D's class years ago) but i was struck by something a holy (Orthodox) hermit monk (He visits my church from time to time) commented that those things in other religions that are seeking to be/come nothing, or in a circle of nothing, are very dangerous. He spoke of joy and that only the devil destroys and that God creates... he said it in better way, but the concept has stuck with me...

i realized, recently, that when God took away the presence of Himself that i was familiar with (and wow was i angry then) that really it was preparing me for something greater... trite sounding perhaps but true too. my life is very different now since i joined the Orthodox church... to say the least!!! :)

take care Rob. i read your blog often but do not comment much. you got a comment out of me this time! :)

Charles Montgomery said...

LOL.. nice one..

Anonymous said...

I thought you'd seen the light like this man.


Too bad he brought 12 innocents into this world to share in his "hopeless" existence. It is in situations like this, and others, like the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Apaches, the Comanches, other indigenous Native Americans, and those godless souls around the globe who have been eradicated by those spreading the word of "their" gods while stealing whatever wealth they could along the way and leaving death, destruction, and poverty (for those left alive) behind.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the link was cut off ( http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/03/10/750515.aspx ) here it is one more time. I hope it makes it intact.

Anonymous said...

Okay piece by piece.


Just put the two halves together. It should take you to an article with this title: "FOR ONE GAZAN, THERE IS ‘NO HOPE’" over at msnbc.

melissa v. said...

You had me until the buddha art. For some reason, that visual didn't ring true for me of you and I started to clue in that you may not be serious, and then I remembered the date.
Not that there is anything wrong with Buddhism. Nor your acquaintance with it.
The vow of silence, now...that is ridiculous. Rob silent. Cheah! Whatever.
I've never been much of a "wait till we get to heaven!!" Christian, myself. I'm more of a "what the hell can we do to get a better life NOW" Christian. I guess because nobody really knows what's up after the final curtain call, so I kind of think pondering it and looking forward to it irrelevant.
And slightly boring.
But other people like it.
But you're not renouncing heaven anyways (and if my mom were up there I might find it less boring).

You're a stinker.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for your post. As Christians, we can learn a lot from the best of Buddhism, eh? When our traditions and beliefs (even religious ones) get in the way of the reality of what Jesus taught and demonstrated, then a wake up call is a very good thing. I'm glad you're not really Buddhist, though. I'd much rather have the "mind of Christ" than the "pure mind of Buddha." Love you!

Roboseyo said...

Ive thought about this a lot, actually.

here are a few things that come to mind:

1. I respect the Buddha a lot -- I believe he was one of the great teachers and leaders of humankind, and he provided a moral compass for a lot of people for a long time.

2. In the same way that humans took Jesus' teachings and ritualized and systematized and formalized them, humans have made practical, folk Buddhism into a ritual system that sometimes has very little resemblance to the Buddha's original teachings.

3. I respect Buddhism most for its harmoniousness -- you don't have to renounce or denounce anything else to practice buddhism; you're allowed to gain learning and wisdom from any source available, including other holy texts. This appeals to me a lot more than the standoffishness and exclusivity of some other organized religions. (whether buddhism is PRACTICED this way is another question, but that's the original principle)

4. I think there should be a category called "Zen Christians" or something like that, for people who are trying to sort out this whole east west thing.


5. I can't completely subscribe to a system of belief where the first of the four noble truths (the four noble truths being the basis for all Buddhist thought) is "All of life is suffering" -- this sets a negative tone, a repudiation of the world that I just can't buy into. I much prefer the Genesis "And the Lord looked at all (s)he had made, and said it was good". There is too much beauty and joy and wonder in the world to write it off at the first stroke.


6. It occurred to me just last week that the whole idea of changing my religion doesn't fit with what I believe about how humans form their moral codes and their frameworks for belief. We're much too complex and integrated to have such a sudden change be anything more than cosmetic. By switching from one church to another, or one religion to another, I'm not really becoming a different person; I'm just declaring a new trajectory for my thought patterns and worship habits, or a new direction for further study; this does not change who I am fundamentally, and it is a little dishonest to think I can cancel out my entire moral upbringing just by changing the label I call myself. Who I Am is deeper than that, and I'd be better served to wrestle through the person I am, within the framework I've been given up until now, than to simply switch groups and pretend I'm a different person -- by analogy, if I feel bad because I don't like my appearance, I'm better off working out and getting healthy, than just dying my hair and buying two new shirts.

Whether I call myself Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic or just Human, I remain the same person, with the same cumulative life experiences, struggling with the same gifts and hurts, trying to forge a workable way of living rationally and spiritually, alive, passionate, but also sensible. I'm better off admitting that and playing the hand I've been dealt, than trying for a change of label to sidestep the serious questions that Take Work To Get Through.

--You're right, Mel. I'd have found some more calming, less ornate buddhist art if I were really digging into it. Zen Buddhism would be the chapter that would appeal to me most, and I've sometimes said that if I weren't a Christian, I'd be a Buddhist.

sorry if I fooled any of you too badly, but otherwise. . . tee hee!

Rebecca said...

Hey Rob!
Funny, two days after you posted this comment, but before I read it, I called my new blog "Who am I?" -- so in some way, we are in the same place, even though we are far apart!

Anonymous said...

I'm a Buddhist too. Have you done Sugae at a Korean temple yet?