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A question from a friend…

September 26, 2013

_DSC4446So, an old friend, whom I haven’t talked to in a very long time, “friended” me out of the blue a month or so ago, and then checked up on a bunch of my posts here at Sisyphus.

“How come you don’t talk about your Buddhism?” she asked me in an email. “Or don’t you do that anymore?”

“Who would want to hear about it?” I asked back. “Too many cliches. Too much baggage. Too much new age buddhist bullshit out there already.”

And besides, I said to her, I don’t “do” Buddhism. No more than I “do” Catholicism (the religion of my childhood).

Organized religion has always made me uncomfortable. In the same way large crowds, parades, marching, and populism makes me uncomfortable.

And organized Buddhism always seemed counter-intuitive to me. Each Buddhist temple with its own rigourous approach to meditation, or scriptural reading. The born-again zealotry of a friend who makes a big deal about his “practice”. His 5am meditation. His breathing exercises. His raw food diet. And the books. So many books.

Another acquaintance, who goes away for those 10 and 20 day silent retreats once asked me if I had a certificate in meditation. (I could hear the Buddha laughing in my ear, but I thought it would be rude to so myself, and simply said I had no certificate.)

“How do you know if you are doing it right?” he had asked me at the time.

Indeed, how would I know if I was doing it “right”, if I had not been accredited with a piece of paper that verified my qualifications to meditate?

So, that right there, is a modern western reason why I don’t talk about Buddhism. I have no qualifications.

I suppose I could get some if I wanted to. I live right around the corner from the Shambala Centre, here in Halifax. It has an excellent reputation, offers various classes and courses, and is reasonably priced. My girlfriend insists that as soon as the weather turns cold, we should check out their Wednesday night meditation drop-in.

There are at least 10,000 Rinpoches out there offering readings and teachings on “The Middle Way”, “The Easy Path”, “Training the Wisdom Body”, “Your Mind is Your Teacher” and so on and so forth – almost infinitum. I could become a disciple of any one of them – let myself go – be one with the universe.

The biggest problem, though, as to why I feel no urge to talk about it, is because of the problem of translation. How can one talk about such things and not be talking in cliches? Or worse, speaking in paradoxes. Or even worse than that, talking jibberish!

I was a nineteen-year-old boy from the farm in rural eastern Ontario when I first walked into a Buddhist temple in Thailand. I had never heard of Buddhism before, and had gone in because the temple was spectacular. I was 25 when I first started reading the Upanishads. By my late 30’s I had memorized the first 40 poems of the Tao Te Ching (Robert Blakney translation – translations are important when it comes to the Tao – Blakney is my favourite ), and sometimes I would sit for 4 or 5 hours at a time, late into the night,  under a massive oak tree in my backyard in Toronto. Sometimes I would sit with cookies, or with a peach in my lap, and a raccoon would come by in the dark and take them and sit there with me and eat them. (As long as I did not move.)

And then one day, just as it was long ago ordained, I met the Buddha on the road and I killed him. I then gave away all of my books, took my meditation mat and put it in the attic, and took up walking instead of meditating. I go home to the farm whenever I can, and there I talk to the horses.

Recently, I stumbled upon the meditation mat, and decided to pull it out. And so, the cycle begins again.

So, for my friend who wonders why I don’t talk about Buddhism, I hope this explains why that is…


One Comment leave one →
  1. Marcia Weiner permalink
    September 26, 2013 6:46 pm

    Hi Sherwood,

    What a great letter! Now I have a better insight into your almost preternatural calmness – which I admire.



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