Last night I received an email from someone I don't know, a self-described 45-year-old man writing under the subject line "the final journey." The note was brief but said among other things, "I consider myself mindfull (sic) and would like for you to teach me a path that Buddha found."
I wrote back asking if he would be a little more specific -- that his request wasn't entirely clear to me.
Such requests sound simple and straightforward enough, but they always come with a back story and agenda. Some people would like to know the books they should read; some people feel uneasy in their lives and want a silver bullet of some sort; some people are drunk or crazy and wonder what sort of response they might get to a passing-fancy query in the anonymous ether of the internet; some people are speaking out of an honest quandary which they somehow expect you to understand because you are a magical-mystery-tour Buddhist; some people want to set you up for a Christian or other-religion ass-whuppin'.
I was perfectly willing to play the game or lend a hand to the extent that I could, but I was not in the mood for some guessing-game commentary. People who know me know that I can talk the hind leg off a dog, but blow-hard Buddhism doesn't appeal to me today as much as it once did.
That email also made me think of something I have a tendency to forget: Everything is new to someone and it is best to talk as if everything were fresh and new and simple ... which, of course, it always is. The tendency to spiral off into the vast realms of experience or knowledge does little to inform the one for whom the topic is brand new. Simple is better, unless, of course, self-aggrandizement is the object.
Complicated is just too complicated, but complicated has one virtue -- it informs one and all that the one entering the complication probably doesn't know the subject very well. It's a good warning sign.