Friday, May 15, 2009

odd man out

The other day, I read a comment on a Buddhist bulletin board that said, more or less, "I don't care for hanging out with Buddhists." And I felt a jolt of agreement. Buddhists are often too damned "Buddhist" for my taste. It's not that I begrudge them their interests and efforts but ... how about them Red Sox? how about molecular biology? how about a birthday party for a five-year-old? how about a love for stamp collecting? how about cooking scrambled eggs? how about high-stakes poker? how about the intricacies of an automobile engine?

A while back, at a baseball game one of my sons was playing in, I was having a nice conversation with a doctor. I asked him several questions about his adventures in life -- how he came to be a doctor, how his older daughters and younger son were faring, what he thought of the health industry -- and he filled me in. But I noticed after a while that he didn't ask me a single question about my adventures. It struck me as odd. Not wounding, just odd. Most of us know about our own lives and longings and information and bias ... aren't we curious about how someone else sees and has seen things? Odd.

I suppose it's odd that I should see this as odd. People are interested in and sometimes consumed by their own lives. But doesn't it suggest anything else, a connection to some other interest or way of seeing things? Doesn't it get boring and somewhat confining?

What about ... well, what about those things that don't capture our interest, that don't dovetail with our current bias. What about playing polo with a human head?

Buddhism ... I'm probably the odd man out on all of this.


  1. Hi, Genkaku.

    Yes, maybe that is odd, but you're not alone in that.

    Some of the scariest religious freaks I've met in this Western World have been Buddhist and came with with the T-shirt, empowerments, funny name and baldy head... all the authentic trimmings!



  2. p.s...

    Someone more observant than me said that the first thing people do when they 'go Buddhist' is start to act all enlightened... guilty as charged over here!

    Being 'consumed by our own life' might otherwise be an excellent description of Zazen, a turning phrase. This quote from homeless Kodo came up the other day:

    "Without comparing myself with other people, I am who I am. I have said it so often the phrase is worn out, but it is me by myself realising myself for my own sake. In other words, just cross the legs and sit. By yourself realize yourself for yourself by sitting as yourself."

    The difference may be in the selfish idea of 'self' that we Westerners might hold.



  3. Adam,

    I have to concur with you and Harry. In fact, my zen teacher, who I adore, posed an interesting question to me last week. She said, " you don't even like yourself, do you???"

    I was completely taken aback! Like I never even considered it. I sort of felt like what difference does it make I'm stuck with this piece of shit. And that, my friend, is a strange sort of feeling.

    So now I am trying to decide how I might like myself, or if I should even be trying. She is a confusing guide, that authentic, odd, and completely anti-intellectual zen teacher I have. Perhaps the last of a dying breed from what I observe on the internet. So, yeah, I probably would dislike most buddhists, but I also dislike myself.

    I think my beef is that whereas other religions are always humble in the face of God's omnipotence, we buddhists pride ourselves on knowing the Truth. So, our (perhaps my) humility is lacking. The quality that most impresses me in this life is a feeling of buoyancy and humility. A space to accept others rather than a feeling of one upsmanship that they don't quite get it like I do. I don't have either of these qualities, but at least I have a direction.

    Take care.


  4. Dear Raymond -- Thanks for the nice post ... very useful.

    Liking yourself and disliking yourself amount to the same thing, don't you think? -- both suppose a self. And since self is what we've got to work with, well, that's where anyone begins...messy, confused, arrogant, humble, wise, ignorant, happy, sad, greedy, giving ... self.

    But with practice, I think Dogen's words tend to come true: "To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all beings ...." It's just a matter of practice, not posture. Arrogance and humility are things that any practicing student would examine and clarify.

    So ... I hope you will keep on with your good practice.

    Best wishes.