Monday, January 25, 2010

and then...and then...and then

On Zen Forum International, I was just now thinking of starting a thread in which people might give a laundry list of the encounters and thoughts and books that brought them to a serious spiritual practice.

But as I started to try to make my own list, down to the last bits and scraps, I realized that it would be damned near impossible without writing something as long or longer than "War and Peace."

The Buddhists I know, either in person or on the internet, may point to the television series "Kung Fu" or to Beat authors or to a search that evolved out of some religious upbringing that no longer seemed to fit. Or they may simply say "suffering" as a way of covering the bases and their conversational abilities or inabilities.

I certainly realized I couldn't do it in any very coherent form ... without turning into a incoherent child trying to explain his/her excitement about a story s/he had heard or read: "And then...and then...and then...and then...."

I could say that I read "Siddhartha" or "The Robe" ... and then I could say that I was brought up in the arms of intellectual zealotry, which is enough to send anyone seeking a more peaceful path ... and then I could say I had been touched by an stray look or smile or that quite accidentally I sat with a Buddhist monk over supper in college....

And then...and then...and then....

Funny how we have no trouble at all making a coherent, clearly-linked story out of anyone else's life, but when it comes even to the things we take most seriously in our own lives, the things we might wish to explain most carefully and exactly, we are left floundering like a fish on the dock. We are lost and are forced to surrender. The exertion is too much and, somehow, too futile. Here we are ... that's about the best we can do ... and even that may be open to some question, some inexactness, some failure.

And then ... and then ... and then....

And some weary but wise voice growls, "Forgetaboutit!" Get your head out of some imperfectly-remembered "then." Those priceless gems are, well, important perhaps, but they're dust and dither by this time. Explaining this now by referring to that then is a pastime for high school students and the infirm. "Forgetaboutit!"

The only question that might be asked is ...

Now what?


  1. In my case it was all Pema Chodron's fault. When asked why she became a buddhist she said "I became a Buddhist because I hated my husband." I laughed and thought she was charming so I got her audiobook "Getting Unstuck." About 20 minutes into it I burst into tears and became a Buddhist.

  2. Dear Susan --

    I had a blue tricycle when I was a kid.
    I once collected rubbish as a summer job.
    I once saw the Dalai Lama from a distance of five feet do something I considered extremely moving.

    Now if you could take these facts and string them into an honestly-credible explanation of why or how I am a Buddhist today ... if you could truly distinguish the one from the other as a means of nailing down this moment ....

    Well, if you could do that, I'd give you fifty cents. :)

  3. I was a Catholic. I was a Baha'i. I was a nurses's aid and a graphic designer. I was in counseling for 20 years. I wanted to stop suffering, so why did I become a Buddhist instead of a fundamentalist Christian or an alcoholic?

    I see your fifty cents and raise you another fifty ;)

  4. Susan -- You see?! -- as a buddy of mine once observed, "'Why' questions have no answers." In which case, why do we ask them? :p