I woke up today and noticed, damn, I’m a Buddhist.
I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember, and I’m still an atheist. I just don’t believe in the magical thinking of a super being. I’ve spent time in and around many religions. High holidays at the synagogue, Sunday Baptist tent revivals, Christmas and Easter, but I’ve just never really connected - I was always there just for the sake of tradition. The supernatural aspect and the dogma, not to mention the funny hats, have always turned me off.
I have, however always considered myself spiritual. I have a defined set of values, I have always believed in the interconnectedness of people, animals, our earth, and hey, the whole universe. We all impact each other and therefore are all connected. I think spirituality is a process of introspection and contemplation about why we are here, and how we are connected. Religion, on the other hand, I think more of as a defined set of beliefs about our relationship to the creation and creator of the universe, and our relationship to that source of spiritual authority. And I’ve never been good with authority! I’ve always questioned it.
But lately I’ve come across Buddhism. I’ve meditated on and off for over 12 years after having been introduced to it via John Kabat-Zin’s meditation-based stress relief work. My teacher then was a Buddhist monk, and I really connected with his perspective. I kicked my meditation into high gear last fall, beginning a daily practice, and in January doing a silent meditation retreat at IMS (a completely kick-ass experience). Since then I’ve felt so much more centered, and the world has felt so much more clear.
This spring I began reading more and more about Buddhism. I’ve come to find it is not a religion, in the way I’ve defined religions, but more of a science. It emphasizes questioning and working with the mind. Much like science, you observe and question over and over, until you gradually develop a meaningful understanding of our own mind. Buddhism is non-theistic - there is no supernatural entity outside of our own mind. There is no being or force that controls our experience or sends us to heaven or hell. The whole “magic” aspect of organized religions like Judaism and Christianity and Islam, leave me laughing. In some sects of Buddhism over the years (2600 years), they have developed some of the same magical thinking - reincarnation, karma, etc. - but I’m talking here about secular Buddism. I love the fact that the Buddha said that we should question everything - never follow a path just because a teacher said so, or a book said so, or a tradition said so.
Since the fall, I’ve been studying the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-Fold Path, known as The Middle Way. And I’ve really connected with it as a set of values by which to lead your life. I love the fact that the middle way is built around acquiring wisdom and compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, said, “The Noble Eight-Fold Path is the path of living in awareness. Mindfulness is the foundation. By practicing mindfulness, you can develop concentration, which enables you to attain understanding. Thanks to right concentration, you realize right awareness, thoughts, speech, action, livelihood, and effort. The understanding which develops can liberate you from every shackle of suffering and give birth to true peace and joy.”
I love the concept of training the mind to be awake. I love the concept of impermanence - that everything changes (all the time!). I love the quest of continually developing wisdom. I love compassion and loving-kindness as a way of life. I love the idea of leading a mindful life, of training the mind to let go of reactivity. I love the idea of being awake - of living in the here and now - and having awareness, the mental discipline of seeing things as they are.
Living life. Here and now. Building a life around loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity (the Brahma Viharas). I’m digging it. Damn, my religion is loving-kindness!