Monday July 26, 2010
Today I visited the Yuelu Buddhist temple, here in Changsha, China (a place that proudly flies both the Chinese flag and the international Buddhist flag – a curious juxtaposition) and as I sat in the courtyard, I found myself reflecting on the question – once again – of my relationship to Buddhism. What started me thinking was how curious it was that my most immediate response to finding myself in the quiet courtyard was to want to pull up a cushion and sit down and meditate. If I didn’t do so, because something about this act would have seemed ostentatious – it seems that this isn’t really the done thing. Instead I sat quietly, just taking in the peaceful atmosphere, enjoying the cool of the shade. and reflecting
As long-term readers will know, in the five years since this blog was started (five years – can it really be that long?), I have tended to identify myself less and less as a Buddhist. My scepticism about many of the claims that are made within Buddhism, and my unease with the cultural worlds of Western (and Eastern) Buddhism have grown. But at the same time, my intellectual interest in the various worlds of Buddhism has tended to decrease as well. I don’t find myself turning to Candrakīrti, for example, or to Dōgen, for stimulation or for invigorating thoughts. This is not an argument against either of these thinkers, it is just that they don’t seem particularly urgent to me at the moment. I am having too much fun reading and thinking about Zhuangzi. Or reading about brain science. Or reading a hundred other things that are seem to be currently proving fruitful.
So… Buddhist, Buddhish, not-Buddhist…? (Here I’m tempted to play the Buddhist logic game, once again, but I’ll resist the temptation.) Which of these? I don’t really know. But perhaps what has changed most over the past five years is that I no longer really care that much. Back in the day, it mattered to me, and it mattered profoundly, that I was a Buddhist. These days, it doesn’t. When it comes to the elaboration of Buddhist ideas, the grand schemes, the subtle philosophical positions, I suspect that I simply haven’t the energy to engage with these ideas; similarly when it comes to the more rigorous practices, I can’t quite summon up the appropriate level of interest. Both philosophically or in terms of practice, I don’t really have the taste for extreme-sports Buddhism, and seeing those that do, I am not entirely convinced that it is the path to a form of life that I find particularly appealing.
Nevertheless, when I look more deeply, and when I look at thoughts that are, in a sense, more homely and everyday, there is a kind of ineradicable Buddhishness to the way I see the world, and for this I am grateful. I am grateful to be rid of the idea of the self as an enduring entity that must be protected and shored up; I am grateful for the knowledge that the world is supple, that it changes moment by moment; and I am grateful to be rid of the idea that it might be possible to transform the world so that it is entirely to my liking. Not only this, but I am grateful for the various practices that continue to allow me to poke and prod at my habitual assumptions about what I am, about what it means to perceive the world.
As I have come closer to the five year mark, I have sometimes thought about the name of this blog and whether it is still appropriate. One thing I have wondered is whether the name of the blog has itself tended to limit the kinds of things I talk about. I am listed in various places as a Buddhist blogger, but is this even accurate? In the end, it all depends on what you mean, although perhaps it might be good – from the point of view of that practice of writing this blog – to free myself a little from the sense of obligation to be “Buddhist” or even “Buddhish”, and to simply get on with the business of thinking out loud and writing.
And also, of course, much depends on what happens next, and that is something that one really can’t second-guess. This blog, like everything else, is changeable and without self-nature. Onwards. Let’s see what happens!
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