Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are You A Bookstore Buddhist?

Today over lunch several friends and I were discussing, what else but Buddhist practice.  One friend said, "you know I've been reading a lot of books on Buddhism lately and I find it doesn't really do it for me.  I don't really understand things until I experience them for myself."

Ah, a sentiment so near and dear to my heart.  For years I was what I jokingly refer to as a Bookstore Buddhist, until I met my teacher.  I mostly just read about Buddhism.  And while there are lots of wonderful books out there (I have a bookcase full of well thumbed volumes)  I could never actually put it together in a way that made a real difference in my life. It always seemed hard to convert  the teachings, no matter how pragmatic, from those thin tidy slices of paper to the messy trenches of life.

Even  Dharma talks ... no matter how inspiring they are, I have found that to really have an "ah ha moment" I need to encounter the teaching  in my life.  I need to experience the idea or principle to convert it from the head to the "blood & bones" level of understanding.  Like the idea that no one can make me angry, that I make myself angry through my thoughts and reactions to the other persons action.  It wasn't until the gazilionth time I was recounting "what my mother did" that I realized that it was me who was stirring this pot.  She wasn't there, she wasn't doing anything, yet I was still railing on about her.  Now, I had heard the Dharma talk before.   I heard the lovely story about the monk who carries the woman across the stream and puts her down only to have a fellow monk mention it hours later.  And of course that classic reply of "I put her down hours ago, but you are still carrying her."  I had to finally hear my own angry words echoing into the phone before  "the penny finally dropped," as my teacher would say and I realized I was very tired of carrying my mother around.  For such a tiny woman she was very, very heavy.

So while the Dharma talks and the books can be wonderful inspiration and fingers pointing to the moon, there is no substitute for doing the work in everyday life ... the difficult, sometimes thankless, frustrating work of looking at what we do, getting to know ourselves and our little games and tricks and habitual tendencies.   And then doing the work that needs to be done.  

I thought I would just put up this little picture collage cover of a spiral bound journal.  Here's the place to record all your musings and rantings and tidbits as you get better acquainted with yourself.  

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