What is this Buddhism stuff all about, really?
The first response that comes to mind – it’s about getting to know me well.
And I guess that’s what it has become famous for generally. I am pretty sure that’s the reason it is so trendy in our western lost-in-thought world. We tend to go for the latest hype. We are conditioned to get ready for the next high. And if it is of a spiritual nature, all the better!
Much confusion and delusion comes up. I am talking about the trappings of the ego. We have an eerie habit of turning an amazingly intricate teaching of liberation into another fetter with which we bind ourselves to… well…our selves, basically. Spiritual materialism is the word of the new millennium and the title of a must-read book by Chögyam Trungpa.
So this is the first response – I get to know myself and how I turn it upside down, creating another identity view out of that which is supposed to free me from being self-preoccupied, getting better at this or that.
That is why I like what I am doing now. What am I doing now? Nothing much different from what I used to do. But the attitude has changed considerably.
They teach me to take it easy here. Nice and slow. Step by step. Instead of mixing Tantra, Dzogchen, Zen, Mahayana and Theravada teachings and make a tasty melange out of it, I am advised to be aware of ‘left step’ – ‘right step’ whenever I take a left step, a right step respectively. And when I sit in the lotus or the chrysanthemum or the lily posture on the floor I am supposed to watch the rising and falling of the abdomen while breathing in and out. That’s it. Fair enough.
And then: Noting. That means noting everything that crops up in the present moment. In short, pay attention to…
(1) body postures and movements (kāyānupassanā);
(2) pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings (vedanānupassanā);
(3) thoughts, reflections and emotions (cittānupassanā);
(4) mental objects and six sense bases (dhammānupassanā).
So in my humble opinion, the Burmese approach takes it one step further on the quest for simplicity. Because they teach you to take baby steps. One at a time. Then integrate into daily life. Note while you walk, stand, sit, or lie down. Note while you eat, drink, wash up, open the door, enter the toilet, close the door, squat, urinate. Note everything until you fall asleep. Then start again. The alarm clock rings. Hearing-hearing-hearing. Taking it. Turning it off. Intending to stand up. Standing up. And so on, and so forth.
They teach you in a gentle and straightforward way. And they show you how to become like this: soft like a flower and firm like a rock. And patience. ‘Patience leads to Nibbāna’, as the Myanmar saying goes. Don’t push so hard. Listen to your body. Take a break if you need to. Be persistent. Remember it’s not about pushing yourself. It’s not about getting anywhere or anything. Take it easy, and yet, be sure you are continuously mindful, even of mind states like ‘bored’, ‘tired’, ‘exhausted’, ‘disheartened’… especially those we tend to push away normally.
The entire approach just appeals to me. It is strict and gentle at the same time. It helps me tremendously because I can feel being relieved of that striving mentality, that achievement syndrome. A letting go of the belief there is a norm or a finish line or a judge in dhamma.
There is no ON and OFF. Once you see, you see. You can turn away. But it won’t make the truth of life and death go away. Like clouds cover up the sun. But the sun still shines 😉
The second response that comes to mind – it’s about checking in instead of checking out and getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.