Talks and thoughts

Everyday life, not a 'buddhist life'

By paulcrummay, Jan 18 2017 12:00PM


There is much written and spoken about living a ‘Buddhist life’, or a ‘Christian life’ or whatever. We seem, as human beings, to want to label our living and our actions with such names to give them more meaning or to place what we think of as our life and meaning in a particular belief system that can become an identity, both for ourselves and for others to know what we are and where we stand. That is fine as a device for navigating our way around the world and we can’t – nor should we- stop doing that; it is not a problem in itself.


Our difficulty is that we forget we invented the label for our own convenient shorthand, and end up believing in it as a reality. From there is a short step to dividing one part of our self against another (the Buddhist bit against the mundane bit), one person against another, one group against another and one nation against another.


In fact, our life is taking place independently of any label or category, moment by moment and is not in any way subject to that label or invented meaning. As an example, we may imagine the ideal of kindness, personified as a Bodhisattva. In the moment when we help someone out, however, the doer and the recipient disappear, and there is only the action of helping out. We can tell when the calculating observer returns, commenting, usually later when we reflect on what happened there.


At least once a day when we sit down to do zazen, we can see directly beyond the labeling mind, as we let go and experience both the true nature of thought and the immediate experience of being alive, air-breathing, heart-beating, sounds in our ears, sitting still, paying direct attention to the detail of our posture.


This is our true reality, our only reality, even when zazen is over and we get on with our day. It is nowhere else, and not to be found later, when we somehow live our ‘Buddhist’ life properly. It is not some faraway transcendent bliss, but it is whatever appears right now, independently of whether it is what we label as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. By sitting still in balance, we can just note whatever thought is going on in mind, in the same way as we note breath, or body tension, or temperature, or thumbs touching, all without judgment. The big thing that happens when we do that for a while is noticing how much and how often we want things to be different, better, or to accord with our ideas of life and meaning. And how quickly, if we conceive of living a ‘Buddhist' life, we want to denounce our actual experience and strive for a purer one.


So, in reality there is only life living life; there is no separate life called a ‘Buddhist’ life. All our practice is aimed at enabling us to take up life-as-it-is fully and completely. We can do this if we change our relationship to what we think and stop believing in our thoughts as having more reality than our actions here and now. It takes effort, and the willingness to reconsider our beliefs.


Buddhist practice, when seen clearly is about un-doing, un-learning, un-conditioning our views and ideas, to make room for the amazing magic of what-is. Wow…


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