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The Buddha

The much beloved Buddhist author Pema Chodron writes often about “groundlessness.” Lots of Buddhist teachers state that following the Buddhist path requires courage.

This may seem unlikely on its face. Why does pursuing awakening require courage?

Abandoning your human identity entirely can be pretty terrifying. It is comfortable. It is what you have known since you were born. Your identity functions as a defense mechanism, among other uses. Our delusions and neuroses, to use the term Chogyam Trungpa favors, often grow out of reactions we learned as children that might have served an important need then, but are now dysfunctional.

You likely do not even realize it, at least not until you have meditated long enough and consistently enough, but you are deeply attached to your neuroses. You have to go really, really deep to find them all and release them. …


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The Buddha

Awakening takes place as much in the heart center as in the head. Still, we tend to focus mostly on the head aspect.

Awakening is first and foremost a matter of wisdom, of learning a whole new way to look at the world we live in and create with our minds, of letting go of greed, hatred, and delusion in favor of infinite joy and equanimity.

Close on the heels of wisdom in awakening comes compassion, which is an important component of the Buddhist path. The two are so close, we could use a single word to describe them. Adhering to the five precepts — do not harm anyone, do not lie, do not steal, avoid irresponsible sexual activity, and refrain from intoxicants — requires wisdom, but most of the rules also reflect compassion. …


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The Buddha

I recently glimpsed an author trying to explain how to have a “meaningful life.”

I always wonder what that means. Humans make meaning. If you want your life to be “meaningful,” that’s up to you.

From a Buddhist perspective, it sounds like attachment. In daily usage, “meaning” means, that I can tell, referentiality. The word “car” refers to a vehicle, usually with four wheels and an internal combustion engine, all of which words in turn refer to components of a “car” that one could point to if one knows the meaning of the words.

But once you launch yourself beyond awareness, there is nothing to refer to, or refer from. No words. No thoughts. No you to use words or thoughts. You don’t even really give all of that up. …


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The Buddha

To awaken is to transcend awareness. Some teachers use “consciousness” and “awareness” interchangeably. This is not wrong, but it does not quite capture what I just realized.

According to the Buddha, perception requires the conjunction of three elements, the thing that gets perceived, the physiological capacity to perceive (eyes to see, ears to hear, etc.), and consciousness. If you are not conscious, asleep or in a coma, you perceive nothing. You still have eyes and ears, the world is still there, perceptible, but you do not perceive it because your consciousness is absent. …


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The Buddha

According to the official story, immediately after his awakening, the Buddha dithered for some time, unsure if he could explain what he had realized to anyone else.

He froze.

He then realized that his former ascetic buddies had “little dust in their eyes” and so were great candidates for his new teaching, so he found them and awakened them all, making them his first monks.

I didn’t get anything done yesterday. I awoke so content and peaceful that I had zero motivation.

I froze.

I don’t have a small group of former compatriots to teach now, and I do not have a world historical realization to teach anyone. I’m just recycling my understanding of what the Buddha realized because it works really well for me. …


The Buddha

One form of repetition that is likely endemic to humans before they awaken and is a problem is repetitive thoughts of any sort.

Thoughts are not bad. The mind thinks. That’s what it does. When you meditate, you notice your thoughts. When you start meditating, you may find some of your thoughts horrifying. That’s okay. That’s part of the point.

But you will likely also find that you have some thoughts you think repeatedly, obsessively, that are not much use. There will be times when you need to think. The Buddha continued to think after he awakened.

The goal is not to stop thinking. The goal is to be aware of your thoughts and let the useless ones go away by themselves as soon as you realize that they are useless. …


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The Buddha

The estimable Ajahn Sumdeho says in one of his talks that he does not know what happens to us after we die because he has not died yet.

Buddhists are very clear that we all know we are going to die eventually, so we should prepare for that. But what happens to us after death is not the only concern for Buddhists. The Buddha lived for some fifty years after his awakening. Apparently, according to the example of the Buddha and of many of his followers, it is possible to awaken fully in this lifetime.

Indeed, the Buddha told us that we are all already enlightened, we just don’t realize it. This is a very specific teaching from a specific tradition, but Tibetan Buddhists explicitly have the concept of lojong, or mind training. The mind training sayings are interesting and useful, although some of them require some explanation. What does, “Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow” mean? …


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The Buddha

I don’t understand how most people think. I never have. Usually, I am just as happy not understanding how most people think. If I see a crowd, I try to get away from it as fast as possible.

Among the many things I do not understand about Christianity and its popularity is that people are willing to go to church at least weekly and hear the same story over and over. And over. And it is not, to my mind, a very interesting story.

Okay, I have taught U.S. history surveys, and that story usually does not change much, although it does change as historians change our understanding of the past. Since the early 1970s, the standard account of U.S. history includes a lot more information about African Americans and women, which is all to the good. …


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The Buddha

Awakening involves a radical shift in perspective. From the human perspective, as the old saying goes, life’s a bitch and then you die. You can always find something wrong, something to dislike about the world you live in or your life in it.

Once you awaken, you will instead experience radical, irreducible joy. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool. You may know the water is cold and that you will feel some shock when you first immerse yourself completely in it, but you also know that it won’t hurt you and that you will enjoy being in the pool.

You just have to make the decision to jump in. …


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The Buddha

Outside of the context of abortion rights, which should be absolute, we usually do not think about our bodies in terms of ownership.

But without much reflection, it might seem obvious that you do, in fact, own your body. In the context of western liberalism and U.S. law, we do not have much of a conceptual vocabulary for thinking about our relationship to our bodies outside of ownership. Sort of like your house, you occupy it and should have the right to determine who enters it and what happens to it in general.

So in terms of interactions with other beings, you do effectively own your body. …

About

William B. Turner

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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