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The Buddha

Is a problem. It is undoubtedly useful, but for Buddhists, consensus reality is a major problem.

So the Buddha says our defining problem as humans is ignorance. We are all already enlightened, or awakened, or whatever word you want to use, but we fail to recognize this fact.

We mostly fail to recognize it because we have accumulated very deeply ingrained bad mental habits over many lifetimes that we now, as humans, have the opportunity to undo with meditation.

But we also fail to recognize the fact of our enlightenment because the other humans we interact with constantly only reinforce our ignorance, since they suffer from it, too, and to get anything done at all as humans, we have to be able to communicate with other humans.

One good way to reduce the effects of this problem is to go on silent meditation retreats. Then you can spend the duration of the retreat in a setting where someone else who knows what you are doing will take care of your basic needs and everyone else on the retreat shares your commitment to spending several hours a day meditating and will not try to talk to you at all. There are various options around the United States. Do a Google search.

Another very big step beyond meditation retreats that is less likely to appeal to most people is to become a contemplative, a monk or a nun. This is like going on a retreat, but for the rest of your life, usually, although people do sometimes become monks or nuns, then leave. Contemplatives give up most of the accoutrements of modern life, although they usually do not give up talking for life.

The Buddha became a wandering mendicant, sort of like a monk, but without the institutional structure, which was far more common at that time and place than it is in the modern west. In the United States, other people would likely just think you were homeless and it would not work very well.

After he awakened, the Buddha found the men he had been traveling with as an ascetic before he realized that meditation was the correct path and made them his first students, eventually attracting a large retinue of monks who wandered India with him, staying at various places for varying lengths of time. Many of the sutras, or written teachings of the Buddha, start by identifying where the Buddha was when he gave the teaching in question. He promulgated a list of rules for monks, which make up one of the three main collections of Buddhist teachings we have today (the other two are the sutras and the abidharma, or systematized teachings of the Buddha).

From the available record, we learn that these monks often awakened fully from studying with the Buddha. They mostly interacted with each other, so their consensus reality was Buddhist and they shared the goal of realizing their Buddha nature.

In the United States, we live in a hegemonically Christian culture, so it is uncommon to encounter anyone who shares that goal. Christian culture only perpetuates and reinforces our ignorance. To some extent, to be Buddhist at all is to offer a sort of cultural dissent, a claim that one believes Buddhism is not necessarily better than any other tradition, but that the Buddha was right and that to follow him is the best choice.

If we get enough people to start meditating at all, but especially to do so as Buddhists, we could eventually make Buddhism hegemonic. The world would be a much happier, more peaceful place if we can accomplish that goal. So, start meditating and make your own, personal reality Buddhist. Add to the critical mass we need to make Buddhism the consensus reality.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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