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I Don't Want to Practice Buddhism

I have a confession to make.  I don’t like brushing my teeth.  The feeling of plastic bristles scraping gunk off of my teeth along with the sensation of mouth wash burning my tongue isn't fun to me.  

But as much as I don’t enjoy brushing my teeth, I dislike the thought of cavities and bad breath even more.  So, I grit my teeth and brush twice, daily without fail.  It’s the grownup, responsible thing to do.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as it relates to Buddhist practice.  The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism states, “Suffering is caused by desire.”  

Of course, this begs the question, “Shouldn’t we desire to practice Buddhism?”  Recently, I decided that the answer is, “no.” 

To be fair, we're all human beings.  And it's safe to say that we all come to the practice in the hope of fulfilling some sort of desire.  Perhaps we travel in social circles where doing "spiritual work" is a source of status, and we like telling our friends about weekend retreats at the temple.  Perhaps we had a bad experience with the religion of our birth, and we want a new spiritual home.  Or perhaps we're in pain, and Buddhism is our "hail mary" attempt to make it stop.

Whatever desire led us to the path is perfectly fine and valid.  However, if Buddhism is going to be a lifelong practice, desire can't always be the fuel in our engine.  Because in the same way that brushing our teeth isn't always fun or enjoyable, there are times in life when walking the path isn't everything we'd hoped for.

Sitting on the cushion is hard work when we could be watching TV.  Going on retreats when we could be partying with friends is a tough decision to make.  And prostrating before an altar feels strange to our western sensibilities.  So, while there are times when Buddhism gives us exactly what we desire.  There are other times when it doesn't.

In these moments, it's important that our practice grows not from a place of desire, but from a feeling of responsibility.

I know what my mouth feels like when I don't brush my teeth.  It's gross and it causes suffering for myself and others.  So, even though I don't want to brush my teeth, I do it anyway because I'm responsible both for my well-being and the well-being of the people who interact with me.  I don't have the right to make them smell my bad breath, so I take steps to keep that from happening.

Similarly, I know what my mind is like when I skip my evening practice.  I get agitated and it becomes difficult for me to focus.  I anger more easily and my speech becomes less skillful.  I don't like the way I feel when I'm in this state, and I don't have the right to expose others to it. 

So, even when I don't want to do it; even when there are shows on Netflix that I want to binge and my bed is looking especially comfy, I always make time to sit, chant and bow in front of my altar each evening.  It's the responsible thing to do.

Namu Amida Butsu

 If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!

I Don't Want to Practice Buddhism


  1. This was a really good analogy that is so present in everyone’s life whether we prescribe to a religion or spirituality or not. Thanks for this post, it’s really got me thinking about things in my own life.

    James :)


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