Skip to main content

Stripping It Down to Nothing

I love Buddhist rituals.  I love their history. I love their meaning. I love their ability to transcend time and space.  

When I bow, I embody the Buddhist ancestors who bowed before me.  When I light incense, I grab hold of a karmic strand that goes all the way back to Buddha.

Thus, my practice might seem arcane and esoteric to the casual observer.  I wear robes. I prostrate before my altar.  I chant and study sutras.  Each day, I go to the meditation hall and live as Buddha lived.  I do this so when I leave the meditation I can continue living as he lived; ending suffering for myself and all beings.

That said, there are times in life when these practices become burdensome, like wearing a fancy suit on a hot day.  The fault lies not with the training, but with me.

It requires strength to carry the rituals from one day to the next, keeping them alive for the next generation.  And there are days when my strength is lacking.

There are days when my mind is so frazzled, my body is so tired, and my spirit is so hurt by world events that just entering the meditation hall is a struggle.

In those moments, I take my Buddhist practice, and I strip it down to nothing.  I take off the robes.  I remove the incense.  I cast off the chanting and the sutra study.  The prostrations are the last fig leaf to fall. And when they do, I present myself humbled and (figuratively) naked to the Buddha.

Now that I'm naked, I'm lighter, freer, and able to move through the meditation hall unencumbered by expectations.  But I also have nothing to offer.  

Without robes, I can't show my love of tradition.  Without chanting, I can't show my knowledge of the Way. Without bowing, I can't commune with all living things.

Without the trappings of Buddhism, I'm left with nothing but Buddha.  Without the symbols of my practice, I can offer him nothing but myself.

So, that's what I do. I sit in front of my altar with nothing but Buddha and myself. I breathe deeply and I wait for Buddha to reject me.

But he doesn't. 

He accepts me 100% as the confused, misguided person that I am.  He sits with me, quiet and unmoving until I'm ready to get up and go back out into the world.

The next time I enter the meditation hall it's back to business as usual.  I wear my robes, I do my bows, I chant the sutras; following the example of the Buddhist teachers who came before me.

I don't do these things because they're required.  Rather, I do them as a way to say, "thank you".  I do them to venerate Buddha, his teachings, and the refuge they provide in a cruel, chaotic world.

Namu Amida Butsu

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


Popular posts from this blog

Magic Mushrooms and the Buddha Dharma

You meet all kinds of people on the road.  Some of them are clearly running from something; a past trauma or an action they regret. Others are clearly looking for something; a tribe of like-minded people or a safe place to call home. This results in a strange mix of people ending up in strange places and sharing their lives for any where from a few weeks to a few months.   You part ways knowing that you'll never see each other again despite your endless promises to keep in touch.  But you always remember the people you meet on the road, and your life is usually better for having met them. Case in point, I met a guy named "Fred" when I was farming in Indiana who'd lived an insanely cool life.  He did corporate America for a while, and decided it wasn't for him.  So, he high-tailed it to Vietnam and taught English for several years before deciding that he wanted to become a shaman.  After that, he made his way to Brazil where he wandered fo

3 Universal Truths that Buddha Taught

Philosophers have wrestled with the concept of universal truth for centuries. But no one has been able to figure out exactly what it is, or even if it truly exists. In fact, the existentialist philosopher, Nietzsche famously threw up his hands and stated, " God is dead ," while contemplating the question. Of course, he wasn't claiming that a literal super natural deity had died. Rather, he was expressing the fact that human conceptual thought around things like happiness, goodness, truth, etc. is inherently flawed. As a result, universal truth as represented by God cannot exist. In Nietzsche's view, the best we can hope for is to live as individuals, constantly striving against one another to impose our will to power upon the world. The Buddhist view, however, is different. While Buddha would agree that humanity's conceptual view of the world is limited, he observed three experiences that all living beings share. These are often referre

The Buddhist Teaching of Oneness

The teaching of Oneness in Mahayana Buddhism is one of the most important, and oft-misunderstood portions of the Dharma.   If we understand it, then practices like compassion and loving-kindness naturally become part of our lives.  However, if we misunderstand it, feelings of fatalism are the result. One of my favorite explanations of this teaching can be found in the Vimalakirti Sutra.  In it, a wealthy Layman name Vimalakirti falls ill, and it soon becomes apparent that he's going to die.  In his wisdom, Buddha sent Manjushri to Vimalkirti's home to see if anything could be done.   When he arrived Manjushri asked Vimalakirti, "Why are you sick?"  And the dying man responded by saying: This illness of mine is born of ignorance and feelings of attachment. Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick. If all living beings are relieved of sickness, then my sickness will be mended. Why? Because the bodhisattva for the sake of living beings e