What a difference a second book makes. I found most of Steve Hagen's Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense very difficult to read. As I said in a critical blog post, it was that book which didn't make sense to me, not the world.
The end of the book was decidedly better, though. So that encouraged me to order a book Hagen wrote some seven years later, Buddhism Plain and Simple. As befits its title, I'm enjoying the much more straightforward style of this book.
Back in 2004, when I started this blog, it took me less than a minute to come up with the tagline that has been under "Church of the Churchless" for the past sixteen years: Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence.
Since I believe in spiritual independence as much now as I did back then, Hagen's description of the central tenets of what the Buddha taught resonate with me.
Here's some excerpts from the first part of the book, which is all I've read so far. I've made some comments before each indented excerpt.
For 35 years I was under the illusion that there were people who deserved the title "God in human form." Now I know better. And that's why I enjoy learning about the Buddha's teachings, since they have zero connection with any god.
The Buddha never considered himself to be something other than a human being -- only someone who was fully awake. He never claimed to be a god, or to be inspired by God, or to have access to any occult or supernatural power. He attributed his realization and understanding solely to human endeavor and human ability.
A crazy thing about the world's religions, mystical paths, and other forms of supposed spirituality is that they all have conflicting beliefs, yet those who follow these creeds all believe that their particular faith is correct. Buddhism has a different view of reality.
Buddhism is not a belief system. It's not about accepting certain tenets or believing a set of claims or principles. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's about examining the world clearly and carefully, about testing everything and every idea. Buddhism is about seeing. It's about knowing rather than believing or hoping or wishing. It's about not being afraid to examine anything and everything, including our own personal agenda.
Christians think they're going to heaven. Eastern meditation practices, such as the one I used to follow, teach that there is a "journey of the soul." But that's bullshit. Nobody goes anywhere. Pleasingly, Buddhism embraces going nowhere.
Generally we think of a journey as involving movement and direction, either going out somewhere into the world or else leading inward, into the self. But in Buddhism our journey must go nowhere -- neither in nor out. Rather, ours is a journey into nearness, into immediacy. Our journey must be to awaken here and now, to awaken to here and now. To be fully alive, we must be fully present.
Religions pull in devotees, and their money, because they make people feel they're lacking something that the religion can provide. Like, salvation, life after death, heavenly bliss. Buddhism disagrees.
The question is: how do we do it?
In order to experience the answer to this question for yourself, you must come to three realizations. First, you must realize hat life is fleeting. Next, you must understand that you are already complete, worthy, whole. Finally, you must see that you are your own refuge, your own sanctuary, your own salvation.
Most of us wrongly think that what we lack is around some corner. So we do our best to get there. Where we discover that what we supposedly lack is around another corner. Actually, says Buddhism, what we're looking for is here, now.
You are already in reality, whether you see it or not. Reality is what's here, now. Thus you're here now, too. You know all this already, from direct experience. You're not separated from Reality. It's not "out there" somewhere, but right here.
I never was a fawning devotee of the guru who I followed for over three decades, Charan Singh. But I saw plenty of people who thought the guru could do no wrong. They thought they needed to completely surrender to him. How mistaken they were, according to the Buddha.
In his final talk before his death the Buddha said, "Each of you be a light unto yourself.; betake yourself to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone beside yourself."
You are the final authority. Not me. Not the Buddha. Not the Bible. Not the government. Not the president. Not Mom or Dad. You. No community of philosophers, scientists, priests, academicians, politicians, or generals -- no school, legislature, parliament or court -- can bear responsibility for your life, or your words, or your actions. That authority is yours and yours alone. You neither get rid of it nor escape from it.
Why are we so distrustful of our own capacity to live a fulfilling life, to be spiritually independent, to find our own way to contentment and happiness? Perhaps because thousands of years of false religious teachings have told us that we are weak fallen creatures who need to follow someone else.
Far from being a burden, this ultimate authority is actually quite wonderful. It means that you have the power to wake up. You have it now -- in your own hands. You don't have to go anywhere else. You can wake up right now, on the spot. You are fully equipped to do this now, in this moment. You already have all the power you'll ever need to realize happiness.
I have to admit that the following Buddhist precept is difficult for me to accept, because I'm so used to wanting something better than what I have now. However, it makes sense to me. Wanting never ends, though life does. So acceptance of what we have and are at every moment seems decidedly wise, since we don't know which will be our last breath.
To completely end your unease of mind, all you need to do is see that there is really nothing "out there" to get because, already, within this moment, everything is whole and complete.
I'm tired of abstractions. That's why I enjoy science and politics so much, along with Tai Chi, walking our dog, and doing chores around our house. Religious concepts like "God," "soul," and such have no meaning for me any more. I want my reality to be really real.
The buddha-dharma does not invite us to dabble in abstract notions. Rather, the task it presents us with is to attend to what we actually experience, right in this moment... So you don't have to do the long search, the frantic chase, the painful quest. You're already right where you need to be. The table is spread before you. Let's look at how to eat.