I am a Buddhist and how I got here

It comes up at times that I am a Buddhist. Either people are conversing about subjects of faith, how people spend their time, or other aspects of belief. I do not parade it but I do not hide it at all either. I’m often wearing my mala on my wrist but not always.

I’m not an evangelical Buddhist but that doesn’t mean that I am less than convinced of its ultimate truth. I’m perfectly willing to let people of all faiths (or none at all) believe as they wish without feeling the need to justify their positions. It is a diverse world and you cannot force people to understand or believe something that they are uninterested, unwilling, or unable to believe. It is the nature of things.

People that know me often express some surprise about my Buddhism. This is because, frankly, I’m an impassioned, energetic, and impatient person much of the time. I’m opinionated and vocal. None of these match the common image of the serene Buddhist, taking life in its myriad of forms with a smile and a patient look. This really comes down to the fact that I am often both not a very good Buddhist and not terribly patient at all by nature. My natural response at the world is impatience with it when it (and people) do not fulfill my expectations or desires. This is a fundamental character flaw and an example of my selfishness. I am aware of it but the chains of habit from my lifetime are going to take quite a while to break. Mindfulness is a key to this process but I still struggle to maintain this mental attitude. And, sometimes, people do need a bit of wrathfulness to get their attention, cut through the bullshit, and get to the heart of things. The trick is applying skillful means to this and I have a long way to go.

Why am I a Buddhist? Well, because I am convinced that it contains basic truths as a tradition and because it also involves a process of questioning and examination that opens itself to investigation and the discovery of truth, even if it is at the detriment to doctrine or tradition. I’ll probably never be very good at the unquestioning membership in a tradition without asking awkward questions about basic assumptions. I have an antinomial and apostate soul, as much as I have a soul.

I have followed many spiritual paths to varying degrees over the years. I was raised a Roman Catholic by a mother who was a convert from a Methodist form of Protestantism (the Church of the Nazerene). She’s mentioned that we were almost Orthodox but she had better experiences when she first encountered Catholicism. I was an altar boy and my mother was a lay Carmelite at one point. I cannot say that I was ever entirely orthodox in my Catholicism because I was not an ethnic Catholic but I was devout, at least as a child. In retrospect, I find that the Catholic church never did a very good job at basic indoctrination with me. I assume it is because I moved around a lot as a child so I never attended any one church for a great length of time as a child until very late. By the time I went through confirmation (I believe I was 16 or so), I was only going through the motions and did not believe in God or the nature of Jesus as messiah. Sorry, folks, it did not wash for me. I’m of a very rationalist turn of mind by nature (which may be why I wound up in technology) and belief in God and the truth of the Bible did not fly.

The funny thing is that, in spite of this, I became involved with Neopaganism. From about age 18 through sometime in my late 20s (and even occasionally more recently), I would identify as a Neopagan even when I wasn’t involved with any particular organization or group of people. I met my first wife through a Wiccan coven, attended the OTO’s Gnostic Mass with her and my infant daughter, and was a lay minister within the Ring of Troth, an Asatru organization (now simply “The Troth”). When I was 23, I fell in with some friends from college and became involved in the “Western Mystery Tradition,” which is a polite way of saying “modern ceremonial magic.” I was instrumental with them in the founding of an esoteric fraternal order called “The Companions of the Stone” that focused on a system of magical practice derived from the Golden Dawn. This group was my primary spiritual outlet for years and I put a lot of my personal identity in it. When this order fell apart (for the most part) four years later, my partner of the time and I founded a study group for qabalah about a year afterwards and this became yet another magical organization. After a few years, she left the group (and me) but it continued on and eventually affiliated with the Aurum Solis, another modern magical order. A version of this local group still survives today and is led by one of my friends who was with the study group from the beginning. Over the course of the last five years, I also became involved with the Ordo Templi Orientis (the OTO). For me, it is a form of esoteric masonry but I felt that there were (and are) a lot of value in the core teachings that it promotes. It is through this group and mutual friends that I met my current wife.

Over the last few years (three to four), I have gradually pulled away from such things. In a lot of ways, there was not any one thing that I could put my finder on as to why. I just was not finding these spiritual groups personally fulfilling. Part of it was an examination of what I’d been doing since age 18 and part of it was looking at the nature of the groups and the people in them. There is not anything inherently the matter with them but for a group of people who say that they are plumbing the depths of the universe, they sure seem just as fucked up as anyone else. It is hard to take talks of powerful magic seriously from people that cannot keep a job or that you wouldn’t trust to watch your cat. The more that I looked around, the more clear that whatever the actual truth content of Western Esotericism may be (and I think it is there), most people are lazy and just engaged in normal primate behavior. They are looking for distraction and to have a good time (and to get laid) and that is about it. This is true in every group of people, regardless of most other circumstances. I had just hoped for more… I had wandered over much of the pagan and occult landscape, been involved very early on the Internet so I knew most of the people who had been online a long time, and it just wasn’t cutting it really.

In 2002, I took refuge at the Sakya Monastery in Seattle. Refuge is how one becomes a Buddhist, by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the group of practitioners). These are the “three jewels” within Buddhism. I had studied Buddhism through books from my college days on and had been fascinated by it but it seemed very alien in a lot of its cultural concepts. On certain days, it still does, actually. It doesn’t feel as “natural” as the Western traditions but I find this to be a matter of culture, assumptions, and training. When I look at what Buddhism teaches, I find it a lot closer to home for me.

Someone told me recently that Buddhism was misanthropic because it views all life as suffering. Personally, I don’t usually put the First Noble Truth of Buddhism that way. Life is dis-ease (lack of ease) and the grasping for things (which is the cause of this disease and is the Second Noble Truth). Unfortunately, as most adults learn, life changes, nothing lasts, and the things that you reach for disappear, never existed or rip your heart out and leave you. Of course, on the flip side, nothing is ever really so bad that there won’t be another day to start over, a new dawn, a new moment of joy or happiness. The point is that everything (and I mean everything) is transitory and people naturally desire things they like and try to hold onto them. The inability to hold onto the good in life and the process of wanting the world to conform to our wishes is the basis of the First Noble Truth (and the Second, actually). It isn’t misanthropic, it’s just a recognition of a key facet of human (and other) existence.

Buddhism is actually a positive message because what the Buddha then went on to teach was that suffering can be stopped and that there is a method for doing so. This was part of the nature of the Buddha’s realization.

The first two Noble Truths ring as so obviously true to me that I often have to work to understand how they seem to others. Once you realize this and then you look at the grasping existence that our growth oriented consumer society teaches, it is hard not to see the world as validating the perception that the real trick isn’t to get ahead in the game of life but to quit playing.

Some other time, I’ll probably right more about my Buddhist journey in and of itself but it’s past 1:00 AM and I’m tired. Time for sleeping.