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Buddhism Is Not What You Think

I can't tell you what Buddhism is. I can only show you where to look.

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

January 6, 2013 - 1:51 pm

He answered, “Nobody special.”

Nobody special.

Of course, the Emperor responded, “Would someone throw this bum out? I thought you had a Great Teacher for me. Who’s booking the entertainment in this palace?”

So, yeah, I’m nobody special. But then, that’s the core of Buddhism: it’s nothing special. It’s all common sense, and once you see it, it’s the simplest thing in the world.

Read the essays for enjoyment and interest, like you’d read a comic book; I’ll try to be entertaining and interesting. Just remember one of the greatest pieces of advice the Buddha gave:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

(Oh, okay, that’s a very free translation of something from the Kamala Sutra, but just roll with me, okay? Buddha said something like that.)

If it’s nothing special, though, why write a book? My reason is that I think Buddhism in the West has been loaded up with a lot of mystical crap. A lot of it was introduced by the original Victorian translators, who were often Theosophists, and London-club mystics, and generally people who wanted it to be mysterious and different and therefore something that was Not Quite Proper. Victorian hippies. What “native” Buddhism there was, was either Chinese, with lots of red and gold and fireworks and dragons and stuff, or Japanese Shin, which is less flashy but just as alien. Then Zen got picked up by the Beats, and we had the Dharma Bums, and Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs Jr., and Allen Ginsberg. Then Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche showed up, bringing Tibet’s own style of Buddhism, and Zen centers like Tassajara opened up in the 60′s and 70′s, and it was off to the races.

Don’t get me wrong, by the way: I think Allen Ginsberg may have been the greatest American poet of the 20th century; Trungpa Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a title that roughly means “treasured”) was a great teacher, and a helluva lot more fun at parties than most preachers. The chants, and ritual, and paintings, and the general fol-der-ol he imported from Tibet is fun, and moving, and peculiarly beautiful to my eyes. But it’s something added to original Buddhism. It’s ornamentation. And I think it gets in the way for a lot of people who aren’t by nature Orientalists, as I am.

But then if Buddhism is not the gorgeous ceremonies and saffron robes and incense — or samurai, and seppuku, and Japanese calligraphy — then what is it?

I can’t tell you. It’s something you have to find out for yourself.

I can, however, begin to show you where to look. Watch this video. As it suggests, I want you to watch very carefully and to count the number of times the team in white passes the basketball. Now, watch carefully, as there is a quiz right after the page break.

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