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Buddhism Is Not What You Think

Here's the pop quiz: who saw the moonwalking bear?

It's a trick of sorts, of course. By asking you to be aware of the white team passing the basketballs, I led you away from whatever else was going on. (And yes, some of you didn't get caught and some of you have seen this before.) But it shows you how what we're thinking affects what we see. When we're caught up in a thought, we're missing things.

Buddhism at its heart is a way to escape from what we think, and a collection of techniques that help us make our escape.

Gautama Siddhartha, the man who first saw through to how to see things as they are, spent six years doing every kind of yoga and ascetic denial he could find, hoping to find The Answer. After giving up on that, and having a bath and lunch, he sat down to figure it out. And did. And it's a good thing, or I'd have nothing to write about. But the story goes that he was walking down the road and ran into someone who saw him, happy and serene and completely untroubled. This person asked "Are you a God?"

Siddhartha said, "No, I'm not a God."

"Are you a saint?"

"No, I'm no saint."

"But there's something special about you -- what is it?"

Siddhartha thought about it for a moment, and answered, "I am awake." The root in Sanskrit for "to awaken" is budh- -- so he's known now as the Buddha: the guy who woke up.