I am sitting in the sanctuary of a Buddhist monastery “meditating.” I put that in quotes because what I’m really doing is resting in a chair, thinking. I’ve decided to stop in Berkeley, California on my way back to Washington state from Los Angeles. The route home had me passing right by on the freeway and then I was offered the use of a guest room, free reign to come and go as I please for as long as want. I tried to come up with a good reason to decline but could think of none. I plan to stay for a few weeks to explore Buddhism, which feels appropriate not just because the Bay Area is a hot spot for this particular faith, but also because of how I behaved when I was going to school here. As long as I’m going back and staring down old demons, I suppose it’s time to face the crappy karma I left in this particular place.

As a college student, I was not what you would call “lots of fun.” I was the person who hissed at people for talking in the dorm hallway past 10 p.m., who scowled at merry pranksters for laughing too loudly. I was very anxious about my grades and about proper behavior. I was an “old soul”—but not the beautiful, wise kind you hear about; I was more the grumpy, frowny kind. I suppose it was evidence of that old river of shame—the potent mix of fear and anger that had gone dormant in me for a time—bubbling to the surface again. I wanted everyone to suffer with me.

Wherever I was, I always thought somewhere else would be better. When I lived in the dorms, I imagined how much happier I’d be living in a student-run co-op; when I moved to a co-op, I thought I’d really start enjoying life once I had my own apartment; when I had my own apartment, I thought a different, more happiness-inducing apartment was the answer. This discontent clung to me year to year, month to month, second to second. I would reflect on moments that were infinitely better than the one I was currently occupying, perhaps a moment I had lived in the past that hadn’t seemed so great at the time, but now, in retrospect, took on the romantic patina of life lived right. Or, always, I longed for that fantastic future moment that I just knew, once I came to it, would offer up bliss as sure and solid as the ground beneath my feet. Of course, once I got there, happiness eluded my grasp like a phantom.

The monastery in which I am sitting is just a few blocks from my alma mater. The building is actually an old church, the white steeple a reminder of its former incarnation. The pews have been removed from the sanctuary and the tall windows that line either side of the room have been filled with various stained glass depictions of Buddha, some standing and some sitting. The altar remains, but now it has a gold Buddha statue several feet tall sitting on an intricately carved wood table. On either side is an orchid plant, the likes of which I have never seen; each boasts at least a hundred miniature yellow faces grinning out.

34 thoughts on “Buddhism

  1. I’m remembering my 30’s when I had similar looks backward (and inward) on my behavior and it’s motivation. Hope your passing through this review period, and making such amends as seem appropriate (to yourself and other) leaves you feeling as “light-filled” in your life as it did for me. Enlightenment can come on so many paths.

  2. To Corinna: “Oy, Oy, Oy…..” and now on to the silence of the Buddhist monastery. It seems to me there are as many Buddhist sects as there are “Christian” sects. What I always seem to feel from Buddhism is a inner sense of peace that requires nothing more of me than to become friends with the silence and self as well as others with a powerful sense of acceptance of all people as they are. I needn’t worry about whether or not I “sinned” and need forgiveness. I must learn to forgive others and as I become more forgiving I am forgiven. It’s a place one has to learn to live from instead of drowning in mea culpas in order to achieve it.

  3. Buddhism is crucially different from other religions you have experienced in that it is not about salvation. Escaping mortality is not considered important. It is, instead, about enlightenment, generally conceived of as the transcendence of desire.

  4. My first thought when I read your post was that I was sorry we don’t live close enough to lend you our first edition of “Be Here Now”. Not exactly Buddhism, but very much along the lines of the antithesis of your scowly, grumpy college years, lol.

    • Hi Patti, Before I started any of part of this religious journey, when I was just starting to feel the impulse to explore, I picked up a copy of Be Here Now at a used bookstore. It’s a very early edition, very funky and I love it.

      • You need to pick up as much of Alan Watts as you can find. His ‘explanation’ of Buddhist thought was/is well geared to the Western mind, I think, plus he was a very interesting man. I think you would enjoy him, if you haven’t already read him. 🙂

  5. Oh, Patti, I had to laugh about “Be Here Now”. Back in the late 60s I read it (stoned of course!) and thought it was the wisest thing I ever read. 45 years, many changes and, in MY 60s I sense God is trying to get me to pay attention to “being here now”. Great affection for that little book!

    O Corinna! this is exciting!~ “I would reflect on moments that were infinitely better than the one I was currently occupying…Or, always, I longed for that fantastic future moment that I just knew, once I came to it, would offer up bliss…” Tell it, sistuh! You and I have SO much in common. I too was concerned with “proper behavior” and was grumpy & frowny. I think I’m more looking forward to this part of your journey than any so far.

    Still reading, still loving you,

  6. Your honesty in dealing with the past and your emotions is part of the journey into religion. That is an excellent way to deal with all things – honesty…

  7. I am happy to be somewhere there is much less talking going on….where a person can hear themselves think….or better yet, not having to think at all….to just be. MET

  8. I think we all resonate with the “well, if I just try this I’ll get it right the next time.” For me, that’s cleaning a closet or organizing cabinets or making the effort to be nicer to my family or listen more or improve in this or that. It lasts for awhile but then the restlessness returns. I might strive to do better because these things, particularly the relationships are important to me. But I need a living person in God, one with whom I can connect; not just a life improvement program (although I certainly need that…) Buddha (am I am speaking in ignorance here) does not seem to talk back. But it does seem to give you space to withdraw for awhile, think, reflect, catch your breath in a peaceful place.

  9. Hi Ginger. After several years pursuing/attempting meditation and the Buddhist concepts of past life/karma/etc., I came to a conclusion that I didn’t fit well there. I’ll probably wind up recounting some of them as we go through the journey with Corinna, lol. One of the things I found most difficult was the Buddhist form of meditation. My mind is very tenacious about NOT shutting up.

    I believe that there are sects in Buddhism that do have more of the ‘talking back’ Buddha, and I think Corinna will probably be exploring them. I believe there are sects that have almost a Christian equivalent of heaven/hell, sin, atonement, etc. It’s been so many years (35 or more) since I paid close attention I can’t give specifics.

    For me, the end game was the complete impossibility of every overcoming the “Wheel of Life”, Karma, etc. There isn’t enough time nor eternity to get it right. At any rate, as a philosophy and way of life, there are many attractive things to study and many that parallel Christianity. As simply a life style……it’s got a lot going for it.

    So, although lifestyle isn’t the final answer for us, it will be an interesting journey with Corinna, as usual.
    Yours in Christ

    • The “talking back” figures in traditional Buddhism (in Asian countries) are not so much the “original” Buddha (Gautama Siddhartha) as they are folks like Kannon (Japanese) or Guan Yin (Chinese) and Amida (or Amitabha) Buddha, with whom people have developed very personal relationships. But as for never reaching the “end goal,” that’s explicitly recognized in Mahayana Buddhism. Look up the “Four Bodhisattva Vows”: “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to rescue them all. Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to cut them all off. The gates to the Dharma are beyond measure; I vow to learn them all. The way of the Buddha is supremely high; I vow to accomplish it fully.” In other words, don’t worry about not having finished the journey; you can’t.

  10. Hello Patti and all,
    I think that we all need to be careful to realize that Buddhism is much more than meditation and living in the now. I was curious about how many Buddhists there are in the world today so I went to the internet and found out that they are somewhere around 350 million people who proclaim that they are Buddhists…..that is 6% of the world’s population. For these folks, Buddhism is a belief system….a religion….and I think we need to remember to honor that. I know that you didn’t mean it this way, Patti…you were speaking personally….but Buddhism is not “simply a life style.” We in the West tend to pick and choose what we want from Eastern religions. And meditation IS a great practice for good emotional and physical health, but it is only one piece of the Buddhist’s religious traditions, should I say. You can’t really lay Christianity or Judaism down beside any of the Eastern religions and make direct comparisons. I will be interested in hearing how Corinna is able to make this transition from traditional Western religions to Buddhism. I am looking forward to your posts on Buddhism, Corinna.

    • What you say, Merrill, is very true. There is much more to Buddhism. One of the things I find difficulty with is that the smallest “practice” for one to work on seems to have a name of its own and trying to remember those names for each practice gets a little tedious to me. Nevertheless, knowing the names, makes one’s practice more focused. I’m being reminded, too, of a funny statement I read in the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, Awake! years ago. Of course,they have no use for the falderal of Buddhism and believe that all religions except their own, will be destroyed at Armageddon (the end of the world as we know it). After a pleasant report about Buddhism the writer said, “Buddhists may go down smiling BUT, they will go down.” Loved it!

    • Hi Merrill. It’s good to talk to you. Yes, I do know that Buddhism is a religion, and didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t or deny that many millions of people follow the Buddha. But I have to disagree with you that there aren’t mirror image situations in Buddhism and Christianity, just as there are in other faiths, each with the other. That is why I made the comment about the heaven/hell/sin concepts. They acknowledge sin, and punishment – a pitchfork is a pitchfork is a pitchfork. in Buddhism there are sects that, just as Christians do, promulgate a Heaven, a Hell, and demons. To me, that is mirroring each other. I was also thinking of the Buddhist “Golden Rule” that i taught when I taught Unity Sunday school, using the negative instead of the positive: Do NOT do unto someone else what you WOULD NOT have done to you.” Now, I will be the first to admit that I may have been given an incorrect translation there (Unity can be kind of loosey goosey), but that is what I remember. And like Judaism and Christianity, Buddhism can often be only a ‘nominal’ life style choice. There isn’t a monopoly on surface adherence to a religion in any of the three.

      When I called it a personal lifestyle, I was thinking of people I know who adopt many of the precepts of the Buddhist life (reincarnation, vegetarianism, non-violence, meditation) but do not think in terms of “The Buddha.”

      As Christians , Ginger and I could easily adopt some of those precepts (vegetarianism, meditation), but never the religion itself, which is basically what I was trying to say. I am a follower of Jesus, have never made any bones about it here and I won’t now. As I have said many, many times on this blog: I will respect the rights of all believers; I may not , perhaps, believe what they believe. I still stand by that, which is somewhat akin to Patrick Henry, actually, lol.

      And I will enjoy Corinna journeying and sharing things I only got from books.

      Yours in Christ

      • Hey, Patti! Actually I was trying to make the point that we need to not think that the precepts are what Buddhism is about….you and I are in agreement about that! After that, we need to be open to the things that may seem strange to us…”.How can they believe that?” Well, I have been saying that very same thing for the past year!!! Much of Christianity and Judaism has seemed strange and unnecessary to me….so perhaps I am just urging you all to be of open mind as we follow the next part of Corinna’s journey. Carry on!

        • That’s the beauty of Corinna’s blog. We look at journey’s through her eyes to places we would not have gone to ourselves. As far as changing anyone’s mind about where they’re at religiously I don’t expect that to happen. We all seem to have found that place where we are comfortable. I like that it seems to be the way of the “Nones” to walk into each place, not to be converted but to explore and to observe and to notice what happens to their inner being in each place. What I like about that is the eventual realization of a revelation that has no boundaries or commitment to a particular faith structure and yet becomes profound to the individual.

          • “I like that it seems to be the way of the “Nones” to walk into each place, not to be converted but to explore and to observe and to notice what happens to their inner being in each place. What I like about that is the eventual realization of a revelation that has no boundaries or commitment to a particular faith structure and yet becomes profound to the individual.”

            ~Frank, I love this comment, and I will be quoting you later on. Brilliant. Thanks for it.

    • Agreed, Merrill – it should be interesting! A good neighbor is a practicing Buddhist – she was born in Thailand and didnt come to the ‘states until her early 30’s…that being said, I truly love hearing her relive her memories and sharing her photos with me of her family and friends back in Thailand. Also, I have done some reading and followup on Ayurvedic medicine and its concepts, so we have a lot of thoughtful chats on that regard…But you are so right -the more I understand the meaning of what being a practicing Buddhist really is, the more i realize that I have so much more to learn because of being prejudiced wtih a stateside background LOL it is amazing really how family/friends/community are very important within their structure and celebations and teachings, and how there is no pressure to convert/attain – everyone is at their own speed – that liberation from greed, hate, and delusion thing 🙂 I think thats what i enjoy most of what she shares – plus she makes the best “hot” healthy cold dishes around when it comes to round-ups !

  11. Good morning, Frank!
    I don’t know the specific rituals and practices of Buddhism….all I know is that I have spent the past year listening to the “falderals” and intricacies of Christianity and Judaism, and I hope that we can honor those of the religions to follow. It is very difficult not to totally view the world through our own lenses…what we know and are comfortable with!….I am anxious to hear more about Corinna’s journey into Buddhism in the Bay area. MET

  12. Since we’re starting a discussion on a new religious path, the comments about differing views is especially cognizant. In society in general, and even on some of the recent posts here, there is the presumption that because some of us are Christians, we are either ignorant or contemptuous of other faiths. Some of that reputation is well-deserved and self-inflicted. But I think many of us on the blog have shown that is not the way most Christians think.

    There have been comments on this blog that haven’t even shown the common courtesy to refer to Christians as people, but rather as “spokespieces”, as if we’re unthinking automata spouting dogma like looped tape recorders. I’ve been Christian my whole life (in varying degrees of commitment and denomination), and I’m an educated man. Christianity makes sense to me intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and temporally. It has been my affirmative choice to continue being a liturgical Christian in my adult life. And religion ought to be a lifestyle, at least in part, because your religion should inform the way you act every day.

    As Patti said, there is, in fact, a broad spectrum of belief, practice, and commitment in all faiths, and even in Nones. One look at the newspaper will show you fanaticism is an ugly reality in any faith, from fundamentalist Christianity to Hinduism. And there are people who make atheism a kind of fundamentalist dogma.

    Since I believe there is a real, living God who cares about each of us individually, I think He accepts that, through the power of free will, we will choose different ways of understanding our spiritual lives and take different paths. As I’ve said before, I don’t presume to know how He thinks or to tell Him who deserves His love. If He wanted us all the same, He would have stopped at Adam and Eve.

    Being open-minded is a two-way street. As a Christian and an American, I have the spiritual, moral, and civic duty to respect others’ beliefs (or lack thereof), and, intellectually, learn form them and apply those lessons within my faith framework. I also have the right to expect the same level of courtesy and compassion from my fellow humans. We all need to be open-minded enough to accept the fact none of us will ever agree on every single point of faith or belief. All of us should be able to articulate what we believe without being labeled or presumed to be intolerant, ignorant, or unlearned. The only way to reach true understanding and respect is by being able to openly and honestly discuss those differences.

    • Yes, I think the word “falderal” can be out of our discussion for now. If someone thinks my beliefs are falderal, please don’t tell me. and I’ll do the same for you.

  13. Wow! Just started reading this post and a few of the comments. Sounds like many of you my agemates went through a Buddhism phase?
    Corinna, you remind me of my younger self, though I was not so grumpy, LOL. the grumpiness had to be put into me when I went through a time of feeling very self-righteous. You also remind of times when it seems as though I was waiting for the “next thing” to come into my life.
    I’m looking forward to the rest of this. I know next to nothing about Buddhism.

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