The path of compassion, insight and creativity - the struggle for GAIA and against the 1%-satrapy of war and wage-slavery.

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About Buddhism

I converted to Buddhism from being a general spiritual person in Jan 2000, I had been spiritual since my upheaval. I was on holiday in Thailand, sat in Wat Phra Keau, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and amidst all the tourists and Thais paying bowing homage decided I was a Buddhist. Because it was Thailand I decided on Theravada Buddhism, and haven’t looked back.

The most important part of that decision was that I became more disciplined, and from that day on attempted to meditate regularly. As part of that decision I later stayed a few times in lay retreat at Harnham Buddhist monastery near Newcastle, a place that will always be in my heart. Just to clarify Harnham is a monastery within the Thai Forest Sangha tradition so it fitted with my conversion. At one such stay I wrote most of this page which I have included here for context.

I made another important decision about Buddhism in the Summer of 2004. My parents had just died and I had an awful year in England doing probate – I always describe this probate year as the last time I ever wanted to stay in England because of the young pipsqueaks I met dealing with the probate who were perfunctorily lacking in any compassion. But the truth is they were the icing on the cake about England – I had not lived there since 1992, and I have never wanted to return. The decision concerned taking orders, should I become a monk? And the answer was no if I was still learning. I still am learning so the decision was right – for many reasons.

Why I am writing “About Buddhism” is to make clear where I stand and why I am going to write this “Lay Wai” series (if it becomes such). Considering what is the tradition of Buddhism has so many answers, like all religions it is in a mess. The word that best sums up this mess is Buddhadasa’s word “concocting”, it has been decimated by sankhara – mental proliferations.

Buddhism does a lot of good. In Thailand much that is good about its traditional way of life lies in the Thais being Buddhist along with a reverence for the old King that creates stability – in Thailand Buddhism and the monarchy are closely linked. I don’t know enough about the new King and the attitude of Thais to him but circumspection about the law (lese majeste) prevents any discussion of this. Buddhism and meditation (meditation is not exclusively Buddhist although I suspect it comes from the Hindu-Buddhist traditions) help many people sort out their minds, and sorting out minds is something that humanity in general does not do, and all the horrendous problems we have in this world come from distorted and defiled minds.

I am not sufficiently read, nor do I understand sufficiently the different schools of Buddhism, but it is sad to see the ways they are divided. There was only one Buddha, and what is recorded is generally accepted as his words yet we have concocting and mental proliferations about this that leads to very different schools. The divides are not bitter but considering that the Buddha preached harmony and compassion such division is sad.

The path of compassion, insight and creativity has helped me work through these divisions, and I came up with a lazy solution – Buddhadasa. Ajaan Buddhadasa was a Thai monk – died 1993, his Buddhist name means “slave to the Buddha”, and he devoted his life to understanding the teachings of the Buddha. In terms of Buddhist teachings I accept his authority, and rather than quoting the suttas I refer to his teachings. There are many and I haven’t studied them all, and I would not consider myself an expert on what he wrote. But what is important to me about Buddhadasa is the way I assess his understanding. I describe his teaching-style thus. He is a very dogmatic teacher, his talks contain much dogma, and suddenly he will demonstrate his insight. This dogma pervades his talks, and it would be easy to hear only dogma and not hear insight. At the same time he has an ability to bring all the teachings together. There is not a compartmentalised 5 this, 7 that, 4 this – common in parts of Buddhism, for me he brings it all together. So I like him, but for someone who does not wish to study Buddhism I am not sure how palatable he is.

Ego is the destroyer. I have already described how the sankharic ego has created schools in Buddhism with the concocting, but ego commits far greater crimes than this. Buddhist tradition recognises the power of ego to divide so monastics inheriting that tradition attempt to develop a non-egoic style. Typically the monk sits in lotus position on the stage and delivers a talk. The audience listens in silence. Of such gatherings I have attended, there will quite often follow polite chit-chat, and then a return to daily life. Traditionally this is accepted because of the dangers of ego.

But the spiritual path is great love and joy, compassion is powerful, for the world to survive people need to start embracing the path, yet such custodians of the tradition, the Sangha, attempting to avoid the traps of ego make the teachings antiseptic. I completely accept this. This is the purpose of sangha, the purpose of having a tradition – having guardians of a tradition, and long may the teachings survive.

I however am starting to recognise my Buddhism as Lay Wai. Throughout my life the spirit has meant that I pinball from one egoic conflict to another. I have no idea how much my own ego has contributed to these regular conflicts. I certainly know I make efforts to control my ego, I try to be humble, but I am Lay Wai. I don’t wear orange robes. When I see robes I see tradition, I see a respectful way in which I behave as a lay person, I respect the tradition those robes embody. But I am in lay life. As a lay person I have chosen to apply teachings in daily life, no matter how reclusive I get. If I am in daily life I meet ego, my own ego meets the ego of others, and there is conflict. But in a human way there is learning, and that is why I am writing as Lay Wai.
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