By Brent R. Oliver
Hi, there. You probably don’t know me but my name is Brent R. Oliver and I’m a Buddhist.
The thing is, I’m not awesome at it. I’ve been studying and trying to practice it for about 18 years now, but it’s not going great. I mostly blame myself.
Buddhism saved my life once but I’ve done a shitty job paying it back. Rather than embodying the teachings and spreading them far and wide, I’m still staggering along the path like I’m running from the Blair Witch. I’ve practiced in all three major flavors of Buddhism, mostly without adult supervision, and usually badly. While I have no doubt that Buddhism as a generic, overarching system, is correct for me, I’ve never felt totally comfortable with a specific brand of Buddhism.
It’s not quite as superficial as it sounds. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing and investigating Theravada, Zen and Vajrayana, but it just doesn’t feel like any of them are an exact fit. There are things I love deeply about all of these traditions, but there is also plenty that rubs me like a left-handed hooker—the wrong way, you know?
After almost two decades of steady failure and a high amount of weirdness, I’ve realized I’m not like other Buddhists.
Do I want to bring an end to my suffering and experience the sublime whatever of total enlightenment? Sure, assuming it exists. But I also want to do shots of bourbon, watch trashy horror flicks full of boobs and blood, and blare Slipknot on the porch while I sharpen my machete.
My viewpoint is not traditional, nor does it follow the clear-cut lines that have been established here in the West. In fact, I feel like my particular Buddhism is becoming distinctly post-traditional in order to survive in the modern world and I’m thrilled The Tattooed Buddha is allowing me to share my journey here. Their motto is “An Evolved Dialogue” and I want very much to be part of that evolution.
So, why did I name this column Tales of a Gonzo Buddhist? Hunter S. Thompson is one of my heroes and I’ve always admired the huge clanking balls and monumental insanity of what was eventually dubbed “Gonzo Journalism.” Hunter wasn’t just reporting stories; he was participating in them. In the same way, I’m not simply telling tales about Buddhism; I’m living them. “Gonzo” became a term to denote the highly subjective, eccentric, and downright bizarre nature of Hunter’s approach.
That’s what I’m doing here. I’m not a teacher, nor am I a leader or role model. I’m not some rare breed of sagacious mystic trotting out spiritual advice. Come to think of it, I’m probably the Buddhist your teacher warned you about. I’ll never be on the “Self-Help” shelves at your local bookstore. But if they have a “Don’t Do This” section, I imagine my shit will end up there.
I’m not at all interested in having Buddhism and meditation sanitize my situation until only peace remains. I don’t want to chill and radiate serenity like an ersatz-enlightenment clone. I want to live loudly, with passion and ceaseless creativity. I embrace the weird in my life, in my writing and in my practice.
The last thing the world needs is another calm white guy with a soothing voice dropping saccharine platitudes like “your hate becomes you” and “realize the present moment is all you’ve got.”
Don’t get me wrong. I want very much to help but I fear nothing I tell you here will be helpful. I am, at best, sheer entertainment value. Most of what I say will be ridiculous, offensive, and/or pointless. But that combination is conducive to my particular brand of hilarity and I firmly believe the revolution begins and ends with laughter.
My Buddhist path thus far can best be described as “one mistake after another.” It’s irreverent, profane, belligerent, and fully weighed down by a shoulder-crushing chip. Where others see sacred cows, I see hamburger. I’m here to raise holy hell in the landscape of modern dharma, to wreak havoc and make sure everyone has a good chuckle along the way to awakening. My Buddhism is not the Buddhism you’ve read about. It’s not neat and clean and tranquil.
I am not a professional and, for fuck’s sake, do not try this at home.
Editor: Dana Gornall
In addition to being a columnist at The Tattooed Buddha, Brent’s writing has also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Morpheus. He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife, two cats, and a crippling addiction to horror. Swing by his website brentpurpleoliver.com for more information.