By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
I like guns, especially rifles.
I believe that the use of the marksmanship skills I learned as a competitive shooter in high school, and in the Marines, is an important part of my Buddhist practice. Shooting demands total concentration.
In Buddhism, there are “levels” of concentration, three or four of them.
Right Concentration can help us cross over into blissful, “mystical” states that people sometimes associate with Buddhist practice. I think that through the use of the analogy of firearms shooting, the progressive development of Buddhist concentration might be easier to understand.
Let us not forget that Buddha himself was a champion archer.
I am going to proceed from this point on assuming that almost everyone who reads this has shot some kind of firearm, even if it’s only a pellet gun or one of those spring-loaded pistols that shoots the darts with the little suction cups on the ends. I would take into consideration that bowling is one of those activities that would lend itself to serve as a similar analogy, but I don’t know utter crap about bowling.
Sirs, a monk, who is indifferent to sense pleasures, indifferent to non-virtuous mental states, enters into and abides in the first concentration, which is conceptual and analytical, arises from indifference, and is joyful and blissful.
When you first learn anything whether it be shooting or driving a motorcycle, you develop mental formations such as rifle nomenclature and the names of all the various parts of a Harley-Davidson. Analytically, we’re learning to align sights to targets and the art of acceleration versus clutch release. Indifference falls away as the necessity for concentration becomes apparent: you want to hit the milk jug, not the dirt in front of it.
To keep pushing the metaphor—joy and bliss? It’s a lot of fun shooting at stuff. Guns are fun, but violent people have ruined guns for everyone.
Due to decreasing conceptuality and analysis, with the mind subjectively pacified and focused on one point, one enters into and abides in the second concentration, which is non-conceptual and non-analytical, arises from concentration, and is joyful and blissful.
As you become proficient and accurate with your firearm of choice you rely less and less on the instructions your Marine shooting instructor screamed at you in training: Squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it (you moron), make it a surprise so’s you don’t flinch (douche-bag), inhale, then aim and fire as you slowly exhale (don’t forget to breathe, dumbass).
As in driving, things become more and more automatic as you develop the “muscle memory” of what it is you’re doing.
Your skills improve as you allow the lessons to settle into your subconscious and become automatic, freeing you from the need to listen to your inner voice whisper the same message your D.I. screamed into your malleable boot-camp mind. Through this process your focus narrows and intensifies. Accuracy becomes foremost in your mind, to the exclusion of all other thoughts as you take aim and squeeze the trigger (like it’s your best girl’s boob, maggot).
So you’re moving away from the mental formation that is target shooting and getting into “the zone.” When you take a bad shot, you might refer back to the meme (do not anticipate the recoil, Nancy). And then when that milk jug target full of water finally explodes, you are elated.
But hitting the target isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of shooting. You have a desire to do it at greater distances, and get 10 bullseyes in a row. Anybody can get lucky once. You are ready to become “one” with the rifle.
Due to eliminating bliss…one enters into and abides in the third concentration.
Doing something in which you find joy does not mean that you feel more joy when you get better at it. Indeed, becoming a snake-eyed sniper, slayer of clay pigeons, or winner of the annual Christmas turkey shoot at the VFW takes the fun out of it. You may feel joy after you’ve won a competitive shooting match, but during the competition you want to be all business. You’re under pressure to perform at your peak. The better you get, the less emotional you are about it, because emotion does nothing to improve your aim.
End of analogy. I can’t make it any easier to understand than that.
The most significant thing any practitioner needs to remember is the universal nature of everything to change. But the understanding extends beyond the superficial realization of entropy and things falling apart, including your body as you age. There is much that is positive about change as well. And now you know that your ability to concentrate develops through stages, such that random thoughts don’t affect your meditation sessions, eventually, with enough practice, you experience that transcendent warm happiness you think of as bliss.
But it is all too common for practitioners to think of the bliss as the goal of their practice. There is a place beyond bliss where emotions don’t factor in at all. Being released from emotional feeling, especially fear, is as free as you can get.
And by getting there, universal friendliness happens. You meet the nicest people at the rifle range.
Editor: Dana Gornall
He wrote Buddhism for Dudes as a not-so-subtle, basic examination of the essence of Buddhist philosophy. It’s short and funny and to the point. “Way too much Buddhist information is too complicated to wade through, and some of it is fairyland voodoo, full of metaphysical improbabilities. Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a way to live a happy life. This is not hard stuff to understand.”
Stribling writes a blog called Buddhism for Tough Guys. “There are lots of tough guy Buddhists out there willing to take a bullet for anybody. One of their mottoes is ‘Just because I am a person who loves peace doesn’t mean that I have forgotten how to be violent’.” He once broke up an assault with a little kitchen broom. “It’s my best story,” he says.