When all your clever tricks and rationalization fail, when even Buddhism smells like just another trip, what are we to do?

 

By John Author

I don’t want to die.

Death and the rapid fleeing of time and opportunity weigh on me at times. The Diamond and Heart Sutras say that death is a perception and nothing more. It’s a noble teaching that offers me potential freedom from suffering, but I can’t entirely convince myself that it’s true despite the various insights and experiences I’ve had.

No matter what, I’m always brought full circle to the world of flesh and blood.

In this world, you and I are very real, isolated and impermanent but continuous. In this world, we’re born, we live, and we die. I can’t help wondering at times if practice is a clever kind of escapism complete with its more realistic, but still divine, stand-ins for God.

As the sun sets and I slowly gear up for another night of work, I’m left reflecting on my life and its ephemerality. I’ll be 31 this year; I’m less than a decade shy of the big four-oh. Here I am, with no children and the greatest love of my life unrequited, unwilling or unable to to do what’s best for me. A man fully aware of the state he’s in but still stuck in it nonetheless.

We can’t know what happens after we die, but if I was a betting man I’d place my chips on oblivion.

That should motivate me to be proactive and expressive, but instead it only upgrades my situation from fatalistic to nihilistic. When all your clever tricks and rationalization fail, when even Buddhism smells like just another trip, what are we to do?

Though Buddhist philosophy can fail us, the methods are sound. Even though the insights may be BS, the path leading to those insights is worthwhile. At times like this—of existential crisis—the most effective method is just grounding yourself in activity, not mindfulness. Mindfulness involves recalling certain aspects of the Dharma, but simply paying attention without any kind of motive. It is neither accepting nor rejecting anything, no commentary, no mind-wandering, just sensations.

Wrap yourself around whatever it is you’re experiencing and let it naturally unfold. This can lead to a kind of tantric appreciation of raw experience. When every view seems equally worthy of the garbage dump, when we’re faced with insurmountable, oppressing depression and anxiety, this is what grounds us.

I know that shortly, maybe even a few seconds from now, I’ll trust in the Way again, but that’s always been secondary to this simple method. It’s always useful, even when that fateful day comes and I find myself on the threshold of nevermore.

 

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Editor: Dana Gornall

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John Pendall

John Lee Pendall is a featured columnist, editor, and podcast host for the Tattooed Buddha. He's also a composer, musician, poet, self-published author and lay Buddhist. He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.

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