By John Author
Webster says that a renegade is, “Someone or something that causes trouble and cannot be controlled.”
Another definition is, “An individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior.” So, The Renegade Buddhist is as good a title as any for this column.
It’s taken me awhile to write this article. I approach writing the same way I approach music. Instead of doing extensive tweaking, I just toss the whole thing into the vault or the void and approach the theme from scratch.
I’ve even done this with books before: 25,000 words, select all, delete.
The last version of this column had to do with why I view things the way I do, why I’m so anti-authority and anti-bully. I wanted you to get to know me better, to know the life events that brought me here to you.
But, fuck all that. I’m not gonna bore you with a long, self-indulgent autobiography.
Suffice it to say: I was rejected, stomped on, beaten, laughed at, and felt foreign in my homeland. I was forged from struggle, from the need to survive and maintain some modicum of sanity in an insane world.
Eventually, my peers stopped trying to destroy me. Then the battle shifted to me vs. the institution—another type of bully. Then, finally, me vs. myself; the most tyrannical bully of all.
The struggle is over, yet the drums of war are never silent. I can’t sit silently when I see others engaged in the same struggle that I was. I will always stand with the victimized and marginalized: the unheard, unwanted and unknown.
That’s why I stress the DIY method—the ritualized torment tossed on me from the majority and institutionalized drones is the reason I advocate working outside of lineages.
Whatever group you join will try its damnedest to remake you in its image; to turn you into a puppet, a voice-box for its ancestors. It’ll suck you into a one-sided view, and you’ll be unable to see your own ignorance because you will have surrounded yourself with ignorant people (all because you lack the confidence to do it on your own, to think for yourself).
Each heart keeps its own time; each mind is cloaked in mystery. No one knows me as I know myself, and the same goes for you. So no one else knows what’s best for us. No one can tell us who we are, only how we are—the forces and principles that give rise to all appearances.
I like to think that free will is at the heart of contemplative practices, that we’re all born with free will. Yet for some reason, maybe out of fear or forgetfulness, we freely choose to surrender that will to empty phenomena.
Clinging is the best example of giving something else power over our hearts and minds. To cling is to give up control to unreliable conditions. “All things are empty,” means that all things are unreliable. To crave is to misunderstand that satisfaction is a choice, that it comes from a perspective, it isn’t something gained.
I solemnly believe that Siddhartha’s path is indicative of all our paths in some way.
He relied on different teachers and teachings before finally going off on his own. He didn’t teach Buddhism (because there was no such thing as Buddhism back then), he taught people how to figure things out for themselves.
He created the Sangha as an alternative refuge for people who couldn’t do that in homeowner life.
He created a community of unified loners.
He chastised them when they placed the teacher above the teachings.
He didn’t even appoint a successor; the group did that.
Ever since them, it has been open to patriarchal rule and fostered dependence on teachers by making the teachings vague and formalized. That’s the same reason why legal documents are so heady—they want you to hire a lawyer (7777777. My cat Zoe just typed that part).
I throw up in my mouth a little when I hear people say, “It’s impossible without a teacher.” Maybe so, if the teachings are nonsense. An authentic teaching cuts right to the heart and needs no explanation. It transcends cultural, educational and religious backgrounds.
It’s as clear as the mind it points to.
Genuine enlightenment needs no verification. Did Buddha run around asking people if he was enlightened? Hell no. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, Buddha was exceptional.” That belief goes against everything Buddhism stands for.
Namely that, beneath it all, we’re all the same.
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”