By John Pendall (Author)
“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go…
“And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right where I belong
Silly people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door.”
As I find myself turning about again, planting my feet on the loner Buddhist Path I was born to travel; these are the parting words I’m offering to all the Paths that I wasn’t predisposed to walk—the Paths I had to, as prerequisites, close my eyes and hold a hand to walk.
This article marks the end of an era for me; it’s the final nail in the coffin I’ve been assembling for the past two years of practice. The tombstone reads, “Here lies John’s naivety, may it rest in pieces.” I don’t know where we’ll go from here, Reader, but wherever it is, it’s going to live up to the name of this column: The Renegade Buddhist. And it’ll be under my given name: Johnathon Jack Lee Richard Jessica Aloysius Steinbrachotalowitz III, a.k.a. John Pendall. I’m letting John Author enter parinibbana.
The tone, subject matter, and writing styles are going to be in a state of constant flux from now on because I am constantly fluxing (well, the surface parts of me are). I suspect that there’s something deeper that never changes. Maybe it’s that dime I ate when I was in preschool? So here’s a disclaimer: Don’t fucking get attached to me or form expectations—if you do, you will be disappointed.
I don’t have the energy to keep putting on masks or the will to keep fulfilling expectations: all of my energy goes to moment-to-moment meditation. I can’t effectively practice if I’m not the one practicing—if it’s my cultural conditioning that’s practicing or only bits and pieces of myself. For my practice to be genuine, I have to be genuine, which means having no regard for “oughts” and “ought nots.”
Digging below the, “I should be this way, I should be that way,” I realized that I’m not as “good” as I’d like to be, or as society would like me to be. Nor am I completely “bad.” I suspect that most people are a mixture of light and dark. The problem is that I tried to ignore the dark and intensify the light. That’s just dumb. If there’s, “Basic Goodness,” then there’s also, “Basic Badness.” Nonduality doesn’t mean the non-existence of this and that but the interdependence of them… duh (Looking at you, emptiness fanatics).
I’m not cut out for the Bodhisattva path; I was born to cruise in the Pratyekabuddha (Lone Buddha) Vehicle, to practice as a Pratyekabodhisattva and send my afflictions and confusion to nibbana one day at a time. I’m not a teacher; I’m a writer. I’m not a student; I’m a wanderer. I don’t practice within any school or lineage (neither secular nor traditional), and my “Buddhist” practice doesn’t have a name. I’m an introvert who comes off his symbolic mountain when the moment calls for it but then treks back up the slopes to rest.
Because my mountain’s freaking awesome, Dude! It’s got caves made of silver, gold, and rubies. Flowers bloom when you walk past them, and a cool breeze carries clean water into a basin from a far off stream. That’s the description of the mythological Mount Gandhamādana, where the Lone Buddhas reside. It’s a real mountain, but I think it’s safe to say that the version in that allegory is mythological. It paints a nice picture that could even be used in Samatha meditation.
My friends still consider me a Buddhist, but I just feel like a human being. I just feel like myself again. The teachings, like my bones, are usually far from my mind in day-to-day life and a vast portion of them don’t apply to this current, “changing of the guard,” anyway. I’m in uncharted waters and, strangely, that makes me feel like I’m more on the Path than ever.
The fact of the matter is that I couldn’t teach you if I wanted to—you have to do this yourself; this is your show. Even these words are your creation because if it weren’t for your eyes and mind, you wouldn’t be reading them right now. Their meaning is also your creation. If you didn’t speak English, they’d mean nothing to you. My profound insights are your mundane pointers. Best case, they inspire you; worst case they bounce off your fortifications.
I’m alright with either outcome because I’m just gonna head back to my cave and watch Netflix anyway.
The Lone Buddha Path (also known as a Pratyekabuddha) has gotten a bad rap over the millennia thanks to propaganda from the Mahayana. They’ve been called arrogant, apathetic, and dim-witted by those ever-compassionate Bodhisattvas who had the clarity of vision to call the early teachings the “Lesser Vehicle.” That’s not condescending at all, is it? I won’t deny that the Mahayana has some fantastic practices and some helpful views to use during meditation, but… eh. Most of my heroes from the Mahayana, like Huineng and Bodhidharma, more closely resemble Pratyekabuddhas than Bodhisattvas anyway.
Zen Buddhism kind of exemplifies the Lone Buddha Vehicle in a lot of ways, including deceptively simple teachings, non-verbal teachings, and transmission outside the scriptures. That’s all Pratyekabuddha 101.
Pratyekabuddhas are also said to usually come from lower classes and thus have an affinity for the poor, the subjugated and the laity. That’s all probably archetypal rather than actual but, odds are that even the Buddha is just an archetype as well. Pratyekabuddhas even have stupas dedicated to them throughout India and were traditionally seen as protectors and fortune-tellers, so the charges that the Mahayana leveled against them are obviously groundless.
The most slanderous accusation is that Lone Bodhisattvas and Buddhas lack compassion. While I might not be overcome by the warm and fuzzies when serving people, nor am I moved by the cries of the world like Avalokitesvara—the legendary many-handed bodhisattva that shattered into pieces from witnessing all of the beings that were suffering—that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore them altogether.
Lone Buddhas are criticized for living in the forests and mountaintops instead of in monasteries, but that doesn’t mean they never come out of the forest or down off the mountain. I come out of my cave because I’m devoted to the mind and to the Tao. Not just my mind, but all minds—the Mind. So often I’ve sat in wonder at how the mind makes its subtle connections, how it can sling out insights like dollar bills at a strip club, and how it can create such profound absurdities.
I love my mind; I love your mind. I love the mind of the ants, bees and little mechanistic bacterium. This wondrous Mind that imprints itself into all that it surveys, that appropriates all that it experiences and really, “Ties the whole room together.” I can’t be the prototypical devoted Buddhist, but I can be devoted to the Mind.
The mind is the Buddha, and that’s the Buddha I take Refuge in. The Dharma is the Tao, the natural principles at work in the universe, and that’s the Dharma I take Refuge in. The Sangha is the boundless web of cause and effect expressed as an infinite variety of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions; that’s the Sangha I take Refuge in.
Now that my begging is done, I’m off to my mountain again. Toodles.
Editor: Dana Gornall