By John Lee Pendall
With my cellphone recording the video, I spoke with a British accent while creeping down the aisle.
“Welcome to BBC (insert name of the retail giant I work for). I’m John Lee Pendall, and today we’re hunting the mysterious Ryanosaurous.”
I stepped out and walked two aisles over. “There he is now! What a majestic beast!” “What?” my co-worker replied as he turned toward me. “Crikey! I’ve been spotted!” I said, then I darted from the aisle, taking evasive maneuvers. I heard him laughing hysterically as I ran away. I sent him the video later.
This is Buddhism. It might not look like the stereotypical image we have of it, but it is exactly Buddhism.
Because without Buddhism, I wouldn’t have done any of that. I would’ve worked my eight hours in a quiet, angry daze wishing I was someplace else—wishing I was someone else or that someone would come by and make me smile. But, I’m an illusion, so who else am I supposed to be? Where else am I supposed to be? Who can I depend on when it’s my own confusion shutting me down? Cutting through it all, down to that juicy not-self marrow, it’s all really very beautiful.
I love life, and I’m learning to love myself only because I don’t take either of those things seriously.
I could die right now; it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just an image, my whole life is pure imagination. These words, this house, the big sky outside and all of these thoughts and feelings based on them, this very experience of them is not-self. And not-other, too.
Sometimes, it seems like everything is made of cloth, and that all these objects are folds in it. That cloth is the mind. Not “my” mind, because who am I? I’m just as much a product of the mind as everything I experience is. We know this true because when we’re in a deep, dreamless sleep, we’re not selves anymore. So I’m just another wibbly wobbly idea with delusions of grandeur and control-issues that awareness shines its light on. That’s it.
And meditation, fuck yeah! If your meditation isn’t fun for you, then you probably just shouldn’t do it. If it takes a lot of effort for you, you probably shouldn’t do it. The Surangama Sutra tells us that we should try out many different methods and meditation objects and then pick the one that feels right, that seems the most effortless to use and focus on.
It’s not supposed to be a struggle. It’s meant to be a quick(ish) and easy(ish) way for us to cut through the noise and see our True Nature.
It’s not about personal insight. I’m pretty sure the Buddha wouldn’t give a shit if you told him, “I discovered why I don’t like cats! It’s because when I was little, my…” yadda yadda, it doesn’t matter, you can just toss it out. You can really, ya know. The whole narrative, can just be ditched. Plop. We become what we concentrate on.
90% of my issues have solved themselves by me just no longer paying attention to them and instead focusing on the teachings and the practice.
I’ve never met anyone who’s used meditation to overcome pain and hardship who hasn’t gotten a swelled head because of it. “Oh, look at me, Mr. Meditator. I destroyed my self-loathing, whoopty-doo, I drive a Corolla and fart Sutras, la-di-da.” Unimportant.
Buddhism is about getting to the root of suffering, not wasting time with the little twigs.
Sure, you’ll have personal insights, but they’re just a byproduct. Like how light reflecting off of a mirror might start something on fire or shine light in some dark corner. But the point is the light and mirror, clarity and reflection. That other stuff is like the bonus tracks on a remastered Beatles album. Are they neat? Sure. Do you need them? No.
It’s fun working through suffering, getting to the bottom of it. It’s fun watching life change as that age-old ignorance gets dusted off and the jewel beneath it shines like a diamond. It’s fun seeing yourself, this weird, imaginary persona flower into what we always knew it could be if we could just get out of our own damn way.
I think that wisdom and compassion are prerequisites for genuine fun.
Wisdom unlocks us from all the conventions that bound us up, and compassion takes off the chain. Because fun is only truly fun if it involves others in some way. That’s why the Bodhisattva practices for others (even meditation) is done for the collective benefit of us all. We sit so that we can go out there and have fun, and let that happiness rub off on others because that’s how emptiness works: no separation.
We pass the light along until the whole world is aglow.
If that’s missing from your practice, I don’t know what to tell ya, you’re doing it wrong. I know, because I was doing it wrong. Either our meditation isn’t the right one for us, the things we’re studying aren’t appropriate for us, or we’re not practicing with the right spirit. Maybe all three. If we’ve got all three of those perfectly balanced, totally in tune with each other, then practice (and life) is a freaking blast. And when it isn’t, a little mindfulness usually shows me that it’s because I’m being stupid or that my practice has slipped.
Sitting and staring at a wall for 80 minutes a day might not look too enjoyable from the outside, but for me it’s—well, it’s everything. It’s concentrating, being mindful, watching everything shift to the peripheral, flow, and then (apparently) drop away, uninfluenced by the senses, and detached from all thoughts of future and past and without opinions of the present.
This is seeing the conditioned relationships between thoughts and feelings and watching it all come together to form this sense of self. Just watching the ice sculpture of myself melt back into the sea. Now that’s fun. And the life it nurtures off the cushion makes it worthwhile—this bright meditative nature out there brightening every corner in this chaotic, agonizing, shitty world.
Living naked, nothing to hide, all wounds laid bare to open eyes, each cut and bruise transforming into something precious and life affirming.
Yeah, “fun,” doesn’t even begin to describe Buddhism. It’s my life. I owe everything to this practice. And I hope that it sticks around for a few thousand more years, and that other people can find joy in it too.
Editor: Dana Gornall