By John Lee Pendall
I’m an antisocial, introverted Buddhist, and yet I love metta practice. How does that make any sense at all?
I really do wish everyone well. I want all beings to be happy, enlightened, and at peace—just as long as they do it, ya know, over there (I gesture as if shooing something outside of my imaginary bubble, which is quite large. I once said, “Ugh,” when someone stood by the river 20 yards away from me).
Whether someone’s going on about how great Nirvana is, or about how their neighbor’s dog keeps waking them up at 3 in the morning, I’d really rather be enjoying a good silence.
Compassion at a distance. What’s wrong with that? If you’re an introvert, or outright antisocial, Buddha practice isn’t necessarily going to change that because those aren’t always afflictions. Hatred is an affliction, irritation is not because irritation doesn’t linger by nature. As soon as the situation changes, the urge for me to tell someone to “Fuck off,” changes too. Hatred is an affliction because it endures, and anything that endures is based on unskillful views.
Buddha practice is simply about living without illusions, or at least living without getting bamboozled by them.
As a lifelong introvert, I sometimes feel peer-pressured by other Buddhists into getting all warm and fuzzy about people. It’s like everyone somehow got the idea that being a warm and cuddly, touchy feely global savior is the only way to practice. That’s simply not the case. In fact, Buddhism was originally created by people who did the opposite of that—by people who dropped out of society and lived alone or in small groups.
They spent their days trying to spot impermanence and dependent arising at work in all things. They sat silently trying to settle their minds and find their souls, souls that Buddha said didn’t exist in the mind or body. And when dealing with others, they were dedicated to being kind, patient, truthful and polite. But they didn’t waste words in idle conversation, and they didn’t gossip. Because shit like that tends to get our minds overly excited or cause distracting problems.
They also practiced cultivating the Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Even the Rhinoceros Sutra—one of the most introverted of introverted texts ever written—brings up loving-kindness and compassion. So, no, you don’t have to be a people person to genuinely care about people’s well-being. Hell, you don’t even have to like people to do that.
Have you ever gotten really pissed off at someone you love and thought, “I really don’t like them right now”? It’s just like that. In that moment, you don’t like how they’re acting, but you still love them. You love them because you know them, you have a history together.
We have an unspoken history with everyone we meet, a shared human history full of gains and losses, pains and pleasures, successes and failures. We have a shared future of sickness, old age, death and being parted from everything we love.
We have a shared accountability for our views and actions and it’s this accountability—and the way we handle it—that shapes the world and ourselves (not-two).
So we can still experience and cultivate loving-kindness for people without feeling intense warmth and love for them all the time. Also, loving-kindness has to include ourselves. The most kind and loving thing an introvert can do for themselves is master the art of silence and solitude to the point that it’s always available, even when we’re walking down a crowded city street.
This is all just my opinion, of course. It does fall rather short of the lofty Mahayana ideals I’m supposed to live up to, and I’m pretty sure that yelling, “Go fuck yourself!” to a random asshole violates at least one of the precepts.
But honesty is important to me, and I honestly just don’t have it in me to feel gung-ho about helping people or trying to wake them up. I mean, have you met people? They’re not that great. They hurt each other. When people allow themselves no individuality, when they don’t question everything and breakaway from the herd, they’re fucking awful to each other and have no capacity to find peace in themselves.
I’d love to help, I really would, but I didn’t experience illumination with direct guidance, so how can I guide someone else to experience it? There weren’t any particular ingredients behind that moment of, “Holy shit!” it was a big stew of everything heated up by trust—complete trust in our own natural wholeness.
You can’t teach trust, all you can do is be trustworthy and hope that people find their own way home.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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