Writing when I don’t feel like it. Being nice to rude people. Petting the dog because he deserves it, even when I’m wearing black trousers. Cleaning up the kitchen when I’m exhausted before bed because my husband did it in the a.m. Trying to be reasonable when people on FB are being idiots. This is practice.
It’s not just Buddhist practice. It’s practice for manners. For love, for metta — lovingkindness. Mostly it’s practice like violin or piano or baseball practice: because I’m not good at these things. Especially the whole ‘being nice to rude people’… And FB idiots…. Sigh. Especially in an election year!
I’m not really a very good Buddhist. I don’t meditate much at all — although I try to be quiet and ‘be’ during the day. And writing daily is a kind of meditation for me, as I’ve noted elsewhere. I don’t read the sutras very often. Probably I know more about Christianity than Buddhism, and I’m not a Christian.
I don’t eat vegetarian, other than abstaining from pigs. They’re too smart (they cry — more on that another post), so I don’t eat them. Or monkeys, or octopuses (and yes: that is the proper plural; look it up) although I know we’re not supposed to kill any being. At least I don’t drink (verboten in Buddhism), but that has more to do w/ family alcoholism and my desire to model having fun w/out drugs than Buddhism.
I don’t sit. I don’t go to temple. In fact, if it weren’t for the bodhisattva vow I made, I’d probably be considered just another bleeding heart Unitarian ????. But in fact, I identify as a Buddhist.
I remember going to Buddhist temple w/ our amah in Saigon — the ropy walls of a temple carved from the heart of a giant banyan tree. It shaped and framed my ideas of religion forever: it shows up in my writing over & over, even in my dreams, sometimes. A curtain of fragrant smoke from sandalwood incense hung before the entrance into the tree temple. Inside, a Buddhist monk — robed as all monks in Việt Nam are, in saffron — chanted the already-musical Việtnamese language. Something deep beneath Oklahoma, beyond Western, leapt up in recognition. This, I remember thinking, those very long years ago, is where God lives. This was the language God spoke, and the way God smelled. This was my home.
I never found the idea of God in any Christian church, I have to say. I’ve felt comfortable — as I did when I first sat in the sky-blue sanctuary of All Souls, my Unitarian home church, and the largest Unitarian church in the world. That’s probably the best Western religious home I’ve found. It’s the home of Emerson, Unitarianism. The academic, the scholar and writer and poet, we all feel at home there. And had I never been to Việt Nam or Thailand, I probably still would have ended up a Unitarian. It’s such an inclusive, open faith. There’s room for all the ‘mes’ — the neo-Pagan, who read Starhawk’s Spiral Dance; the Kabbalist who studied names and numbers and secret texts; the reader of both Testaments, and the Apocrypha, as well. The feminist scholar, the peace poet. The lover of Auden, the decoder of Pound.
Denise Levertov, in a poem I read once (‘A Clearing‘), said that “paradise/ is a kind of poem; it has/ a poem’s characteristics:/ inspiration; starting with the given;/ unexpected harmonies; revelations.” Sometimes I tell people that my religion is poetry. But when I think about it, as I told a friend, poetry is certainly my ‘practice.’ In the Buddhist sense of the word: your practice is your covenant w/ Buddhist doctrine. The Eight-Fold Path, the Four Noble Truths — all of which deal with suffering and desire, the roots of human despair. Your practice is what it is that helps you keep the Truths in mind, as you follow the Path. Sort of…
I know I should sit. I have, in the past. And I will again, I know. Right now, I’m practicing. Practicing how to be in the world. How to breathe when it hurts, not yell when I’m angry. How to walk into the fires that make me, always, a Year of the Dragon warrior, not a Bodhisattva, other than in desire.
A dear friend once told me to honour the dragon, to claim the fire that burns hot and bright, and find a way to use it. Maybe that’s what I need to practice. How to burn clear and true. Not how to sit, per se. But how to turn that flame of righteous anger to good purpose. I guess I need more practice.