Jump to content

Buddhists’ Delight - NYTimes.com


Skyler
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • Moderator Emeritus

Buddhists’ Delight

 

WHY was I in a tent in northern Vermont? Much less a tent in the woods at a Buddhist meditation center, reading Sakyong Mipham’s “Turning the Mind Into an Ally” by the light from my smartphone?

 

If you really want to hear about it (to borrow a phrase from Holden Caulfield), I was on retreat. Perhaps I should say, I was in retreat, from a frenetic Manhattan life, hoping to find the balance and harmony that have formed the basis of the Buddhist tradition ever since Siddhartha Gautama discovered enlightenment around 2,500 years ago while sitting under a Bodhi tree in Northern India.

 

The fundamental insight of the Buddha (the Awakened One) is this: life consists of suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment to the self, which is in turn attached to the things of this world. Only by liberating ourselves from the tyranny of perpetual wanting can we be truly free.

 

Not that I am ready to renounce this world, or its things. “I am still expecting something exciting,” Edmund Wilson confided in his journal when he was in his mid-60s: “drinks, animated conversation, gaiety: an uninhibited exchange of ideas.” So do I. But I need a respite from those things, too.

 

I wasn’t eager to end like the Buddhist couple who went on a retreat in Arizona and turned up, one dead, one nearly dead from dehydration, in a remote cave. But I am far from alone in my choice of spiritual nourishment. The Vermont retreat was so oversubscribed that people slept on futons in the Shrine Room. (I was lucky to get a tent.) Dr. Paul D. Numrich, a professor of world religions and interreligious relations, conjectured that there may be as many Buddhists as Muslims in the United States by now.

 

Professor Numrich’s claim is startling, but statistics (some, anyway) support it: Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the United States. More Americans convert to Buddhism than to Mormonism. (Think about it, Mitt.)

 

Many converts are what Thomas A. Tweed, in “The American Encounter With Buddhism,” refers to as “nightstand Buddhists” — mostly Catholics, Jews (yeah, I know, “Juddhists”) and refugees from other religions who keep a stack of Pema Chödrön books beside their beds.

 

So who are these — dare I coin the term? — Newddhists? Burned-out BlackBerry addicts attracted to its emphasis on quieting the “monkey mind”? Casual acolytes rattled by the fiscal and identity crises of a nation that even Jeb Bush suggests is “in decline”? Placard-carrying doomsayers out of a New Yorker cartoon? Uncertain times make us susceptible to collective catastrophic thinking — the conditions in which religious movements flourish.

 

Or perhaps Buddhism speaks to our current mind-body obsession. Dr. Andrew Weil, in his new book, “Spontaneous Happiness,” establishes a relationship between Buddhist practice and “the developing integrative model of mental health.” This connection is well documented: at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, researchers found that Buddhist meditation practice can change the structure of our brains — which, we now know from numerous clinical studies, can change our physiology. The Mindful Awareness Research Center at U.C.L.A. is collecting data in the new field of “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” that shows a positive correlation between the therapy and what a center co-director, Dr. Daniel Siegel, calls mindsight. He writes of developing an ability to focus on our internal world that “we can use to re-sculpt our neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas that are crucial to mental health.”

 

I felt this happening during my four-day retreat. Each day, we sat for hours as bees hummed beyond the screened windows of the meditation room, a converted barn. It was hard to concentrate at first, as anyone who has tried meditating knows: it requires toleration for the repetitive, inane — often boring — thoughts that float through the self-observing consciousness. (Buddhists use the word “mindfulness” to describe this process; it sometimes felt more like mindlessness.) But after a while, when the brass bowl was struck and we settled into silence, I found myself enveloped, if only for a few moments, in the calm emptiness of no-thought. At such moments the seven-hour drive from New York seemed worth it. Good stuff, Read More. :)

Edited by Altostrata
corrected link

As always, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! A proud supporter of the 10% (or slower) rule.

 

Requip - 3/16 ZERO  Total time on 25 years.

 

Lyrica: 8/15 ZERO Total time on 7 or 8 yrs.

BENZO FREE 10/13 (started tapering 7/10)  Total time on 25 years.

 

Read my intro thread here, and check the about me section.  "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up." Lily Tomlin

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Use Privacy Policy