What he meant was that Buddhist practice--with it's unflinching insistence for honesty, awareness, and introspection, not to mention meditation--is tough; but life's a hell of a lot tougher without it!
Even while I was laughing I knew that he had hit on something powerful. Often times, through mindfulness, we're forced to confront the darkest aspects of ourselves--selfishness, greed, fear, hatred--and it's unsettling. The first couple weeks of practicing mindfulness I thought I was the most wretched, narcissistic person in the world. (I'm still not convinced otherwise.)
But what other choice do we have? After practicing Buddhism for several years now, I know that there's no other path for me. I'm beginning to understand what the Buddha meant when he said that, after practicing the Buddhadharma, you cross a point where there's no turning back. And it's not about making progress as much as it is about knowing that you'll never be able to return to the life you led before you met Buddhism.
Nor will you want to.
After a while, you begin to feel that the Buddha path is your path. You're walking in the Buddha's footsteps.
"Honestly!" my friend said, "I don't know how people do it without Buddhism?"
Again I laughed, because I knew exactly what he meant.
Buddhism stares reality right in the eye.; it doesn't sugar-coat anything. "Everything is impermanent. There is suffering everywhere." It doesn't blink.
What it does is offer, though, is a way to understand and transform that suffering. Buddhism isn't about coping or self-improvement; it's about learning to let go, to stop clinging, and as my Zen teacher says, "Learning how to open your heart."
And once you start down that path, you realize there's no turning back. And for me, that's reassuring,
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Fred Jackson (Free Tibet).