Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Least Amount Extra

Dunkin' Donuts and other food service companies bank on the fact that consumers want as much as they can get for their dollar. Why buy a medium coffee when you can get a large for only 20 cents more?

Because I don't want the large. I don't need the large. If I buy the large I'll probably drink the entire thing, and a medium-sized coffee has enough calories and caffeine for me.

I guess that's one of the reasons that Zen Buddhism appeals to me so much--it gives you just enough, but not too much. Personally, I don't consider the Zen that I practice to be a religion, mainly because it doesn't require me to believe anything. I view Buddhism as a series of injunctions, instructions, on how to wake up and live intelligently.

The Four Noble Truths are prompts for us to examine. Why do I suffer? What can I do to be a happier, more loving person? Emptiness is a cue to let go of our attachment to fixed ways of seeing the world. There is nothing sacred about a pizza being cut into eight pieces. It could just as easily be cut into six or sixteen. Don't let ideas lead you around by the nose.

In my experience, Zen produces the least amount of metaphysical and belief-based detritus of all of the "spiritual" systems.

Contemplative practice ultimately aims to transcend itself, lest it become the object of worshiping itself. People argue over the rules and doctrines of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of the time. In my opinion, the most effective systems are self-aware, and operate under the subtext, "Discard after using." That includes unnecessary institutions like the Christian Coalition to.... or the North American Zen Buddhist Association of Freethinking....

Optimally, Zen functions like a garbage can that we can use to remove all of the mental and emotional debris in our lives. But we must make sure to throw out the garbage can package too. If we don't then we accidentally fall in love with the practice itself, which is what happens when people--Westerners, in particular--fall in love with being Buddhist.

I suppose, if we were to extend the analogy to its limit, we must discard the can too. But then where would we throw our garbage? This final step implies that we can be done with our practice, as if we get to a stage in our lives when we no longer need to cultivate ourselves. This is the Myth of the Serene Buddha, and I don't think that it is possible to achieve because we are by nature imperfect beings living in an imperfect world--in a culture of excess, temptation, and delusion.

Every time we order a #3 at McDonald's, we need to make the intelligent, rational choice of whether to super size the meal for an extra 30 cents. Sometimes we make the level-headed choice and sometimes we don't.

Until then, delusions are endless; I vow to see them all for what they are.

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