The other night we had dinner with friends, one of whom we didn’t know very well. The conversation was engaging, particularly when two of the people began discussing their mutual interest in Buddhism. Both had been practicing for many years. I have a rudimentary (putting it mildly) understanding of Buddhism, which is to say I know almost nothing but find it intriguing. So, I asked for the basic tenets. Carl said it starts with some “rules.” Keep in mind these are my words paraphrasing his explanations and most likely not doing them justice but you’ll get the idea.
First is impermanence, which is to say, nothing lasts forever and/or everything changes. Everything dies, that’s another rule. So, if you get those concepts, everything else in life falls into a category of, in a way, not really important. When my daughter was 3 she referred to unimportant things as “nevermind.” “That’s ‘nevermind’,” she’d reply if you brought up a topic she considered too inconsequential to even discuss. So, Lisa, the other Buddhist breaking bread, said, for example, the issues my family has been dealing with for the last year and a half as my mother–in-law was dying and my siblings-in-law were scheming to grab all of her assets for their own , in the view of the average enlightened Buddhist would be “nevermind.” (Or as I might less politely put it, bullshit.) In other words, we should have been able to put it all in perspective and let it go without allowing it to pierce our hearts, our souls or our minds, as we did.
That was an epiphany of sorts. Of course I knew the drama the despicable siblings had generated was somewhat insane but I was sorely lacking in the ability to see it for what it was — “nevermind.” Rather, I took it to heart, I suffered great angst, I worried, I schemed ways to stop them, hell I even wrote an entire book as I processed all they had done.
If I were an enlightened Buddhist, would I have done none of those things? While that looks pretty good to me in hindsight, I wonder. If the only thing that matters is that which might actually kill me and come to think of it not even that because as an enlightened person I’d have accepted my death because I know for sure it’s coming, then what would I write about? If everything but death takes on less importance wouldn’t that also make it less interesting to process?
If I could no longer muse on human drama because none of it mattered, would I be happier? Practicing Buddhists appear to be calmer, more peaceful, and more accepting of drama. They don’t seem to need to process in the endless (some might say annoying) way I do. Maybe I wouldn’t be happier but would I be more at peace?
I’m planning to read more about Buddhism. Yesterday Kindle offered a free download of a book called something like “Buddhism for Beginners.” I’m going to read it but I’m not sure I’m going to be more peaceful as a result. In the meantime, I’ll continue breaking bread with interesting people and I’ll probably follow up by processing what they said.
I may not be cut out for Buddhism. If you’d like to comment and explain the many ways I’m wrong about this, go for it. I’ll probably process what you say as well.