John Lockwood

Unboxing a Mind

Scary Trip to the Sangha, Part One

This was a whole article in itself, that I wrote before my visit to the new Dharma Center in Sacramento. That turned out so well that I considered not publishing this at all as being really rude and tasteless in light of the actual experience, but I’ve decided to leave it in for several reasons.

  • It’s a good example of how untrustworthy my “predictions” (usually “fears”) of future events are.
  • It was pretty funny when I wrote it.
  • In light of how it turned out (for that see part two), it’s even funnier, albeit now in a way that’s less flattering to my skill as a humorist than as a sort of psychological pratfall.

Anyway, here’s the original article, beginning with the original title:

Meditation Difficulties of a Bad Buddhist

I’m a bad Buddhist, or rather, I was. Maybe I’m not now, in the eternal present that is all that matters, etc. But until recently I was pretty bad. I haven’t mediated consistently. I only turned vegan a few months ago. If I were a bad Catholic, I’d start with “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” I’m not sure how Buddhists in my position start.

I’m trying to add meditation back into my life. If you’ve ever tried to meditate, seriously or not, or even if you’ve just read about it, you may already know that there’s a rich literature of how-to guides from experienced teachers. I’ve read a few of those, mostly in the Buddhist Vipassana tradition.

A lot of these books include helpful advice on what to do about difficulties in meditation such as judging one’s wandering mind, physical pain, and so forth.

I have my own meditation difficulties, some of which may echo the difficulties these excellent teachers discuss. On the other hand, some of problems I have don’t get a lot of attention in the works of good Buddhists. Two in particular have caused me some difficulty.

The Hoopla About Sitting

I meditate at home the way I sit comfortably at home, on my lazy boy furniture. It’s comfortable, so if I’m sitting to meditate, I sit like I sit. I’m fifty-seven years old, and I’m still a bit overweight. If you’re skinny and twenty and proud of your full lotus, I certainly don’t want to begrudge you any of that. Even if I were going to begrudge you something, it would be about the fact that you’re twenty, not about the full lotus.

There are other styles besides the full lotus, such as the Burmese position, because apparently people in Burma sat that way. It seems to me if they’re still doing it we should be calling it Myanmar position. And of course, as the Yoga Journal tells us: “Finally, yes, you can use a chair if you need to. No shame in it.” The question is, if there’s no shame in it, why are you saying there’s no shame in it?

Because of course there is.

None of this would matter, of course, if it weren’t for the second thing.

Well It’s the Same Old Sangha

(With apologies to the Four Tops for the pun).

Part of what makes you a good Buddhist (as opposed to an avid meditator, which you could certainly be without being any kind of Buddhist), is that you go for refuge to the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma. The Sangha is the community of Buddhists practicing together. In the Christian world we’d call it a church or a congregation. But Buddhists usually use the Pali or Sanskrit word for things – that’s half the fun. But yes, you can use English if you need to.

There’s no shame in it.

At home I have a nice lazy boy to sit on, and it’s pretty comfortable, but it’s not a special place set aside. (Oh yeah, did I mention? … you’re not supposed to do that, you’re supposed to have a special place set aside.)

But tonight I’m going to venture out with my wife to attempt a feat at the heart of my meditation difficulties – hanging around with westerners who as part of their religion think you should sit as though you weren’t a westerner. My attempt to be a better Buddhist, or a regular meditator, or whatever the heck I’m attempting is leading me to hang out at an event sponsored by one of the local Sanghas. I hope it works out OK.

I’m vegan now – well, my diet is anyway – so I should be able to ace the potluck if nobody looks at my leather belt. (If you’re curious, we’re bringing a recipe based on this casserole). Then we’re going to all sit together. My lovely wife has set me up with a pillow that should work out OK. I certainly hope so. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to look at someone in a chair and say, “That’s OK buddy – no shame in it”.