I’ve probably written about Buddhism two dozen times but never published a word of it. I think that’s owing to the fact that I don’t feel a sense of expertise, only an acute interest. Perhaps that’s not the best approach since even the masters of Buddhism don’t claim mastery.
I’ve never called myself a Buddhist because I’ve never been a disciple, but rather one fortunate enough to be warmed by simple proximity to its ideas. Its influence on my life waxes and wanes, but there’s an omnipresent feeling of kinship with those who ask the question “what should I do with my life?” and have the courage to answer it without resorting to self-deception.
To those who ask such questions, Buddhism’s 1,500 years of quiet introspection are hard to ignore. Its humble way of presenting deep truths unadorned makes it easy to mistake them for the mundane. We expect treasures to be hidden, not left in plain sight.
One important lesson I’ve learned from Buddhism is that thinking that your life should be without problems is itself a source of problems. An impediment to happiness. If we accept that we will always have (some) problems then we should rarely have cause to be upset by our situation. We’ve calibrated our instruments to be in line with reality instead of starting from the foundation that life should be something other than it is. This is what a Buddhist means when he says that our problems are of our own creation.
We should accept, even aesthetically that the world is clumsy, complex, and hilarious. Apes wearing suits because someone taught them to be afraid of their skin. A reverse Emperor’s New Clothes in which the naked man is wise and the clothed men have been deceived.
So many of the great sages of Zen and Taoism are remembered to have great senses of humor. Why is this? What exactly is it about being wise (in Zen) that creates a sense of humor? Maybe we need to question which way the arrow of implication points: perhaps it is having a sense of humor that leads one to be wise. If the ultimate answer is that there is no answer, what choice have we but to laugh?
It may sound like I’m suggesting both holding our most important ideas dear and laughing at them—and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
This post, started 2012-03-29, is part of a series of older writings I’m trying to polish and publish before they collect even more dust.