Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Blogging: The Buddha Diaries

A couple of responses to my entry yesterday (thank you!) set me to thinking, not for the first time, about what I'm doing here on The Buddha Diaries. I have thought about it primarily as a "writing practice," not unlike my meditation practice: something I just do (almost) every day without having to worry too much about what I'm doing or whether I have anything "to say." It has been a great way to be the writer I have been throughout my life, minus the concerns about publishing: where to publish, who the readers are, how much to get paid--most often barely, or not at all. The Buddha Diaries--and The Bush Diaries that preceded it--have given me the opportunity to be the amateur, in that good, old sense of the word: a person free from any and all obligations, who does it simply out of the passion for getting it done.

But yesterday the word "wondering"* came to mind. I like the two associations of the word: To wonder means not only to ask questions but to stand in awe. I have known since leaving academia twenty years ago that I am not a teacher--or only incidentally. I do not set out to tell anyone what I know, or think I know, because they don't know it. I tend instead to marvel at the world and the fact that I have some small place in it and ask my questions not out of existenial angst, I think, but out of curiosity about my own humanity and that of those with whom I share this planet; and out of the sense that, through honest and scrupulous self-examination, I can become a better, perhaps even a wiser human being and thus live a fuller, more rewarding life.

What appeals to me about Buddhism is less what it teaches than what it asks me to learn. I love its practicality and practicability. For me--and perhaps this is why I resist embracing it as a religion--it's not about shoulds and ought-to's, beliefs and tenets, but rather about what works and what doesn't, what produces healthy results and what leads to more unwanted suffering. As I suggested yesterday, there are realities with which I continue to struggle: even though I "know" the answers, I keep struggling with questions. I learn, and something comes along to remind me that I have forgotten what I learned, and I have to learn it all over again. It seems to me that this is simply human.

The Buddha Diaires, then, at its best--for me, at least--offers me a place where I can look out at the world and my own place in it, and ask those questions, and learn those things about myself and about the world, and forget them, and learn them over again. It's a place where I don't want to pretend to "know" anything, but where I can find provisional understandings that serve me for a moment; a process that uses medium (language) to find out what it is I need to say, with the understanding that I may easily contradict myself the following day. It pleases me more than I can say to know that I have friends out there who want to read this stuff and who take the time to think about it and respond. It's the ultimate reward for any writer, and I am happy to have found a place where I can be true to myself without constraint or embarrassment and still find those who are willing to go along the path with me.

*In this context, a note: My nephew, Naftali, now approaching his mid years, has just started a blog called The Wandering Jewish Dreamer. It was originally called "The Wondering Jewish Dreamer"--I suspect a typo, but I liked the confusion of the two ideas, one an old cliche, the other perhaps a truth about the author... Naftali, an Israeli sabra by birth but American since schooldays, has always been a wanderer. At present, he's in Prague, thinking about returning to Israel for a spell, then back to Prague before coming "home" to the United States. I'll be interested to see where his wandering--and his wondering--takes him!


thailandchani said...

That looks like it will be a very interesting blog! Thanks for the referral.

I'm coming to terms with blogging a bit differently. Mine was intended to present a certain message.. or a certain way of looking at the world. I've wanted to plant some seeds, to perhaps cause people to think about things from a different perspective.

Lately though, I sometimes feel like I've said all I have to say. I post less and less.. although I don't intend to stop. Not yet.


naftali camiel said...

Thanks Peter. The wandering and wondering fit well together. I suppose that it really is more of what life is about. Blessings to you and the family. Be well. Naftali

carly said...

P: Yes, you do contradict yourself. And teach. You are a teacher at heart in my experience. You just like to say things softly, noncommittally. That's a good trait for a taoist sage, because soft is powerful. You probably find a "breaker of walls" repellent. Words however, can be powerful either way.

One thing puzzles me. Why can't a man know some things but struggle with, or question other things? There is something equally pious to me about that stance as the stance which feels certain about everything. Here again, the middle is best. Must everything be open to question? Or can some knowledge be laid to rest as verifiable beyond doubt and other not? Seems to me, knowledge and wonder can be married. There is a sureness in knowing something. There is uncertainty in wondering. Your implication seems to be that those who know things are only pretending to know, as you say you don't want to do. Or that they only think they know things, but cannot really ever know anything. I think either would be in error. There are many certainties in life and many are easy to decipher, identify, or distinguish. Other realities must be intuited, but can be done so with absolute certainty. And still other knowledge can only lead to wonder. Certainties are not about wonder, but have derived from it. Example: Galileo. Certainties, absolutes, surety, predictability - these words exist to describe reality every bit as much as wonder and awe.

One should also remember there is growth in certainty. as long as it's derived from clarity.

Wonder is certainly more wonderful than certainty. Awe is fantastic. But I see no reason to believe that either discredits absolutes. Absolutes may seem more limited than awe and wonder, but I don't think so. And I am the greatest proponent of wonder. But let's balance wonder with the predictability of universal truths and true clarity born of insight.

I think what is working in these ways of seeing knowledge is personality. Some people are just not comfortable with absolutes. For various reasons. We have seen so much abuse of absolutism that it is understandable. Or perhaps a person has had some experience which prevents his intellect from ever accepting surety. And there has been abuse of uncertainty as well.

I also think that writing in the form of an essay or blog, especially of political nature, does not seem the format for an artist or poet. Creative essays notwithstanding.

Conversely, when asked what does he seek, Picasso replied, "I don't seek, I find." But I'm certain he wondered...a lot.

Here's an absolute you may be able to agree with. What the world needs now is some certainty.

Certainty aside, when I express in paint, I deal with wonder. As Bacon said, "The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery." But I wouldn't say it is completely without certainty. Equilibrium is best. I don't need to question that.

Robin said...

For me, meditation is not just about sitting down and focus our mind.

My practice, thought by my teacher, is Lifesytle meditation, which is putting mindfulness in almost everything we do, as often as we are are mindful of it.

And plant good seeds.. the rest is up to ripening of the fruits of karma.

PeterAtLarge said...

Chani, that's the good thing about not having anything to say: it leaves ample room for more!

Naftali, you're welcome. Hope you get some traffic--and good luck in Israel!

Carly, a long and thoughtful response. Once again, I find that I don't actually disagree with much of what you say. Is it not a definition of wisdom, the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at once? I think, too, that there are different ways of "knowing"--one of which recognizes that all knowledge is provisional and subject to change.

Robin, YES! And the practice you describe is only simple when you remember to put it into practice. It requires so much by way of consciousness--more than I, often, am able to muster...

carly said...

Robin. Admirable. But sitting down and focusing your mind on what? Mindfulness often sounds a little like one thinks one is ill and must therapeutically practice by prescription, with the help of a therapist to become (psychologically) healthy. I contend we are already healthy, and only need focus on our naturalness, our own inner nature, which is essentially good, and connection to everything, which consists of living in the moment, being attached to the demands of the moment, and not looking at ourselves from the outside. This course leads naturally to ultimate good without practicing to be what we already possess. Unless, of course, if one thinks oneself is unhealthy, off-kilter, dirty, or possibly evil. Then perhaps one needs a therapist and a plan, book, or schedule to simply and easily be good and do right.

Peter: "the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at once?" sounds to me like a mental construct, a murky paradox, and not really a helpful concept. To see both sides, yes, but, there's a danger in it. One can be so open to everything, that the wind whistles through his mind. I prefer the ability to intuit the better thought. Therein lies the course to correct action or non-action. There seems to me to be confusion in trying to "hold" two opposing ideas as valid. An extreme example of what I mean would be, not knowing the difference between right and wrong. And there are people that have that trait. Scary. I keep away from people who can't choose a course between opposing thoughts. I would characterize what you might be talking about as reaching a wise thought out of the contradiction. Understanding the balance between opposites and their effects on each other is more beneficial and the height of wisdom is knowing where to steer between them.

I disagree that all knowledge is provisional. That's saying reality is dust. There are so many people who have poor knowledge, that your statement seems true. One man I listen to is Einstein, who being a great teacher, had many humanistic things to say about what is certain and what is not. He made mistakes and recognized them, but he also made statements that are eternal and infinite. Usually they were subjects about change concerning principles which don't change.

Speaking of paradox, here's a Zen saying that's fun, "Faith is riding an ox backwards."