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!