The essays in this loosely assembled and necessarily incomplete collection of essays are the result of a continuing effort to deconstruct the self—to disassemble some of its component parts and take a look at how they work, or sometimes fail to work, in the broad context of my life. I say incomplete because the task is of such a magnitude and the self such a seemingly solid entity that I do not see myself quite ever achieving the final goal: to liberate myself from the stress of holding it all together, in order to come closer to that elusive happiness of enlightened clarity and peace of mind.
The epigraph with which I introduce the collection is bound to seem quite blatantly paradoxical when all this writing is about the self. The words are those of my favorite Buddhist mantra: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am… I return to them for understanding and guidance every time I find myself entrapped in the delusion of my identity or enchanted by my ego; whenever I attach to those possessions I imagine belong to me; or whenever the vicissitudes of life become so overwhelming that I slip unconsciously into knee-jerk response.
They are words of great resonance for me; their profound truth never fails to bring comfort and reassurance. I have only to take a few good breaths and repeat them quietly to myself, and I find that I can usually re-establish inner calm in the most adverse of circumstances, along with a reasonable sense of proportion. Hearing them, I see my attachment to self-image or possession in the light of a greater perspective, and manage to let go of some of the stress and suffering these delusions cause me. The more I become aware of them and the power they exercise, the more easily I am able to free myself from their grip. That freedom, in essence, is what I would want this book to be about.
My daily blog, “The Buddha Diaries,” sent out into the world from my home in California, is the source of most of these essays. It is not particularly a “Buddhist blog,” in that it does not attempt to promote or explicate the fundamentals of the religion. Rather, it’s a journal whose pages allow me to explore any aspect of my life and any event that occurs in it from the wise perspective afforded by a strictly lay person’s acquaintance with the teachings of the Buddha. Collectively, these teachings constitute what’s called the dharma, but since I want my essays to have broader and certainly a not-exclusively religious appeal, I’ll settle happily for “teachings.” In them I have found the wisest and most practical guide to the examined life that I seek, in my later years, to lead.