Why am I doing this? Why am devoting my time to the practice of meditation?
For the origin of this question, take a look back at yesterday’s entry in The Buddha Diaries. I sat with it this morning, and came up with a ton of answers, the first of which was the portmanteau, In search of true happiness. That’s the conventional answer, repeated each morning in the form of metta.
Related to this: To find serenity, peace of mind, or some version thereof. To prepare myself for the rigors of old age—some of them already apparent, as regular readers will know. To learn to reduce suffering, and when necessary to live with pain. To become a better person, kinder to myself, to those I love, to those I do not even know. To become an island of sanity in a world of troubles. To be more tolerant, more compassionate. To fulfill a tacit promise to myself, to stay in practice. To become more fully aware. To learn more about the inner workings of my mind, and to have it function in accordance with my wishes, rather than its own devices…
And more. But I was looking for the answer that seemed to come from the heart and not the brain, and to bring with it a certain recognizable charge. And the one that kept returning was this one: Because I don’t want to die. Not, "Because I’m afraid of dying." But, specifically, because I don’t want to die: I meditate because I don’t want to die. As though meditation could help me to avoid the inevitable.
It seemed like an odd way to put it. Few of us want to die, of course, and those who do deserve our deep compassion. And a great many of us, if we cop to it, nurse a fear of death. That’s only human. But my answer seemed only tangentially related to that fear. It had to do with desire, or the reverse of desire: aversion. So the work of meditation might be to recognize the aversion and to hold it in attention.
To pursue this a little further, I’m sure it must be related to the difficulty I have with the idea of rebirth. I’ve come to believe that this is the critical distinction between two kinds of “Buddhism”: the essentially romantic search for happiness that has become common practice in the West, most particularly in this country; and what I think of as “real Buddhism,” the religion.
I struggle with this. On the one hand, I’m deeply suspicious of that part of myself that seems content with the comfort and ease of secular Buddhism; on the other, I continue to balk before the hurdle of belief. Death, clearly, will provide the resolution to my debate—though it’s impossible to tell in what way, and if at all, that resolution will be knowable. So… not wanting to die suggests a disinclination to know the answer to my dilemma. This, then, is what I need to sit with.
In a note regarding my answer to his question, Ken McLeod wrote: “Let go of the logical mind… Logic be damned.” Okay, I recognize that all of the above belongs in the realm of logic. So better, now, to sit with attention to my answer: Because I don’t want to die. And move forward into the next question “Why? Why don’t I want to die?” “Keep coming back to the body,” Ken writes, “and through your body, open to the emotions, one by one.”
Sage counsel. Hard to follow, for one who has lived for so long in the head!