You may think that the title of this article is not meant seriously, that I am being sarcastic. My wonderful Buddhist life. Do I want to tell you how wonderful my life is and that it is so wonderful because I am a wonderful Buddhist who understands all about Buddhism and knows how to beautifully deal with all kinds of nasty problems? Or do I want to tell you that my life is crap and that the little I know about Buddhism doesn't help much when I get upset about something silly in the middle of a traffic jam? In fact, it is neither and it is both.
It is tricky to say whether one's life is wonderful or not. We could say that everyone's life is wonderful. When we are in a state of peace and calm and see things in a balanced way, we may decide to call anyone's life a wonder. Each moment of our complicated, difficult, even frustrating lives, is wonderful. So we could say that everyone has a wonderful life. Even if the person has to suffer all kinds of suffering. And we could also say that everyone's life is very, very difficult. And to some people it is so difficult that they call it suffering. And they actually do not want to have a life. So anyway, it is very difficult to say whether our life is wonderful, horrible or both. It depends on many viewpoints and situations. But I could easily say that my life is indeed wonderful. When I think back and recollect the most wonderful things I have experienced in my life so far, I could say Wow and wow and wow and I could go on wowing for hours or even days. And then I would stop because I would run out of memory. But I can also remember times when I felt extremely horrible, hopeless, lost, or at times I would shout out of sheer fury. And throw things around. It's interesting, but because right now I feel peaceful and content, I tend to think that my life is amazing. If you ask me in a few days, after having a couple of exhausting days at work, I may tell you that my life is too difficult. So it depends on how we feel at the moment of speaking. Anyway, you can imagine that my life is both wonderful and difficult, but I don't remember when I last felt really desperate. I would dare to claim that regular practice of zazen is extremely helpful when it comes to dealing with the most frustrating situations in our lives. I dare to say that zazen helps me return to a kind of balanced state even if I have experienced some pain or extreme frustration recently. I don't remember when I last had a talk about Buddhism and had to lie and pretend that Buddhism helps me have an OK life. Buddhism, or rather zazen and some Buddhist philosophy does help me have an OK life. But it is sometimes a very difficult life, sometimes my mind is far from balanced and sometimes you would be sure that I am a nutcase. But no matter what, I do believe that studying Buddhist philosophy and practicing zazen helps me, personally, always return to some kind of balanced state and go back to that terrible little job that I can't seem to be able to finish or go and apologize to my girlfriend or my students or whomever I caused a trouble. And I do believe that to you, if you sincerely study Buddhist philosophy with a good teacher and learn to practice zazen regularly from a good teacher, I am sure you can also find a way to return to a balanced state over and over again, even if only once a week or once a month, but that would be quite extreme, and find your true self , a moment of awakening - not satori, I mean just simply being at the moment without thinking too much - in the middle of a gray misty street on the way to work on Monday morning.
But back to the problem of "a Buddhist life". When we begin to practice Buddhism we usually have an idea about an enlightened master or a great, peaceful philosopher, or a super humble, innocent grandma wearing old rags and feeding some orphans and cats. Now those are Buddhists, you may say. I think it is quite natural to be very, very idealistic at the beginning of our Buddhist studies. On the other hand, I am not saying that an experienced Buddhist must be, no matter what, the same old idiot who argues with everyone over and over again, considers himself a master of zillion arts, is not happy with his latest model of Mercedes S class, has a dozen of mistresses that he beats on a regular basis and is going to blow up his neighbor's house because his neighbor's kids touched his Mercedes S class when jumping around in the street. I am not saying that learning about Buddhism and practicing zazen leads nowhere, that we cannot make any progress and cannot become better people. And I am not saying that only a special few ones will attain the secret truth of Buddhas and the ordinary folks have to do without the supreme enlightenment and go home with a confused mind and feeling that there is something missing. No! Sorry I am shouting but I have to. I am saying together with master Dogen that there is something wonderful about dharma, the simple moment of practice-realization, the moment we just sit like a buddha and at the same time become a buddha because we are a buddha. That is wonderful and you don't have to be a special talented or chosen individual to experience the state of buddha. I agree with master Dogen that once we cut through the nets of words, and replace them with practice and experience, no matter if that practice and experience is zazen or cooking pasta, at that moment, when that happens, we are on par with ancient masters. And on par with pebbles, walls and fences. And master Dogen says that just sitting here and now in zazen is cutting through the nets of words and being immediately on par with ancient masters. So I absolutely agree that practicing zazen and forgetting words and just acting here and now is wonderful and I dare to say that I do have some experience practicing zazen, forgetting words and acting here and now.
But at the same time, although reading about Buddhism and reading about zazen may sound like going to a special world, a special temple, where everyone is wonderful and buddha and enlightened, the truth is that it is important to stop making a division between practicing zazen on the one hand and dealing with nasty situations in our everyday life. We must stop making a line between what master Dogen says about enlightenment and our very ordinary lives, our everyday situations. Because essentially, they are the same. So it would be a huge mistake thinking that we can play an enlightened master for a while when we burn incense, sit in zazen and read a few beautiful sentences about how amazing dharma is, as if incense, zazen and reading a few Buddhist sentences were a mere children's game and not our real experience. It would be a huge mistake to imagine that we can play Buddhists but real Buddhists are far away in the mountains, making straw sandals and talking to grass. We may imagine that we are only allowed to have a short glimpse into the wonderful, pure world of enlightenment, when we bow in front of the altar, burn incense, sit quietly in zazen and listen to some wise words of ancient masters. Once we have to leave the dojo and head to the toilet, take a shit, we have been rudely expelled from the Buddhist theater and must admit that we are only pitiful, stinking, useless, hopeless, stupid ordinary people who understand nothing. But true Buddhist teaching and experience couldn't be farther from that notion. In fact, once we stop playing a Buddhist in the dojo and actually go to the toilet, this is where our true Buddhist life begins. That's when we can really and deservedly shake hands with ancient masters. Not when we hope to become Buddhists or pretend we are ones, but when we dodge a lady rushing out of the kitchen with a hot pot in her burning hands. So the task is to realize that whenever we sit down and practice zazen, we are not holier or more special or closer to enlightenment than when we check the oil in our car's engine bay. And to imagine closer or father away from enlightenment would also be a mistake. We are there - in practice and experience of the truth - just when we do something.
So this is a point I have to stress. The whole idea about what makes a great or true Buddhist is not so much about what you have attained or achieved or what you have become, rather what you have forgotten about yourself and others so you could do something completely now. And now. And now. And tomorrow. And next year. So the whole idea about a Buddhist who has solved all their problems and now smiles and plays with mudballs in the fields or insects in the mountains, it is a nice idea and for some historical and cultural reasons, there were probably many Chinese or Japanese monks who ended up playing with insects in the woods. But that is not the point or the meaning of Buddhism. The point is that you are doing something, be it shopping in Lidl or cleaning your skateboard or teaching your daughter how to make tea, you are in the same situation like those Chinese monks playing with foxes and pushing oxen or kicking their own asses or kicking each other's asses or the oxen's asses. It doesn't matter what it is, you cannot expect a 17th century Chinese monk deal with credit cards and buying air tickets to visit his grandchildren over the sea in Korea. It wouldn't be fair. They had to deal with oxen and mudballs, we deal with air-con and repellents. And no kind of super human Buddhist master may expect a person of decent education and healthy mind to live in the woods and walk barefoot and chant sutras twelve hours a day.
Anyway, I think I am living my life in a way that is somehow naturally based both on my childhood experience and my genes, but also, on my Buddhist practice and study. I just feel my life has been strongly influenced or even positively diverted by that practice and study. At the same time, someone who doesn't understand the meaning of Buddhism at all, may not see any, I mean any trace of Buddhist practice or study in my everyday life. (Essentially we should not leave any trace of Buddhist practice or study, there is nothing special about a Buddhist that should stand out and be obvious, but I still think that if we have some experience in Buddhism, we can notice that we are not as confused as in the past and we have a bit more clarity about who we are and who we are not). To them, I am just an ordinary person who gets upset too often. Someone who worries too much too often. Someone who cannot finish a simple daily task. Someone who has funny ideas about funny things. These people, actually, are right! I am that stupid and silly. That is absolutely true. But at the same time, and that is something they just cannot see, I am immensely grateful and strangely happy. I can sit down and practice zazen right now and deep down I know nothing is lacking. I am not seeking something better than this very moment of experience, or in the words of master Dogen practice-experience. To me practice- experience is the most I can get, so I am not hoping to get more than that. Even if I sometimes hope to buy that Lancia Fulvia 1600, deep down I know that practicing zazen or driving my little Panda is better if I do it now and completely. So I don't know if you can say that I have a wonderful Buddhist life, but you can definitely say that I am a fool.