Dangerous Dharma

I’m here to rant you into a state of reassurance. May sound strange, but hear me out.

I got off to a good start this morning, but now after most of the day, I’m in a snit. Got tired, wore myself out thinking about things, especially zen. Wore myself out, listening to speakers talk about zen. Wore myself out not living my life, but listening and reading and thinking too much.


So, now I’m in a jagged tear. Rather than fight it, I’m going to vent. ‘Cause I feel like scrapping a bit, damn the torpedoes — and anyone else who says that bitching about stupid shit isn’t enlightened.

Here’s the thing that’s been getting to me fiercely over the past weeks:

American Buddhism sucks. Bilgewater. The Big One. Whatever else you care to suck, that indicates you’re lame and dense and full of crap. ‘Cause American Buddhism tends to be. Oh, sure, there may be truly well-intentioned people out there who are trying to discern and teach, but Christalmighty, they seem to be leading people down some primrose path, like a cymbal-clanging pied piper that everyone is just too happy to follow into oblivion.

I mean, come on people… what a watered down, emasculated, limp little excuse for a spiritual practice. Truly. All these people devoting their lives to sitting around chanting and wallowing in suffering and hanging on the words of their selected leaders. What a bunch of hoo-hah. All this talk about how suffering is “just the way it is”… and the most enlightened thing we can do is “be present with it” and “embrace it” and all that.

Bullshit. Suffering is optional. If you’re a die-hard American Buddhist, you’re probably going to hate what I’m about to say, but seriously people — There’s nothing that says with undivided certainty that we MUST suffer. Okay, so that’s supposedly one of the big tenets that the Buddha handed down, but I question fundamentally the supposed pronouncement that “life is suffering”, and frankly, I’ve killed that particular Buddha-ism and left it behind me on the road.

Life is NOT Suffering. Life just is. How we choose to experience it, is totally up to us.

That’s right. It’s totally up to us. Up to you. Up to me. Up to whoever wants to choose their own experience — and we all do, by the way. It’s not a given that we MUST all SUFFER, unless of course we agree that suffering is what we’re all about, and hooray for us, if we can wallow in it with the best of the world’s non-committally self-destructive masochists.

Real commitment will land you six feet under — or have your ashes wafting away on a strong wind. Whichever way you want it. But do people commit to total annihilation? Nope. It’s much more gratifying to marinate in your suffering — and the sufferings of the world. And imagine that the pain is clarifying and purifying you. It’s not, of course, but yet…

Countless American Buddhists choose to suffer along with the deluded millions all the while beatifying their spiritual masochism. They get off on it in a very big way, but they’ll never be honest enough to admit that they do, just like countless Christians will never admit that they got a distinctly sexual charge out of watching “The Passion of the Christ”.

This is just one way (of many) that US devotees have bastardized the original intentions of a faith, and then roped everyone into believing they’ve got it figured out. All you have to do is write a book about it, and people think you’ve got it nailed. I’m not saying I am cognizant of the original intentions, or that I do have it sorted in any definitive way, but I DO know that the one thing zen offers us, is the opportunity, even the obligation, to figure shit out for ourselves.

But somehow that message seems to be lost on US audiences. The suffering bit is a much tastier morsel. It sticks in the craw and gets wedged there, and before you know it, everybody’s sitting around delighting in their delicious pain, congratulating themselves on how much suffering they can endure. Hoo Ray.

God god. The thought that countless well-intentioned people are buying into the Americanized version of a distinctly Asian way of conceptualizing the world, layering it with all their Western European biases and slants… and then proclaiming that their dumbed-down version of “what the Buddha said” is the Truth… it just sends me over the edge.

Like today, when I was listening to a dharma talk by a leader of practitioners — talking about Bodhidharma teachings… “To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace?” And the teacher commenced to announce that having a body rules out knowing peace. They didn’t seem particularly open to the idea that peace might actually be possible. You’ve got a body. Bodhidharma said that your body brings suffering. And if you’ve got a body, can you know peace? The unspoken answer seemed to be an unequivocal NO.

Which is unfortunate. Because all my scrapping aside, I do know peace. In a very big way. Maybe that’s why I can scrap and still feel fine after the fact. Years ago, I tapped into the kind of peace that has no rational explanation, that can’t be understood unless you’ve actually lived it. To the casual bystander, it might not be obvious. Or maybe it is. To people who are clever and know about such things, who have their theories and their education and whatnot, it might not be explicable. Or perhaps it is. Who can say?

What I’m getting at, is that the person going on at length teaching the listeners about how to be in a body brings suffering and precludes peace, is about the last person I should have been listening to, today. My mistake, to download the audio and listen to it while driving around on a perfectly beautiful day. And what I’m getting at is that dharma talks like this are, in my estimation, pretty dangerous at times.

Dharma talks by any trusted source are, as far as I’m concerned, inherently risky.


Because they can take us out of our own experience, get our minds going, get our heads going, and fill our conceptions with all sorts of inaccuracies and half-truths. Who the hell is going to dispense whole-truths, anyway? It’s so relative to our own context, and when we turn to others to tell us how to think and believe and live — even if it has to do with Bodhidharma — or especially if it has to do with Bodhidharma — we’re really just asking for trouble.

So long as the information is coming from outside of our own experience — and from eons ago, no less — we run the risk of losing ourselves and losing our way, our path, and yes, our peace, simply for the sake of feeling “safe” in the shadow of others’ teachings.

See, the thing is — for me, anyway — we’ve gotta find our own way, we’ve gotta make our own way. It’s all very well and good to listen to what others have to say, but when we hang our hats on those others’ words and we hang on their every utterance, then we’re going down a long, dark, dangerous road that may seem brightly lit, but is full of dangerous diamonds that seduce us into thinking we’re safe and secure — when we’re just the opposite.

Peace is possible, and under certain conditions, probable. Suffering is optional. I have a hard time trusting anyone who says different.

You there, listening to dharma talks podcasts… Goddamn it — Get the hell out from under that false canopy and get out in the rain. Even if it is storming.


2 thoughts on “Dangerous Dharma

  1. That sounds similar to my understanding of David Brazier’s the feeling buddha where he says ‘buddhists’ got the noble truths wrong. He restated the ‘suffering’ and the extingush of suffering in a slightly different way which made sense to me. Isn’t the 3rd the release of dukka?

    I’m with you. Life is – and how the body/mind responds is, but the following to that response is the choice…

    • That’s very interesting. I may check out David Brazier someday. It makes sense to me that letting go of attachments brings the end of suffering/conditioning. I think the whole suffering thing has been way overblown, and has been turned into a sort of masochistic “sect” for those folks who feel they must suffer (either individually or with others) in order to purify their souls and/or help others to deal with their own suffering. It’s a common thread throughout human experience, and I’m sure it has its place in the whole of human experience. But that’s not all there is. And it’s not the only way to relieve suffering in the world.

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