From Cynicism To Buddhism

Spiritualism & Buddhism
Hiking above Dharamsala, India, in 2008.

Hiking in the Himalayas above Dharamsala, India – home of the Dalai Lama – in 2008 (me in the middle)

“This place is full of hippies! It’s awful!” I emailed my ex-boyfriend, Tom, back in 2008. I was in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama. I wasn’t interested in Buddhism and I was only up in this village because I had met other travellers heading there. Fast forward six years and I am now writing a blog post about my transition to Buddhism. I would never have predicted it!

I was told that a pivotal moment in someone’s life often leads them to Buddhism. It can be a moment of intense joy or intense pain. For me, I had two moments. The first was a feeling of “YES!!! I AM ALIVE!” when I first connected with Mother Nature. The second moment was one of immense pain: a brief relationship in 2012, causing me to write the blog post about the destructiveness of the ego. That relationship consisted of two egos emotionally tearing each other apart. Luckily, we both had the sense to call it quits after two months. This painful relationship shook me to the core. I had previously had years of unhealthy relationships – some where people were destructive towards me, and in later years, relationships where I was emotionally manipulative and unreasonable to others. Finally, I decided, enough is enough. I needed to change. Dramatically.

Previous to this destructive relationship, I had travelled with Jo and Sara in Turkey, and they would get up early every morning and meditate. I would see them sitting there, cross-legged with their eyes shut, and I would cynically groan. Luckily, their influence stuck with me when I was finally ready to question myself and make drastic changes.

Travelling with Jo and Sara (with Ben!) in Turkey in 2011. They would meditate on in the nature every morning.

Travelling with Jo and Sara (with Ben!) in Turkey in 2011. They sat in nature and meditated every morning.

Sara in Turkey, 2011

Sara in Turkey, 2011

I emailed Sara almost every day with excited news about the changes I wanted to make to myself, and our favourite email topic was The Ego, or the sense of self. Sara gave me wise advice – that all of these theoretical changes were all well and good, but she believed that I needed to do meditation to see real change.

So when I arrived back in England last year, I visited the Buddhist Centre and started learning meditation. I enrolled on a course and my teacher said, “we are going to teach you a bit about the Buddha”. The cynic in me inwardly groaned again.

I have now been practising meditation and reading interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings for almost a year. I am gradually experiencing the benefits of meditation – I’m starting to get glimpses of awareness of my thoughts and emotions as they arise, and I have more of a choice as to whether I act on them. I therefore have more control over my reactions. And when I judge or blame others, I can sometimes see what’s underneath the judgement: the pain, the fear, the insecurity. Of course, all of this is work in progress that will be a lifetime of training the mind.

The Triratna Buddhist Sangharakshita states that

“Buddhism teaches that it is precisely the guarding of the self, and this habitual grasping at things to reinforce this fixed sense of who we are, that is the root cause of all our difficulty and suffering in life.”

I think that sums up perfectly how I have lived all of my adult life. Most people know me as being very opinionated in my politics, my veganism, and, well, just about anything. I have cried in arguments and lost friends through my moral superiority. In fact, arguing was normal for me in all romantic relationships. I have guarded myself wholeheartedly. Now I am in the process of breaking down my previous view of myself as a unique individual who was separate from everyone else, and who I had to protect at all costs.

Sangharakshita goes on to say that

“Adults crave not just material things, but instead crave success, recognition, praise and affection. When these things are denied, then a mood of frustration sets in. This produces in many people a deep bitterness, indulgence in criticism of others, fault-finding, nagging and other negative activities.”

I think so many of us can relate to this.

The Buddha taught that the Eightfold Path would lead to liberation from suffering. The Eightfold Path is amazing! It gives us waymarkers of how to live ethically, having compassion for all beings; it tells us about the importance of perfect speech and emotion; it even talks about the idea of transforming not only our individual lives but also society at large. The Eightfold Path is far too extensive to cover in this blog post!

In his book about the Eightfold Path, Vision and Transformation, Sangharakshita talks about modern society and livelihood:

“You can not live and work in a corrupt, basically unethical society without being besmirched by it….It is all very well to talk about the lotus blooming in the midst of the mire, but it is very difficult to be a lotus when the mire is particularly nasty and all-pervasive…Our work has a great effect on the mind. Your work, something you are engaged in for days, weeks, months, years, will have a tremendous – even terrible – effect on the mind, very often without you knowing it…

We have to change the world as part of the task of transforming ourselves.”

Last week I attended a talk at the Buddhist Centre in Brighton. Mark, the speaker, said that “Buddhism isn’t about becoming calm. It is like putting a stick of dynamite in your life. It isn’t for the faint-hearted!” He described practising Buddhism as “mess in progress” as we open ourselves to the beauty, the horrors and the vastness of our being.

4 thoughts on “From Cynicism To Buddhism

  1. Nice blog post. For me there are two key elements to the state of being towards which I am trying to work.
    The first, as you said, is to break down my view of myself as a unique individual who is separate from everyone else.
    The second is to retain a sense of responsibility, to realise that being an individual on this worldly plane provides us with an opportunity to act.
    In a way, this leads us back to the consideration of the individual and our potential as such. We have to clear our minds of the selfishness within, in order to access that authentic core, to be ourselves in a way that goes far beyond superficial traits like “personality” in the shallow sense.
    When we get past a certain age, therefore (30 in your case?), we have to leave the path we’d followed until then, of differentiating ourselves from others. Jung’s worth reading on this – individuation and then the second life task of becoming part of the Whole again. (Buddhism was his favourite religion!)
    Once we have become that clear and authentic person we then, I believe, have a duty to use that person, with its ability to act on the worldly level, for the benefit of the planet.
    In this way, Buddhism and other Eastern traditions do not naturally lead us to the quietism of non-involvement in the world, but to a renewed commitment and courage to act for the greater good, made more powerful by the fact that we are no longer distracted by selfish motivations and the notion that our individuality, with its material interests, is something we have to “protect at all costs”, to use your words.
    Thus for me, spirituality of a Buddhist kind (I’m not specifically a Buddhist, as you know) and anarchism work perfectly together and are in fact two aspects of the same way of being. One without the other is incomplete, like yin without yang.
    Paul

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