October 9, 2008

The Mindful Life: Waylon Lewis of elephant journal, for New West.

Look! This is your world. You can’t not look. There is no other world. This is your world: it is your feast. Look at the greatness of the whole thing. Look! Don’t hesitate—look! Open your eyes. Don’t blink, and look, look—look further. ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche



May “I” Be Of Benefit

I’m a “Dharma Brat,” the nickname—for the first generation to grow up from the get-go with the terrible technological brilliance of the West and the esoteric wisdom of the East—is said to be a mishmash of “Army Brat” and Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums.” 

In any case, when you grow up Buddhist, you notice that everyone’s always sitting around. They call it meditating. As a child, I remember wanting to yell at a building-full of meditators at Karme Chöling, in Vermont, “What are you afraid of! It’s a gorgeous day! Get out there and live!” Only later did I realize what hard work it was. Working with your mind. Becoming friends with oneself. Seeing through the incessant blah bla blah that speeds by so fast that, like a spinning tire, it looks solid. We look solid, that is: we think we exist. From there comes the urge to preserve and protect. From there comes the us vs. them mentality. From there comes ego, which is something I know all about.

But if I didn’t holler at them there Buddhists, they sure did at me. When you’re a child living at a Buddhist retreat center in the middle of nowhere (the exact middle: Barnet, Vermont), what happens is you get told to shush a lot. I was a just a kid. I ran and jumped instead of walking and laughed and yelled instead of talking. That didn’t go over so well with the meditation crowd.

Now I’m an old man of 32. I’m an adult, mostly. Folks don’t tell me to shush, anymore. They do, from time to time, suggest I put fewer photos of myself in my own magazine. I shrug, helplessly. I’m hopeless. For better and worse, I yam who I yam and I ain’t who I ain’t. And one thing I ain’t is someone quiet, or shy. I’m all about me. Not very Buddhist, I know. 

And that’s where, as a young man, Buddhism hit home. Because Buddhism says…well, first of all, Buddhism says “don’t believe anything Buddhism says unless you can personally experience it and find it to be true.” And secondly, Buddhism says, “You’re nobody. I’m nobody. I don’t exist.” Then, in the Heart Sutra (the most beautiful, rhythmic sutra I know) Buddhism goes on to say that “though I don’t exist (form is empty,) I also am myself (emptiness is form)—and that’s not only okay, that’s great.” It’s great because only through my own personal experience of our world and my life, can I develop compassion for others. And for myself. Finally, it says the thing that gave my life direction: “Be a ‘bodhisattva.’” Use my understanding of my lack of self—my awareness of my self-involved self, my compassion for my insufferable self—and then and only then go out and help others. Save the world. Change the world. Be an example. Be a good person. Live a good life, yes—but live a life that’s not only good for myself and my loved ones, but for everyone, and the world. 

‘Cause lots of Americans live the conventional idea of a good life: go to school, join a frat, get a job, work hard, make money, buy a big home with a big garage to put my big car in, and retire rich but dissatisfied. And lots of others live a life that’s good for others: go to school, join the co-op, become a teacher, change children’s’ lives and work day and night every day of the week for a few decades, and retire poor. But not enough people do both: live a good life that also happens to be good for others. Get rich doing something you love that the world actually needs. Make your mission in life about service. 

And that’s not merely a Buddhist idea. You’ll find that in just about any religion and culture worth its salt. 

And that’s what “the mindful life” is meant to be all about. And that’s what I aim to do with my life. I want to get rich doing whatever I happen to be good at, so long as what I do is good for others and the world. I want to get famous and spread the word. May my every action be of benefit to all sentient beings, as the twice-daily Buddhist aspiration goes. In Buddhism, someone who’s enlightened is called a Tathagata—literally, one who’s crossed the river. But it’s better to be a Sugata—one who’s crossed the river and enjoyed doing so. No kidding. So enjoy your life. And the best way to do so is to help a world in need. Be eco in your everyday habits. Practice meditation, just a little bit. Align your career, your passion and your skills. 

Speaking personally, it’s a fulfilled life, if not always an easy one. I work all the time. Just a few years back, I had a reputation for being a wild n’crazy guy. Now, I spend quality time with my laptop. My idea of a good time is to quit work at 11, watch a West Wing, and sleep. But I’m not playing a teeny-weensy violin. I’m fortunate. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be of benefit.


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