Why is it so hard?

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  Like most people who study Buddhism, I didn’t start by going to a temple or by taking a class. I started by reading a book about Buddhism or meditation which somehow caught my eye, and decided I wanted to learn more about it. By the time I finally decided to step foot into a Buddhist temple, I had read probably close to twenty books on the subject, I had been sitting on my own, and thought I had a basic understanding of what Buddhism was. I chose a Tibetan temple because it was the only thing offered locally.

The Tibetan temple was nothing like I was expecting. Where was the serenity? Where was the peace and harmony? Where was the quiet mental reflection?

If you’ve never been to a Tibetan temple, they are loud. People are banging cymbals and blowing horns at unpredictable intervals, people are chanting things you have no hope of understanding, and many of them are spinning prayer wheels like they were Bruce Lee with a pair of nunchucks.

I decided I would tough it out though because I wanted to take my practice to a deeper level, so I signed up for the introductory class. I was given a copy of the various chants in Tibetan, with no translation or way to tell which order the chants would come in. I asked about this, and was told that it didn’t really matter. As long as my heart was in the right place the chanting would eventually come. Whenever I would get lost, I would ‘chant’ the lyrics to Hollaback Girl, Nellie the Elephant, or whatever other song came to mind.

I made it through the introductory class, then through the intermediate class. I took formal refuge and became an active member of the sangha. After a year of practice, I still had no idea what I was doing.

Every time I tried to figure out which chant we were doing, or mentally bracing myself for when the guy next to me would bang his cymbals, all I could think of was that I doubted if Siddhartha ever intended for it to be this hard. None of what we were doing seemed to be about ending the suffering of those around us. I was constantly being chastised because I had the wrong type of mala, or my Zen robes weren’t exactly the same as everyone else’s, or that I wasn’t fooling anybody with my Gwen Stefani chanting. This isn’t an attack on Tibetan Buddhism however, because many of the other styles are just as confusing and complicated.

Since The Buddha sought to liberate all of us from every form of suffering, shouldn’t our Buddhist practice bring us joy? Quieting the mind and controlling our emotions is difficult enough without us placing a bunch of obstacles in our way. During a typical meditation session, we might become so focused on ‘doing it right’ that we completely miss the point. Our mental chatter tells us to sit up straight, make sure your left hand is placed lightly in your right, don’t point your feet towards the front of the temple because that’s rude, and breathe in through the nose and out the mouth. Are my eyes closed? Should they be closed? Where are we in this chant? If I shift my legs will it be distracting to those around me? Can I take a drink of water? How much time is left? Am I doing this right? Is the teacher looking at me, and if so why? And on…and on…and on.

Many people call this meditation and think it’s having a still mind.

What happened to the middle way? What happened to trying softer?

This is just one of the many traps we can get caught in during our practice. Sadly this trap is reinforced in many temples and meditation centers. The Buddha did not give us the Eight-Fold-Path as something to beat ourselves up with.

If your practice, your philosophy, your political views, and your viewpoints on certain issues are not bringing you happiness then it’s probably time to let them go. I believe the term ‘unhappy Buddhist’ should be an oxymoron. Focus on the being happy, on the letting go of tension, and embracing the innocence of it all

May all beings be happy, especially those who are so bogged down in Buddhist rhetoric that they can’t see how unhappy they are.

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