Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Both No Escape and Loving Kindness

Pema Chodron's The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness has both what I love and dislike about Buddhism in one inspirational package.

First, there is no denying the Chodron is writing about profound topics that revolve around respect for oneself, others, the earth, as well as teaching a philosophy or religion where people see their own mutability, and therefore have compassion for other mutable creatures, trapped by their circumstances and fate, hoping to be free of the confining influences of life here as human beings.

My main problem with Buddhism is not the message, but the sub-text of that message.  Most of what westerners see of Buddhism is from teachers from the west, or those who fashion their message for the west.  Chodron's book is a series of talks over a month at a remote monastery in Nova Scotia.  People sit for most of the day, concentrate on their breathing, have communal meals, talk mediation walks.

This seems remote from daily, domestic life.  Who has Buddhist babies to make new Buddhists?  Who runs the house and makes the money and cleans the dishes and pays the bills.  The version of Buddhism presented in this book is almost purely monastic.  Since most of us do not live monastic lives, but in households, with children and spouses, what good is any of this?  The sub-text is a bit scary: the shaved heads, the loose robes, the lack of possession, life is fleeting.  Is this a religion that promotes a sense of life denial?

Also, most Buddhists are of the "folk" variety; they believe in many gods and goddesses, incorporate Buddhism in family life, mix their Buddhism with local belief  and custom.  Where  is this in Chodron's book.  It is simply not there.

The message of this book is wonderful, but how we are to get there strikes me as somehow presented in a less than ingenious fashion.  We are told that life is fleeting, desire is never satisfied, yet at the same time, we should remain attached to live and existence and be good.  Can we really be both?

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