Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buddha says relax

Seriously, if that slogan isn't already on a T-shirt ala a parody of a 1980s pop group, it needs to be. But what if my problem isn't relaxation, but passivity? I've gone on before about the kinds of themes that tend to dominate Buddhist publications (magazines, books, blogs, etc). Is it me, or does the pushing of the concept of Buddhism as a stress-relaxation/calming method go overboard sometimes? It is true that psychological and physiological stress may be greatly reduced as a secondary reaction to the deeper repose offered by such contemplative traditions, but what is it that Buddhist practice really seeks to relax?

I am inclined to believe that it is about the existential crisis that tends to underly deeper spiritual and psychological suffering - Why am I here? Who am I, really? What do I really want/need? How should I live my life? Being settled in this regard naturally helps to decrease anxiety and it consequences (from depression to heartburn), but it isn't the goal per se. Nor does it mean that such contemplative practices give specific, abstract, limited answers to such profound questions. It might be more accurate to say that the "answers" are direct, comprehensive, and non-local. That is, it's more akin to intuitively understanding the principle of something rather than making an extremely complex series of calculations in an attempt to quantify and predict/explain a specific outcome of one of its processes. This also involves a greater freedom in being open to new possibilities rather than relying on prior assumptions and prejudices - it isn't a certainty about a specific theology or religious doctrine but a certainty about the value and potential of life (though it is true that when one has such a sense of being settled one may ascribe it to the veracity of ones particular sacred tradition, or to paraphrase what an acquaintance has remarked, people tend to believe in whatever they are doing/the religion they are practicing when they "find God").

That is why often in many Buddhist parables and teachings we here about realized/enlightened masters who, to the amazement of their students, are still human. They still get tired, they weep with grieving friends, they face frustration. They also experience physical illness, age, and die. Being settled, glimpsing (the) ultimate (nature of) reality, does not mean one does not have to deal with (the) historical (dimensions of) reality. Yet those who do so with said greater perspective are also described as doing so gracefully and with gratitude. So what is being relaxed, or more accurately, released, is doubt. Doubt about the value and potential of your life and the corresponding clinging and grasping to ephemeral possessions to make us feel whole, because we realize we already are. Striving then takes on a different tone - one can still be committed to worthy goals and work hard to accomplish them, but not to serve a need born of a deep and possible subconscious feeling of inadequacy or to justify existence/claim an identity.

Back to the question then - what if my problem isn't relaxation, but passivity? Passivity can come from a lack of sense of meaning or direction, or from hopelessness, overwhelming anxiety, and other problems that can as mentioned have roots in an unsatisfactory sense of the nature of one's existence. Even simple boredom can betray a lack of appreciation of the value and especially the potential of life. Despite the stereotypes, contemplative practice/mysticism is not strictly about being mellow nor does it involve a dull exterior. In fact, deep acceptance can in fact stir a greater passion for life and for making a difference to our loved ones and in our communities (as opposed to to misconception that acceptance refers to being ambivalent about everything and disconnected from any personal engagement with the world).

So what should one do if you need a spark, not a tranquilizer?

Buddha says "RELAX".


  1. I am so glad you found my blog and left that comment....I need to read it again when I have time (just got to work). I bookmarked your blog.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I had hoped I wasn't being intrusive by giving my two cents on a stranger's blog. :o)


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