By Craig Neely

Inspired by Glenn’s recent post “Works of the Spirit and the Hardness of Fate,” I asked the question of Tom Pepper: “How can you sit through those deluded, x-Buddhist dharma talks at your sangha?”  Rather than give me a quick answer, Tom invited me to write a post about how I might answer this question.   The broader question is, “How does one coming from a non-buddhist critique practice in a deluded, x-buddhist context?”  I’ve come up with six potential outcomes culled from my experience as a thinking person in the midst of Christianity and x-buddhism.  The main focus of this post will be on the last two options.

Possibilities for practicing within the x-Buddhist context:

  1. Hem and haw about it ad nauseum.
  2. Quit and practice by yourself.
  3. Quit and not practice at all.
  4. Start your own sangha.
  5. Sit with the dissonance and practice as a non-buddhist in an x-buddhist sangha.  Don’t go to the things that really bother you and critique when possible.
  6. Pulling through the void…intentionally making meaningless meaning as a way of ‘sitting with’ and ‘not flinching’.

I am most familiar with possibility 1.  I’ve spent lots of time in institutions bitching and moaning about the situation and doing nothing about it.  Granted, it wasn’t until the last decade or so that I actually realized I had a choice in these matters and then it took a few more years to actually make a choice to change.  That being said, we are caught in many institutions that we cannot change or leave.

When you’re done pissing and moaning, you can leave and practice by yourself.  Or just quit practicing altogether.  These two options may seem simple, yet they can be difficult to do.  Being raised as a Christian, it took years for me to realize that I really didn’t have to go to church on Sunday.  This carried over into Buddhism where I “felt bad” about missing a week at my local sangha…even when it was just me and another practitioner.  So, there are two possible outcomes, quit and keep practicing or quit everything altogether.   If you do keep practicing, you may want to start your own group.  That is a whole other post.

The fifth possibility is staying with the institution, getting what you can, changing what you can and leaving it at that.  This basically comes down to two activities…you go only to the activities you like and speak truth to power when the opportunity arises.  There seems to be a fine line between trying to change the deluded institution and leaving altogether.  Both are viable options; I’ve found the former to be exhausting.

I’ve been through outcomes 1-5 and am now discovering outcome 6.  As with most of the things I was raised to conform to, I could no longer handle the dissonance of my most recent x-buddhist sangha activities.  I had to quit to maintain some sort of mental health.  Ironically, the place I went to find solace in this world left me with more issues.

Enter SNB.  There I found fresh insights into old issues, no sacred cows, and validation for long held, unuttered critiques of Buddhism, society, religion, etc.  In experimenting with non-buddhism I’ve been experimenting with pulling x-buddhist practices and ideas through the void.  To me, this means asking all the questions, not standing for simple answers, taking anatman seriously, considering the pervasive violence of capitalism physically, psychically and emotionally.

Nothing makes it though the void unscathed.  This has been ultimately liberating for me.  I’m no longer in the mindset of “having to get it all figured out,” as if there’s some cosmic order to The Dharma.  Dispense with dharma and things become clear!  Who knew?  Let me be clear: I am no longer searching for enlightenment (whatever the hell that is).  My practice these days, as informed by SNB, is intentional meaning-making in an utterly meaningless world.  Nihilism plus, if you will.

Interestingly, I feel less and less upset by the “fucked-up-ness” of the world and Buddhism.  I have no stakes in the game any longer.  Everything is meaningless.  I currently use mantra most nights to relax, soothe myself and build concentration.  Suspending decision.  Sometimes I burn incense because I like the smell.  Also, I have some Shin books on my reading list.  Not for answers, but for more conversation partners.  Alas, making meaning to unflinchingly sit with meaningless.

These are just some of my thoughts.  What do others think?  Can you practice non-buddhism in an x-buddhist context?  Can you practice with only online community support?  What long-term outcomes could that produce?  What does your non-buddhist ‘practice’ look like?  How, when, where do you practice?  Why?  What is practice?  Can anyone really ‘wake up’ the deluded in an x-buddhist sangha?  Has anyone had any success with any of this?

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