Buddhism as a Hobby

I felt distinctly guilty—almost accused—when Joseph Goldstein said, “If Buddhism is more than just a hobby to you . . .” I don’t remember how he finished the sentence. I was one of a hundred or so students in the meditation hall. I’d never met the man, yet I felt like he was directly addressing me. Is Buddhism just my hobby? I wondered.

My fear, of course, was that I was an amateur Buddhist, a dilettante, a poseur in a lotus t-shirt. Clearly, I was not a professional. I’ve never listed Buddhism as my religion on a questionnaire. And though I’m all for enlightenment, it seems unlikely I’ll realize it in this lifetime. It’s not even on my to-do list.

In a good week, I meditate seven out of seven mornings. In a bad week, I may not sit at all. How often I sit is the sort of thing I sometimes discuss with others meditators, though it seems a lot like asking married friends how often they have sex. Everyone, I’m sure, imagines everyone else is doing it more than they actually are.

When I got home from the retreat, I looked up hobby in the dictionary. “An activity or interest pursued outside of one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure,” was the definition.

Hmmm. If you substitute sanity or well-being for pleasure, maybe I am a Buddhist hobbyist. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

When I first read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind years ago, Shunryu Suzuki’s simple text inspired me to try to meditate for the first time. I somehow trusted the author’s words and his shaved head and kind face in the photograph on the back book.

Twenty years later, I’m still trying. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made any progress or if it’s all been an enormous waste of time. No. Yes. No.

Yes. Begin again.

Consume Less Buddhism

My New Year’s resolution is to consume less Buddhism in 2020. Rather than slashing calories or signing up for a spin class, my intention is to reduce my intake of all things Buddhist: to read fewer books, limit the number of podcasts I listen to, and, except for my simple timer, avoid meditation apps. For years I’ve gorged on all of the aforementioned. I’m a not a glutton in other areas of my life, in fact, I’m a skinny minimalist. Continue reading Consume Less Buddhism

Return to the Zen Center

After almost 30 years, it was time to go back.

I had visited the Cambridge Zen Center once in the 1980s, back when meditation was considered an odd thing to do. Back before Oprah and Kobe Bryant and corporate CEOs were doing it. I had read the few Zen books that were available in bookstores—The Three Pillars of Zen;  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

I had just arrived in Cambridge and was eager to meet an in-the-flesh Buddhist who would teach me how to meditate. When I heard there was a Zen center nearby, I made plans to visit. My teacher, I imagined, would be an elderly Japanese monk with a shaved head. He would exude both wisdom and humor.

Continue reading Return to the Zen Center