Good Buddhist. Bad Buddhist.

In Soto Zen, which is on the mahayana “branch” of the Buddhist “tree”, the only object of zazen is zazen. Doing Zazen, one is not trying to get anywhere or get any thing. In the same way, regulars at Soto school of Zazen do not have as their objective good emulation of ideas about how a Buddhist should or should not behave.

Buddhism expressed in this form is not ‘social’ in the sense of an exchange of ideas about good and bad behaviour towards one another. People are not trying to be good Buddhists with each other in Soto Zen. Well, sometimes they are, but they’ll soon get slapped down!

It’s the ego that wants to fit in. It’s the ego that wants to be esteemed above others. It’s the ego that wants to control and manipulate others. It takes time to see clearly when one is acting for personal gain and when one is simply being one’s self. It takes spiritual practice and discipline.

There are other schools of Buddhism who disagree with this approach, even though the objective (freedom from suffering and delusion for the sake of all) is the same. In other schools, the object is to emulate the behaviours of Buddhist elders, and in that way cultivate a mindful approach to the world.

Soto Zen concurs with the objectives shared by all Buddhist schools, but pooh pooh’s the emulating part. It is a form of practice designed to wake one up. That’s it. Once you have suddenly awoken and seen that it is possible as a human being to experience things non-dualistically, from a place beyond the small idea of the inner self, then it’s your job (and no-one else’s) to realize that understanding of reality into every sphere of life and to its fullest miraculous extent.

Forget what you know about Buddhists. You can’t learn the Buddha’s message for yourself by making discriminatory conclusions about the behaviour of Buddhists. Of course this goes for all religions. But in the West, Buddhism is still quite new. It’s also the smallest of the major world faiths. And it has a reputation. Those Buddhists. They’re always nice. They never started any wars.

True. But then in World War 2, Buddhism was contorted to train soldiers how to fight. What do you think about the Buddha’s dharma now?

I have been horrendously upset by Zen Nuns before. Went home. Cried. Then realised my response was entirely connected with not being able to manipulate the other person in the habitual ways we all have. Laughing about it. Seeing more clearly.

Growing to love that Nun.

The dharma has to be written on the heart. Once written there, it’s all change. Authentic change happens inside-out, and is only delayed by anxiety over what others might think, or trying to fit in with what others might want. So in the style of thirteenth-century Zen popstar Dogen, forget them and keep practising like your hair is on fire. Keep going. Awaken to the Oneness.

There’s no time to waste pretending.