Buddhism for Dudes - Introduction
A tough former Marine leads Buddhist basic training for the average Joe.
When I traveled to Sri Lanka as a volunteer after the World Trade Center went down on September 11, 2001, I wanted to show all my scaredy-cat friends back home that the only thing they had to fear was…fear itself. My original destination was Pakistan. But given the climate in Pakistan at the time, I figured my chances of being beheaded that summer would be significantly less in Sri Lanka.
And so terrorism had a hand in creating this book, because my change of venue gave me the great good fortune, quite by accident, to study the wisdom of Buddhism with monks, forty of them, in fact, ranging in age from ten to eighty. Studying with them on their home turf was especially delightful—after dark, in the less stifling heat of night, the smell of incense and lamp oil and jasmine, and the occasional raucous cry of a peacock back in the jungle, sitting on low benches so that I was seated at cobra level, lower than the monks. I spent many months literally sitting at the feet of my mentors, some of them the most eminent Buddhist thinkers in South Asia, and even at the feet of the eleven-year-old novice who taught me how to chant.
Sri Bodhiraja Monastery, like the U.S. Marines, is a fairly regimented and gender-specific environment. It just so happens that my two periods of greatest personal growth were in times and places where everyone around me was male, and everybody wore the same outfits. What did I learn from them? The Marines teach self-sacrifice and monks teach—and live—the secret of life, which is to enjoy self-sacrifice. That’s why monks are happy guys. I learned how to step up for others from the Marines and how to be happy from my monk friends. Having lived in both of these worlds, my experience is that these two ways of life fold seamlessly into one another.
But don’t take my word for it. Out of all the people who ever wrote a book in an attempt to interpret Buddhist wisdom, I am probably the worst example of a Buddhist. I think I’m a pretty good Buddhist, but so many who came before me are, well, holy men. I’ve met a few holy men, and I’m not one of them. There isn’t a precept I haven’t broken or a spiritual goal that I have fully attained. So: do not take my word for anything.
Know who else said that? The Buddha.
I merrily stumble my way down the Middle Path, as the teachings are sometimes called, because it makes me sane. When you start stripping away the nonsense stuck in your head, all the bad learning and misplaced priorities, and you poke your head out the door to take an honest look at the world, you can see just what a dismal place full of agony and suffering the world is.
But here’s the thing! Fortunately, seeing the truth has a way of setting you free. It can even vaccinate you against the horrors we face in life and show you how to be basically happy. Personally, I love to be happy. Oh, sure, I get a case of the red-ass every now and then, but generally and genuinely happy I am, and happy I intend to stay. Buddhism has a lot to offer in terms of wisdom that can get you through the hardest parts of life, and that can generally make you happy to be alive no matter what.
So here you have it, in an easy-to-carry format: Gerry the Jarhead’s take on Buddhist wisdom for the Average Joe, a take heavy on the info and light on the metaphysics. Here I share a secret mystery of life with guys who only read books during the off-season. You know: guys who head for the gambling boat when there’s a big welterweight fight on so they can reinvest the money they would have spent watching it at home on pay-per-view; guys with bumper stickers on the back of their pickups that say, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”
Get it? This is not a book written with women in mind. I’m not trying to be sexist by not considering women’s perspectives. If you’re a woman, you are quite welcome to read this book. But I’m basically clueless about women; I know that I’m not qualified to write for women. I’ve been married to one for forty years, but that doesn’t mean that I actually know anything about women. I’m only a guy.
Know who else said “I’m only a guy”? The Buddha!