Wise words from my wife the bodhisattva

I often call my wife a bosatsu (菩薩) in Japanese, which means “Bodhisattva”, as in the Buddhist beings who attain great awakening, help others, and so on, but haven’t yet attained full enlightenment. The reason why I call her a Bodhisattva is that although she doesn’t study Buddhism actively the way I do, she has a nice incisive way of understanding it. Where I am the convert, intellectual, she grew up more or less Buddhist but has a good head on her shoulders.1

So this weekend, we were talking about Buddhism in the West, and all the exotic stuff people love about Buddhism, and she said to me something like:2

Religion isn’t something you’re supposed to be fascinated with. It’s supposed to be a part of your life.

That one really blew me away, because I realized that I often do treat Buddhism and Asian religion more like a hobby than a way of life. It’s exotic allure sometimes matters more than the actual message. Worse, people get upset when you tell them this kind of thing, and claim you are being fundamentalist3 and stifling their freedom of religion. I saw this very complaint on a Buddhist forum just last night as a new fellow accused an ordained priest of being fundamentalist.

I think my wife’s right though. Buddhism, like all religions, is a dedicated path. It’s not “cool” to be Buddhist. It’s a way of understanding the world and learning how to live with it, and the other people in it.

1 – Not a “temple family” or anything like that in Japan. She just has good parents. :)

2 – Honey, I forgot the exact wording again. Help me out! :( Update: she did.

3 – I wonder if their defensive nature makes them more fundamentalist than those they accuse.

About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
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10 Responses to Wise words from my wife the bodhisattva

  1. ロバート says:

    I am sure its exotic oriental nature is part of Buddhism’s allure to Westerners. But then Christianity’s trappings have a similar exotic allure in the Japanese wedding market. And maybe the religion “market” as well.

    Why not be fascinated with religion and want to explore it. with life for that matter. rather than let it fade into the mundane and the everyday. And if you find the joy in it I suppose it’s natural to want to share it.
    (Preferably on an intellectual level. While I have great admiration for people I see that have a personal joy and cheerful outlook due to their beliefs, proselytising happy-clappy god botherers tend to get on my wick. There may well be a contradiction there.)

    I wonder what the fundamentals of Buddhism are. What is at the core when you strip away the ritual, symbolism, statues and mysticism?

  2. Doug says:

    Hi Robert,

    Quite true. I think what she was getting at wasn’t just Buddhism, but the way we like to fixate on something new and different and exotic, but when it loses its allure (i.e. gets boring) we don’t take it seriously anymore. I’ve been fascinated with it for a long time, and my wife had a kind of re-awakening when she got older, so I don’t think it’s wrong to develop an interest and appreciation of a religion, but I think some people stop there and just get fixated on the external trappings, rather than internalizing their meaning. The religion “market” definitely feeds on this, and I admit I’ve been a happy customer in the past. Over the years, I stopped caring so much.

    I guess it was one of those “you had to be there” conversations. I just thought it was cool, and it reminded me what the priorities of religion are (kindness toward others, unselfishness, letting go of material life, etc).

    I wonder what the fundamentals of Buddhism are. What is at the core when you strip away the ritual, symbolism, statues and mysticism? Zen?

    Zen is just one sect in Japanese Buddhism, and it’s not terribly original in its approach either. Somehow Zen has been kind of re-branded in Western culture as a more “pure” form of Buddhism, but I think that’s just a cultural judgment.

    But in any case, you ask a really good question, and if you ask 10 different Buddhists, you might get 10 different answers. Similar, but somewhat different.

    Some folks like to rely on the Four Noble Truths, but these are mostly prominent in Theravada, South East Asian Buddhism. In Mahayana, or East Asian Buddhism, the Four Dharma Seals are more prominent.

    For my part, I would distill Buddhism this way:

    1) All phenomena (including thought and self-identity) are impermanent. This is neither good nor bad. Good days follow bad, bad days follow good. Everything is constantly in a state of change. A bad person can change into good.

    2) All phenomena are inter-dependent, in that they cannot exist separate for any other phenomena. When you speak a kind word, it benefits all things in some way, and when someone suffers, you suffer in some way.

    3) Similar to above, thought and action lead to consequences in the future for yourself and others. If not in this life, it will mold another life to come.

    The Heart Sutra, although not an original sermon of the Buddha, is a condensed form of these teachings, and pretty profound, but requires some study. Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries on the sutra are quite good and worth a read.

  3. ロバート says:

    I always think of zen as “aching legs Buddhism” (Alan Watts — Tao the Watercourse Way) ! I could never see the point of sitting uncomfortably getting wacked on the shoulders by someone… just another mystic ritual perhaps. I like the gardens though.

    I think I might understand your wife though.
    Your Religion is meant to be something you do as part of your core being, it isn’t something you put on of a Sunday or change when fashions dictate, or dabble in.

  4. Doug says:

    I think you nailed it, Robert. :)

    As for zen, meditation is a common practice in Buddhism, but in the strict, stylized sense you see in Zen, that’s the exception, not the norm. Not necessarily wrong though either, since there’s a lot under the surface, but Buddhism is kind of broad, and there’s different practices to fit people of different dispositions. Meditation-oriented practices work well for some people (I’d encourage even a little bit of meditation from time to time as it’s a nice tool), but strict practices along those lines are not for everyone.

  5. Jishin says:

    I call my wife Oni (鬼) but that’s another story ;)

  6. friskyfrogdog says:

    great posting . I agree with your wife very much.

  7. Jishin, I think it would be funny to be a fly on the wall when you call your wife ‘Demon` はははははは

  8. Jishin says:

    I will be fine as long as she doesn’t catch me!

  9. Doug says:

    Best of all, you met her a long, long time ago. Now you can say you met an Internet celeb. ;) Just kidding.

  10. sekishin says:

    Very nice post . . .

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