Every once in a while my wife will give simple but sagely advice on Buddhism. She grew up Buddhist; I converted as an adult. Our approaches are very different as a result.
So one night recently I was feeling flustered about life and had a good talk with her, which turned toward religion at one point. I told her some of the frustrations expressed in this post, but she didn’t quite buy it. Her response was not unlike “what the hell are you talking about?” I mean that in a friendly way. She questioned my motivation for being Buddhist and we debated half the night on what religion is about and why people need it. The details are not pertinent to this blog but suffice to say she is a persuasive speaker. Her argument was that I was being unrealistic toward myself and that I was being a “type-A personality”.
Instead of being a perfectionist, she said just take it one day at a time. She even wrote out a little sign for me as a reminder:
The phrase is another example of Yojijukugo phrases in Japanese, and reads ichi nichi ichi zen (一日一膳), and basically means “one day at a time.”
I think she has a good point. I do have a way of setting lofty goals that ultimately don’t work out and I get frustrated when I fail. Just look at my New Year’s resolutions from 2009. I do this with language studies as well where I get frustrated at times because I can’t speak Japanese smoothly despite study. At such times she reminds me that I haven’t lived in Japan so what do you expect? Why get upset? This is an example of me taking something I enjoy and turning it i to a goal-oriented “project”. While goals are very helpful, they are a means to an end only, and one shouldn’t obsess over them. The problem is purely in my head.
And so it is with Buddhism. I suppose I turn it into a goal-oriented project too, then get frustrated when I can’t meet my own goals, regardless of how unrealistic it is. I told her at one point that if religion doesn’t help you improve yourself little by little, it’s not religion and she agreed but then quipped that I was setting unrealistic goals in the process. I was obsessed with a future ideal and not enjoying it more here and now.
A certain blog reader, whom I met in Tokyo last April once told me about memorizing mantras and sutras in Buddhism. I believe someone had told him that the key was not to bear down and brute-force memorize something, but rather to put it into practice so many times that it just internalizes (one could apply this to language studies too, I bet). So, with religion as a whole, instead of trying to brute-force my way to achieving a certain ideal, just keep immersing myself in it and things will internalize in time. One day at a time.
Somewhat related to all this, I noticed that ever since I made the conscious decision to leave the Pure Land Path of Buddhism months back, I have struggled to fill the void. I haven’t really found a mentor nor the same sense of structure I had before. This too is frustrating but harder to fix in a way. On the other hand, i remember reading something from the Chinese text, the I Ching, lately that stuck in my mind from the 39th Hexagram (Wilhelm translation):
Water on the mountain:
The image of OBSTRUCTION.
Thus the superior man turns his attention to himself
And molds his character.
Obstacles and difficulties are a good time for reflection, rather than complaining. I think that my wife’s advice applies here too: sooner or later, conditions will work out and I will find a more suitable community and teacher. Until then, I can only take it one day at a time.
P.S. As stated in previous post, blog schedule this week is a little weird. Apologies for any confusion.