I was bowled over today at work. Even though I’ve only been an employee at my new place for a few weeks now I seem to have made quite the impression. Dan and Susie seemed genuinely enthralled when I told them about my week at a Buddhist retreat up in Scotland.
As regular readers (well, probably only Mr C and maybe Mess if we’re being honest) will know, I am a practising Buddhist. I’ve tried to keep certain elements of my private life out of my professional life. Experience has taught me that the less people know about me, the more smoothly things tend to run.
I’m a spiritual man though, indeed, I started my quest to find out whether there really is a God here on this very blog back in February and have subsequently reviewed some of the world’s craziest religions. But did you know, Buddhism is actually considered a religion?
Well, up until today neither Dan nor Susie did. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but up until last week, I was under the impression that Buddhism was not so much a religion per se, but more a kind of way of life that involves a mixture trying to remain calm using deep breathing techniques like yoga or pilates, martial arts and vegetarianism.
I’ve been breathing all my life and have a black belt at Judo, but I’ve had quite a bit of trouble getting to grips with vegetarianism. I did dabble with it for a while when I was dating Amber but it’s just not for me. Mum says I suffer from iron deficiency and that I actually need meat to survive. Like my cats Matthew and Steven, which would die if I didn’t give them their Whiskers. I wonder how that sits with my friends at PETA.
But the thing is, you don’t get many fat vegetarians do you? Which is odd, because fat women are sometimes called fat cows, and they’re usually vegetarians (cows, not fat women). Ironically, of course, those vegetarian cows are usually the root cause of obesity, if indeed all that stuff about fast food is to be believed. And why wouldn’t it? I’ve seen Super Size Me and I’ve read Fast Food Nation. So I’m no slouch when it comes to knowing about balancing my diet. That said, I’m a sucker for a well cooked Fray Bentos.
So you can imagine then how I felt when I arrived after a six hour journey at the start of what was supposed to be a holiday at the Buddhist retreat in Bonny Scotland to be greeted by a camp Glaswegian monk and an invitation to join him in for a cup of green tea and a green salad.
I was told that I would spend the rest of the week studying the life of Siddartha Gautama in order to ‘discover’ the Middle Way.
This bloke was the founder of Buddism and lived 500 years before Jesus! According to the scriptures he was the son of a king (not a God). Upon birth his dad was told by a holy man that he’d either be a king himself or a holy man. Seems the soothsayer in question was hardly sticking his neck out.
Anyway, Gautama’s father shielded his son from the harsh realities of life in the hope that his son would become a king, much like Prince Charles has done with William. But, here’s the rub, Gautama ventured outside the palace one day and saw how bad things were, and so he became a holy man after all.
Gautama abandoned royal life and took up a spiritual quest to free himself from suffering by living the life of a meddicant ascetic. Ascetics practised many forms of self-denial, including severe undereating. One day, after almost starving to death, Gautama accepted a little milk and rice from a village girl. After this experience, he concluded that ascetic practices such as fasting, holding one’s breath, and exposure to pain brought little spiritual benefit. He viewed them as counterproductive due to their reliance on self-hatred and mortification.
He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on an awareness of breathing, thereby discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. He spent the next few years sitting under a fig tree until finally becoming a Buddha.
So there you have it readers, it’s totally fucking mental really. Still, it seems to make about as much sense as any of the other so-called religions, so I might as well keep on practicing it. Mind, I think as Gautama discovered his Middle Way, so too have I discovered my Middle Way. So I’ll be stopping off on the way home to pick up a Fray Bentos and a four pack of Cobra.
The thing is, if you are religious and you die, then you’ve lucked out if there is a God, and if there isn’t a God, you’ve not really lost anything have you?