One of the goals in my Designed Retirements plan, is to understand some Eastern religions since I have had zero exposure to them to this point in my life. I was raised Roman Catholic, but always thought it important to understand how others view the questions of existence and purpose. Are there any magical roads to which I have not been exposed that may provide some important insights? Hope so since I distinctly remember when I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, looking at a map of the world and saying to myself, you mean if I’m living in this section of China, and I never heard of Christ, I don’t get to go to heaven? Didn’t make a lot of sense then and doesn’t now, but who was I to challenge back then. So, you simply motored on, because that was what you were supposed to do. I chose Eastern religions as a goal to understand since, as mentioned, I had zero exposure, but also because they seemed to be the most introspective and stories of Buddhist monks being able to physically lower their heartbeat and blood pressure seemed intriguing.
The question was – where to start. The bookstore had a plethora of titles including “Buddhism for Dummies”, but somehow Dummies and religious thought didn’t really seem to align. So, I mentioned this quest to my son, who just happened to be taking an online course entitled “Buddhism and Modern Psychology” through Coursera. I checked it out, it seemed to fit the need, and having read other books by the author, Robert Wright, it was sign-up time.
The ideas presented in the course and the respective alignment with modern psychology, reinforced the extreme importance of continuing to learn and educate yourself in areas that you have never considered. The concepts were extremely challenging (emptiness, not-self, nirvana, default network, etc.), but made incredible sense and when focused on during the day, increased awareness and made some difficult situations, like in my case, road rage, easier. I will be the first to admit, trying this new approach is much easier in retirement than if you are working, just given the demands and time constraints of any job. But at the same time, learning these concepts now has been beneficial and maybe even helped my golf game! But everything changes.
Since the course was video, I purchased the accompanying book “Why Buddhism is True”, by the same professor in the course, and have read it twice, the second time highlighting for future reference. A book allows you to stop, go back, reread the concepts, and with something as challenging as this, it’s a must. Meditation is the vehicle to experience the concepts and the author is so right when he says meditating is hard. All of these thoughts come into your head when you try to meditate. But the question is, where do they come from and why? If you want to meditate, you as the boss, should be able to, right? But you can’t, so who IS the boss? What? Me of course. Well then, what’s the problem? But I can’t! Any questions? As a further example, the Mindfulness movement uses the same concepts and is doing wonders with criminals, drug addicts and others whose behavior needs to be adjusted, but have not responded to other treatments. Going through this book reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the movie “Diner” when Kevin Bacon says to Mickey Rourke after they watch and talk to a girl of privilege ride a horse English style, “Do you get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”. Love it.
Professor Wright uses many references in the book to detail the concepts, but none impacted me more than when he referenced the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc, who immolated himself to death in Saigon in June of 1963. The event was horrific of course, but as Professor Wright relates, he never moved. Check out the picture online. It’s true – he never moved. HOW is this possible? There IS something going on out there and I need to understand it.
Challenging yourself in retirement is important for growth and it can be physical, mental or spiritual. “Why Buddhism is True” will definitely meet the test for mental and spiritual. I highly recommend it, it is a easy, humorous at times read, and it will also help you appreciate one of the benefits of retirement – time to consider what you have not before.