I was raised Christian. My faith was weak. In my late teens, I turned to atheism. Later, as a young adult seeking purpose, I turned to Theravada Buddhism where I remained for the next twelve years. Theravada sharpened my focus and calmed my ego, but the incessant pessimism of the teachings left me feeling isolated and unmotivated.
As I grew older, still seeking purpose, and growing increasingly aware of the degradation of society, I sought paths better suited for motivating personal growth and cultural outreach. Humbled by my own glaring shortcomings, and frustrated by human intermediaries, I felt, perhaps for the first time in my 38 years, a genuine desire to find God.
I first sought this voice in the other Dharmic traditions because they were familiar territory, and, as an African American, I sought a community that welcomed my complexion. Alas, when I scratched beneath the alluring surface of their cryptic teachings, my connection with these paths were short-lived.
At this point, I finally decided to explore the one Abrahamic faith that I’d always bypassed. I transferred $13.50 from my savings account, and ordered ‘To Be A Jew’ by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin. For the next month, I carefully read ‘To Be A Jew’ along with ‘The Hebrew Bible’ translated by Robert Alter. Things were going well until I skipped ahead to The Book of Job. If there is a god, this ain’t it.
Two months passed. Stressed by the on-going pandemic, and now riots, I downloaded Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s latest evening talks as they had helped to relax me in the past. As usual, his talk turned to the breath. Given the other thirty-nine objects of meditation, I sometimes found his singular focus, like other Western Buddhists, on the breath limiting. Then it dawned on me. After looking through all these religions, the breath, regardless of the situation, is a convenient object to find solace in. There are no deities to worship, scriptures to memorize, or riddles to solve. Just close your eyes, turn within, and follow the abdomen.
From an overwhelming number of angles, the Tipitaka shows the unvarnished truth that I had tried to avoid. I realized this for the second time, now with more certainty. I still frown at the renunciant and antinatalist direction in which the teachings lean, but, as with life, our emotional involvement in something is wholly up to us. As we don’t have to embrace every tragedy, we don’t have to embrace every teaching. Currently, as I practice samatha meditation, I’m only reading Snp 1:8, AN 8:54, and the Jatakas. I don’t know how long this practice will continue, or how it will evolve. I hope that it leads to peace of mind.