Cowboy Buddha

Posted by on Oct 15, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

This weekend I watched a really cool documentary about the guy who inspired the book and film The Horse Whisperer. The film was called ‘Buck‘.

One thing that particularly struck me was when he was teaching people how to get a horse to move in a way that wouldn’t traumatise it or create future problems.

He asked someone to hold one end of a rope while he held the other. Then he showed them the difference between:

  • yanking the rope
  • gently arriving at the same amount of force while being mindful of his movements and the flow of energy between him and the other guy

With the first technique, the other guy couldn’t help but tense up and resist. After a few yanks, his body was anticipating a future yank and automatically tensed up when the Buck made even the slightest twitch to suggest he might be about to yank the rope again. And that’s even after Buck told him that that’s what was going on. It’s not hard to see how a horse could become difficult to handle.

The usual way people handle difficult horses is to apply more force, more pain, more coercion – until they have a problem horse. And then they think it’s the horse that’s got behavioural problems!

Setting up

Buck’s way of working with horses illustrates an important point. Although it’s clear that actions count, how you set up and come out of those actions (which is actually just setting up the thing that comes after it) matters just as much. In fact, what we call setting up and what we call an action is pretty arbitrary. Each action is also a setting up for what comes after. We’re always in a process of setting up.

Imagine rushing home from work after a long day. You do a crazy commute, all the time thinking you have to go out again 1 hour after you get back. You get home, shovel some food down, then sit down to meditate for 10 minutes to calm your mind, before jumping off your cushion, dragging a comb through your hair, and rushing out the door.

How do you think that meditation will go? What are you setting up there?

Certainly grabbing 10 minutes when you can is better than nothing. But if you really want to move forward, how you arrive at meditation and how you leave it can make a big difference.

Outside of meditation

What is good for your mind in meditation is good for your mind generally. By setting up a good meditation, and by leaving it with mindfulness and gentleness, you are learning how to respect yourself.

Once you can do it for yourself in meditation, you learn the knack. You can start applying it to different aspects of your life. Then you start applying it to the way you treat other people, and other species.

You can learn the Dharma anywhere. Since all we’re talking about is waking up to reality, everything, everyone, every moment can be a teacher for you.

This guy Buck had found the path through his relationship with horses. He has become a master without ever hearing a Buddhist teaching or meeting a member of the ‘sangha’ (depending on how you define sangha of course!)

Now he spends nine months of the year travelling around teaching other horse handlers. Pretty much the same thing the Buddha did. Not that such comparisons would be of much interest to Buck.

He learned pretty early on that when people turn up to his courses, they weren’t just bringing their horses. As you work with a horse, or in fact with pretty much anything, you’re working with every aspect of your life. His work has far-reaching consequences for people – and yet he’s just teaching them how to handle a horse!

From a Buddhist perspective, this is because everything is interconnected. There is an image from the later Buddhist tradition called ‘Indra’s net’. It’s a net with a jewel at each node. And in each jewel, every other jewel is reflected.


Did you know The Meditator's Handbook is out? It has everything you need to set up and maintain an effective meditation practice. Check it out!

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