The worst thing you can say to a Buddhist

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Buddhism | 607 Comments

One of the key ideas in Buddhism is that change is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s inevitable.

Change is what makes Buddhahood possible. For anyone.

It doesn’t matter who you’ve been up to now, you have the embryo of Buddhahood within you.

This is the most positive aspect of change. The bad stuff will pass. You aren’t limited by your current set of conditions. They’ll change.

The other side of change can be a bit of a downer. The good stuff will also pass.

Spiritual development

The idea of ‘spiritual development’ is one that draws many people to Buddhism in the first place. They see it as a way to grow out of the pain they’re in:

I am in pain. I don’t want to be in pain anymore. I’ve tried lots of other, more obvious, easier stuff and it didn’t work. Maybe I’ll give this Buddhism thing a shot.

Sometimes you’ll go and visit someone you haven’t seen for a while. During the time since you saw them last, you’ve been practising arduously.

You roll up, they hug you and then they say the worst thing you can say to a Buddhist:

“Hey! Great to see you! You haven’t changed a bit!”

Is personal change possible?

One of my friends (I’ve known him for 20 years – he hasn’t changed a bit) recently went to a school reunion. A primary school reunion!

He’s in his 40s now and hadn’t seen many of his old school mates for 30 years.

“How was it?” I asked when I saw him the other day.

“You know what?” he replied. “People don’t change.”

Is that true?

My own experience is yes and no.

Buddhahood without all the whistles and bells

I think this has big implications for what Buddhahood, in the real world, actually looks like.

Personality-wise, we may not change that much. The general trajectory of who we are is recognisable from one year to the next.

Buddhahood is something different.

When real wisdom arises, when we have the big experiences, the ‘satori’ or the ‘awakening’ or the ‘turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness’, on one level, nothing changes.

The archetypal Buddha may not get grumpy in the morning. He or she may not have a particular liking for good coffee. But Buddhas in the real world aren’t like that.

And yet, something else is operating underneath all the personality stuff. All the craving and aversion may well continue to fire, but your relationship to it has fundamentally shifted.

When you start to get a feel for this, you start to relax into yourself.

That’s not to say your practice loses its momentum, it’s more that the nature of your practice shifts more into line with reality.

You know what you’re doing more. You know what matters and what doesn’t.

Letting go in this way, you actually shift into something much more akin to Buddhahood than the way you were before. And yet, on the surface, you won’t have changed a bit!


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