I woke up today to a pleasant surprise: Salty Dharma now has 100 followers.
Of course, since everything’s dynamic, that number is gonna change. It’ll go up, and down, and wander here and there without any sense of destination or discipline.
I’m grateful to all of you. I’ve been belching out words in this blog for about two years now. The entries have covered a wide range of topics and styles—from straightforward and academic, to poetry, to emotional root canals—and they’ll continue to do so.
Not only do the subjects change, but it’s also changed names a few times. It started off as a kind of journal called johnsmind.space. Then, when it became apparent that I was gonna write about Zen a lot, it became Outer Way Zen.
Then, on a whim (Pretty sure it was during a hypomanic episode) it became Salty Dharma (Also Salty Dharma Noir for a few weeks).
As far as posts go, the Top Five according to views are:
- What is Samsara (Caught in Mental Loops)?
- The Three Watches of the Night
- The Dark Light of Empathy: Living with Anxiety & Depression
- A Zen Take on Bipolar Disorder
- Meditation is Supposed to be Easy
- Thought Creates Reality: Emptiness in the Diamond Sutra
Yeah, I had to add the sixth one because it was one of my favorites. I actually remember writing it. It was last summer, and I was sitting in the front yard. It was a warm, sunny day, and the world was a swaying tangle of light, shadows, birdsong, and green. I typed it out on my phone.
As a PS for #5, meditation isn’t supposed to be anything, hard or easy. Hard and easy are our interpretations of it. However, once you find the method that does suit you, you’ll definitely notice that 80% of your sessions start to go smoother. I’m not a meditation dogmatist. Even when they put me in robes, I’ll never say, “It’s this way, and no other way.” I’ll say, “Let’s find your method.”
And, of course, all form meditations (Ones with specific steps and methods) are helpful means anyway, and each one treats a certain mental condition and suits certain dispositions. All of them are meant to be cast aside at some point; that’s the Chan POV anyway.
The hardest part about meditation is actually setting a time each day, and then sitting down and doing it. I’m not a dogmatist with that, either. It’s helpful to sit at the same time for the same amount of time since it teaches diligence and commitment, but as long as you sit sometime each day, I think it’s fine.
If I ever stress some kind of firm order, just know that, secretly, I’m hoping you’ll tell me to fuck off and do your own thing. Because, to me, that’s one of the core lessons in Chan practice: Having the passion, strength, and clarity to go your own way.
I’m a huge fan of the Oxhead Chan tradition. I think I’ll end up publishing a book about it since there’s very little literature around. One popular Chan teacher wrote a bit about his experience with the Oxhead Sangha. He was aghast, because when he visited Oxhead Mountain, instead of it being a quiet, orderly monastery full of schedules and routines, he saw complete anarchy.
Some monks were meditating, some were cooking food, and some were working, studying, or just sitting around. There was chatter, and loud laughter, and a few of the monks had long hair and beards. Their robes were wrinkled, and none of them bowed to him when he walked up.
So, he wrote them off as undisciplined heathens, lost to the emptiness extreme, who disregarded the Precepts. Of course, that wasn’t the case at all; he was just taking the prickly position of a scholar with a stick up his ass.
If I ever start a Zendo, that’s the kind of atmosphere I’d like to endorse, even if I try—on the surface—to maintain order.
For fans who follow this blog for mental health topics, know that meditation won’t cure you. It wasn’t designed for that, it was designed to make you into Buddhas. In the process, it will help you to endure and take a stand (or sit) through the storms, and it’ll help you see them in a different light.
What we have to realize, more than anything, is that none of our traits (and mental illness is a trait of sorts) defines us. I don’t have bipolar disorder, and I’m not bipolar. When bipolar symptoms arise, there is bipolar disorder, and it—like everything—is impermanent and dependently arisen. Just like everything else in our lives and minds, it’s like a guest at an inn who rents a room for a night, drinks some tea, and then checks out.
When I’m not experiencing the effects of bipolar disorder, there is no bipolar disorder, it’s unarisen as they say. Then, when this and that conditions are right, it checks back into the inn again to throw wild parties or sulk alone in its room.
In classical terms, mental illnesses don’t have an essence. They depend on causes and conditions, change with them, and depart with them. When we learn to meditate, and when we study and try to be decent people, that introduces new causes and conditions to the mix. So, we get new guests at the inn like patience, generosity, perseverance, and equanimity.
They’re long-term lodgers, and eventually they’re hired on as part of the staff.
So, even when mental illness checks in, they tend to it. And, because of that, our whole relationship with ourselves, the world, and our minds changes for the better.
Because, if we take an honest look, we can’t fill in, “I am ________,” with any kind of reliable, self-sustaining description. What fills that blank is always changing. Even our names are just arbitrary symbols. I could’ve just as easily been named Pickle, or I could—-if I wanted to get a headache due to all the paperwork—legally change my name to Pickle.
We aren’t anything that we can put in that blank. We don’t own it, and it doesn’t own us. Failing to grok this is what causes suffering because we limit ourselves, and then live and view things according to those limits. But, reality is unlimited. And if, beneath it all, we’re anything, we’re that.
Anyway, thanks again for following. If you ever have any questions or remarks, feel free to contact me. Also, if you really like a post, feel free to reblog or share on social media. I’m your stereotypical starving artist.
Your Zany Buddhist Friend,