What is a Buddhist? A Buddhist is someone who seeks to show unconditional loving kindness, personally, to every being everywhere, in such a way that this is not noticed, yet it is clearly understood and gratefully received, without the need for any return. This is surely unattainable, impossible. But this is what we should do! Even though it is impossible, our true nature says we could do it, so we try. This is Buddhism. However, this is not idealism, being kind for the sake of others; or being merely positive for the sake of self-interest, for looking good, for impressing anyone. That is easy. That is not Buddhism. So doing what is merely possible is not the dhamma way. Yet, doing what is impossible is also not the dhamma way. Little by little is the dhamma way. The effort made. Now. Now. Now. That is the way.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to experience a Vipassana retreat will smile when I say: “Start again! Start again!” For all others to understand, these are the words Goenkaji uses to introduce many meditation sessions. These words echo around in the mind,during and after a retreat, like a Vipassana mantra, at times even more vividly than the Pali chants.
What does it mean? Start what again? Meditation, yes. But meditation is the possible. Sit, watch the breath, watch sensations. Be silent for ten days. This is easy.
More to the point of what-a-Buddhist-is, is making the effort to “start again.” This is hard, but not impossible. What is impossible, is that once the effort is made, it will fail. Before there is a “start again,” there is doubt. Once you “start again,” there is none. The effort is the effect. The attempt is the outcome. All of this is sounding very Zen. This word “Zen” has come to mean enigmatic, contradictory. Put it aside. Put aside Vipassana. Put aside Dhamma. Put aside Buddhist.
The true human heart is like a leaf on a still day. It is unstirred by wind, by events. Yet when the wind blows, when there is tension, turbulence and agitation, the leaf trembles and bends. When it rains the leaf becomes soaked, when the sun shines, the leaf dries out. When all that turbulence ceases, the leaf again becomes still.
If, to be a Buddhist, means to be kind to others, it means, before anything else, being kind to yourself. It is important to be a friend to your natural heart, not an opponent. You are included in the statement above of what it is to be a Buddhist. Being kind to “every being everywhere” must start with the one closest. So give away tension and agitation.
To help you do this, to help you to start again, say these words of the Buddha to yourself, to your heart: “This is for your well-being; this is for your happiness.” To make this real, take a deliberate long breath, hold it for a few beats. Then breathe out slowly, and hold for a few beats. Then let the breath go its own way. It will settle back into its natural, unruffled state. Now you are ready to start again.