Western Buddhist Overachievers
As western students of Indo-Tibetan philosophy, seeking to understand a contemplative tradition that others around us, and we ourselves, may consciously or unconsciously perceive as somehow distanced or removed from our daily reality (i.e., as ancient, exotic, esoteric, mystical, special, rare, pure, eternal, blessed, supramundane, spiritual) we face the risks of self-deception. We may actually be attracted to the promise of escape from present reality, or of escape from ourselves as ‘converts’ to the ‘truth’. Exposed to concepts such as karma, merit, and interdependent origination, we may tend toward piety, moralism, and religiosity. A poetic and folky expression in Tibetan, such as “taming the mind,” may slide in translation toward the militant and imperative: less a florid manner of speech and more a stringent moral injunction. In short, we may find ourselves in an elaborate project to escape and reject ourselves, when, for Tibetans born into a Buddhist way of life, the point of dharma, and of contemplative practice, is precisely to become more familiar with our own minds. Arguably, for western practitioners, it may take years to question the deeply ingrained tendency to overachieve, either in a mission to ‘perfect’ ourselves or to ‘reach enlightenment in this very lifetime’. Glamorous goals may distract us from the more anonymous attention to our own tendencies in little, daily moments that, in a much more tangible way, allows us to develop compassion for ourselves and for others. Ironically, even the practice of ‘mindfulness’ has become a catchword, of late, for a kind of sharper image, a better, more competitive, more successful self.