A Brief Conjunction
When I was first invited to consider writing a Mud Pie Slice, I thought of all the subjects I could attach to the title ‘Buddhism and’: Psychotherapy, Neuroscience, Emptiness, Attention, Mindfulness, Meditation … All these topics were tempting; but they were revisitations of themes I had explored earlier. So wilder suggestions arose, fired by my other enthusiasms – Buddhism and Art, Buddhism and Gardening, Buddhism and Horse-riding, Buddhism and Ecology.
And, and, and …
Suddenly I was struck by the repetition and the transformative power of that little word ‘AND’. All of the books I had written, from psychotherapy (The Resonance of Emptiness: A Buddhist Inspiration for a Contemporary Psychotherapy, 2000),to its expansion in the world of neuroscience (Beyond Happiness: Deepening the Dialogue between Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Mind Sciences, 2008),to the concept of emptiness (A Philosophy of Emptiness, 2014), and most recently to practices of attention (Attention: Beyond Mindfulness, 2017), could be tied together by the phrase ‘Buddhism and’.
The ‘and’ had been the stepping stone from one topic to the next, each linking in some way to the previous one and each gaining something in the process. All of these issues (and their interdependence) acquired extra resonance and richness from being viewed through the lens of Buddhist thought and considered in the light of age-old Buddhist insights and practices.
So this brief conjunction ‘AND’ has allowed me to cast my net wide, to include all the facets of Buddhist teachings that seem most alive, relevant and rewarding to me today. The central wisdom of Dependent Origination – the net of Indra which supports the world and our consciousness – is its foundation. Its other face is emptiness – the dynamic quality that goes beyond all fixity, mediates between all duality, and, far from being a lack, is the very basis of abundant fullness, the space that allows for form.
I’ve always been what I term a ‘freelance’ Buddhist, attached to no particular school or sangha (whilst attempting to evade accusations of eclecticism and possible superficiality by careful study of its many branches). What attracts me are the Dharma’s psychological insights and supremely practical message about living well. I first came across Buddhist ideas as a teenager in the Zen writings of Hubert Benoit and Alan Watts. Later, in my twenties, I visited Samye Ling, the first Tibetan Centre in the UK, where, sitting by a lily pond, I received meditation instruction from Akong Rinpoche. Much later came both formal study and organised retreats. I studied Buddhism at SOAS, where Learning was comprehensive but Belief frowned upon. At the same time I began training as a psychotherapist using a Buddhist-influenced approach, where, by contrast, all theory and intellectualisation were devalued in favour of attention to emotion and intuition. I found that attending to both aspects at the same time enabled me to keep as sense of balance and perspective, which I now see as a helpful example of ‘AND’ at work.
Writing this Mud Pie Slice has allowed me to explore further the teachings of Buddhism which I have found most personal, practical and relevant, and the many ‘AND’s to which they can beneficially lead. This has been a springboard into the world of writing, art and other experiences that so enrich my life. Just as the early psychology of the Buddha illuminates the way our minds work and has so much in common with the findings of contemporary neuroscience, so the creativity and attention of artists and writers reveal the contextuality and the emptiness of which Buddhist texts speak. The ‘AND’ points in all directions, a small yet vital indication of interdependence.
So I have come to greatly appreciate the importance of that little and so often neglected word, which stitches a Buddhist approach to each and every subject – the brief conjunction which reveals the rich, complex interdependence and the impermanence of everything. If a modest mud pie expressed the noble intention of a gift to the Buddha, so may the humble ‘AND’ convey the wonder and richness of Buddhist thought.