Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a belief in lists ~

Buddhism is a system of lists: the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path. And there are many more. As an inveterate list-maker, this appeals to me. It makes spiritual achievement seem, well, do-able. As if even this waffly seeker can figure it out.

I love lists. When I began to keep a journal, so many years ago my 1st son hadn’t been born yet, I called it my ‘book of lists.’ It seemed to me then, before I had made my living writing, less pretentious than saying I kept a ‘journal.’ Somehow a journal was what ‘real’ writers did…


Now? I call it whatever I’m doing in it at the moment. Drafting a poem? A writer’s working journal. Grocery list? A book of lists. Clippings of the weather where I’m traveling? A traveler’s journal. Cartoons and notes and the ephemera of my hectic life? A kind of visual journal that helps me collect, reflect on, and make sense of my life.

What the lists in Buddhism do is similar, on a grander (and much more significant!) scale. They lay out goals — things we mortals can aspire to. What a business-admin-savvy friend of mine calls a ‘stretching objective.’ They remind us of our priorities: Buddha, dharma, sangha. The Buddha, his teachings, the community. They record for us our inevitable sufferings ~ the four noble truths.

This comforts me enormously. As if the Buddha, his followers, and all the Buddhists since were aware how lists ground and sustain me. It’s kind of like a  Buddhism journal, if you think about it. With Tibetan sand mandalas for illustrations…


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