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I recently noticed that the “For Dummies” franchise had a book called “Buddhism for Dummies”.  This made me laugh. Buddhism is a philosophy (and, in some areas of the world, a religion) full of deep-sounding expressions, lots of
quiet time alone, and complicated teachings that could (and will)  take a lifetime (or two)
to unravel. The Buddhist path suggests that you simultaneously be okay
with where you are in your life, recognize that there is a more
peaceful and compassionate way to live and that there is a well-worn path to that
way, and to recognize that none of this matters because you don’t
exist. 

In Buddhism, there’s no externalizing responsibility for the good and the
bad to fates or gods or god or holy ghosts; karma, once you really
start to understand what that means, is as rational as 2+2=4 or the
recipe for water. No judgement here unless you choose to bring your
own, but it’s a fact that as you travel the world you’ll meet some really smart people, 
regular smart people, people of average intelligence, and dumb people. I’ve noticed that everyone I meet who is practicing Buddhism is regular smart, or really smart, and I’m wondering what’s up with that.


Though
Buddhism is huge in Japan, it’s well known that most Buddhist practice
in that country is centered around rites of passage – birth, marriage, death – and
Buddhist “monks” and “nuns” are paid by laypeople to do the dirty work
of daily meditation and ritual on their behalf.  Is this because most
laypeople are lazy or disinterested in the journey to enlightenment?
No- that’s too easy – most people are not that lazy and do desire to
better themselves. I think it’s because Buddhism require a level of
intelligence, sensitivity, nuance, and understanding beyond the grasp
of the average person.  I do not say this sarcastically or meanly. 
It’s simply what I’ve observed. Buddhism (as practiced as a daily way of life, vs. an arms-length religion), with its emphasis on self-reflection and investigation, self-selects for the more intelligent among us.

Buddhism
is very appealing to people who are addicted to “a-ha” moments and the
possibility of transformation. It takes a certain level of wisdom to be
interested in a-ha and transformation. Buddha himself started the
teachings because his hungry intelligence sent him to the world to do
practical experiments on his own mind – and it takes a big mind to
undertake such an effort. The teachings themselves derive from his own
joy at his own “a-ha” moment – THE a-ha moment – and his compassion,
sensitivity, and eloquence as a teacher. All of this takes smarts.

I’m
not suggesting you have to smart to be Buddhist. No more than you have
to be smart to write a book, or understand Algebra or Physics.
Everything can be learned by anyone who tries hard enough, no matter
how smart (or not) you naturally are, but some huge percentage of people are going to be
self-selected out of any pool that requires above-average intelligence, because the work you have to do to make up for a lack of natural intelligence is too hard.  Buddhism is
hard even if you ARE smart – it requires constant vigilance,
confronting painful issues, and making decisions that sometimes seem
counter-intuitive – and if you have a hard time just trying to
understand the basic concepts before you even get to the hard work, you
might not stick with it, even though the benefits are out of all proportion to the work you put in, no matter how hard you have to work at it.

I
know that there a lot of people who call themselves Buddhist or meditators who sit
each day and meditate and think about their to-do list, or what they’ll
have for lunch, or a recipe for cake, who aren’t doing the work to find the gap between their
thoughts. They’ve  mistaken meditation for a stress-release technique
rather than as a means to investigate all the amazing ways we lie to
ourselves.  And I know people – religious and non-religious, smart and not-as-smart  – who
wouldn’t bother with Buddhism either because it doesn’t appeal, or they
don’t get it, or they don’t want to do the work  – some of whom have more
compassion and wisdom in their left hand than some Buddhists ever will
in their whole mind.

It’s
not a secret that a lot of smart people abandon religion in their adult
lives, or re-contextualize it based on what they know to be true about
rational thought or the way they think the world works.  Of course, a
lot of smart people do stay with and deepen their own religious
traditions – this is not to say that being smart necessarily translates
into being non-religious.  But it does seem that people come to
Buddhism in particular with a spirit of inquisitiveness and investigation and
intelligence, usually because some other path of discovery isn’t
working, or their family-chosen religion has failed them in a state of
crisis, or they recognize that there is something rippling at the edges
of perceived consciousness that seems worth a curious sniff or two or twenty.

Buddhism
offers a highly logical, deeply tolerant, slightly complex, and
deceptively simple means to understand the true nature of things. It
also offers a highly logical, deeply tolerant, slightly complex, and
deceptively simple means to engage in lots of philosophical sounding
conversations while pretending to try to understand the true nature of
things.  Perfect for smart people to faff about with – or to experience true transformation.

My
experience with Buddhism (with myself, and others) is that it tends to
attract people who are highly intelligent, sensitive, creative, and
self-absorbed.  None of these things make it easy to find the gap
between your thoughts, but since we also tend to be the trend-setters
in culture (by virtue of our leadership through our intelligence,
sensitivity, creativity, and self-absorption) perhaps our devotion to
the Buddhist path will inspire others who will make the teachings more accessible to less over-analytical folks, who can do it better than we
can, because they are less “Monkey Minded” than we are. That could lead to a true personal and cultural transformation, even. Regardless of the work involved, I’ve encountered no path better suited to creating an easeful and meaningful way of being in the world than Buddhism.

Maybe the real trick to Buddhism is to become more stupid?

Is Buddhism only for smart people?

 

 

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