I remember laying on my bed one night in so much pain. I found myself continuously fantasising about death, as I just wanted to end the pain I was in. Depression and anxiety together and I felt it take over my body like the sun does on one of those unbearably hot summer days in Sydney.
It was a combination of mental illness and a crash from substance use at a party that weekend. I was so emotionally vulnerable at the time, I just stopped caring. It was a Monday night, I had just been made redundant from my job that I was about to get fired from, anyway. I remember feeling so much pain during this time of my life, but I couldn’t understand why there was still some feeling deep down that made me feel like I wanted to do something big.
On this particular night, I told myself that I was going to begin a study in Buddhism so that if I were to ever experience mental illness like this again, at least I can have something to turn to. I didn’t know anything about Buddhism, besides the practice I took up for mindfulness meditation many years prior. Other than that, I was under the impression that Buddhism had something to do with faith and so I wanted to look into it.
It was in Bangkok where I met a Pakistani my age who was travelling with some family. Much like myself, he felt suffocated living in his home town. But for him, it was much more complicated than that. He was from Karachi, a city riddled with all issues surrounding religion, politics and a hell of a lot of corruption.
We spoke for hours over cigarettes and coffee. Our conversation was ‘edu-taining’, as we philosophised over life and what is going on in the world today. He was from an Islamic faith and obviously that was something that was stumbled upon. Reluctantly, he got out a piece of paper and a pen and told me to be discrete because he wasn’t meant to be doing this, but he wanted to help me in this case.
He began drawing out a diagram which explained to me how I got into Buddhism in the first place. He continued to ask me questions as he wrote on the diagram and what we came to shocked me, in a way. It turns out, I chose to look into Buddhism as a faith out of fear. From his point of view, this was an incorrect reason for someone to want to commit to a faith.
I found a lot of sense in that, and although I was taken back at first I was extremely appreciative towards him for the fact that he had taught me something quite profound about what it means to have true faith. I learned that the faith thing wasn’t for me. Well, not at this point anyway. I find as though I’ve always needed answers and evidence. I cant just blindly believe in something without sufficient evidence and logic.
The ironic thing is though, after that event my study in Buddhism went deeper. This is because Buddhism was never about faith for me. Buddhism is a study of the mind. There is no God, although there are many Buddha’s who people admire within the religion. A Buddha is nothing more than an individual who has become enlightened. They are more awake and can see through the ego and all of the other delusions that most tend to identify with. It does have many philosophical and cultural applications to it, especially here in Cambodia.
In saying that though, there has been this great use of Buddhism that has been integrated in to Western society, and it is less to do with ideology and a little more to do with science, reason and spirituality.
For a lot of people, this faith and the traditions that are held within these religions can help people lead value driven lives, give them meaning and provide them with their spirituality. I see that with majority of people who I meet in Cambodia who practice Buddhism in a way that is very true to their cultural traditions and ideologies. But, I feel like that dude had a point. For a faith like Islam, for a lot of people it is blind faith. The first pillar of Islam is called ‘Shahadah’ which says “there is no God but God”.
I feel like those who find a way with identifying with certain religions are also identifying with certain cultures. My fascination with Buddhism has come partly from the fact that I have a deep interest in the Orient and its exotic culture, as I view it through the lens of a born and bred man from the West. These deep interests fade into new things. You will most likely find me in another part of the world soon, continuously trying to stimulate my uncontrollable desires to explore and learn.
With that though, comes being a practitioner. You can study as much as you want, but you must execute on what you learn. These esoteric practices and these ideas around reality, perception and the mind, when put into practice start to change everything. Scientific study is kept closely knit with my experiential learning when I am meditating and observing the mind from a place of objectivity and detachment.
This is the precious jewel that I have found from Buddhism – a study of the mind.