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Mapping the Dharma

Mapping the Dharma
by Paul Gerhards

 

One Monk, Many Masters small cover

One Monk, Many Masters
by Paul Breiter
 

Mind-Work cover_100x155

Mind Work
by Peter Clother

 

Persist

Persist
by Peter Clothier

The Ten Perfections,
a Study Guide
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

 

And Thus My Presence in the Plains of India

Paul Breiter Prebuddhist-1970

Paul Breiter, Katmandu, Nepal, 1970. This photo was taken just before the shave and haircut that was required to enter Thailand.

Since passing the days of childhood, when joy could be found in hitting a softball over the head of an outfielder, nothing had seemed right. Generally, everything bewildered me, and most things scared me. Nothing ever worked out as I hoped or as I thought it should. And nothing interested me very much. When I tried to think about “What I want to be” or “What I want to do,” if I didn’t come up blank I came up with apathy, despair, and nagging doubts.
Doing well in school was easy enough—but what was the point? I didn’t dislike my parents or people of their generation and socio-economic standing, but I didn’t see any meaning in living like they did.

In the society we were growing up in, we didn’t see meaningful culture or traditions, and so had nothing to turn to that would buck us up, give us guidance or hope. But lucky me, lucky us, it was the 1960s. American life was undergoing upheavals, and if meaningful alternatives weren’t yet out in the open, at least dissatisfaction was becoming fashionable.

When I left home, I felt in my bones that things weren’t right, including my own mind. I had cobbled together a “philosophy” of how things work and how I could find everlasting happiness. I thought I was on to something profound; I’m sure many other 21-year-olds who had been through the psychedelic wars also thought that way. But basically, as I often repeated at the time to anyone who would listen, I felt like I was running for my life: “When the house is burning down, you don’t think too much about where you’re going or what you want to do, you just get out.”

I had little idea of grand spiritual traditions that had been tested by time and had brought countless beings out of misery. My lifelong apathy made me undisciplined, made it difficult to see anything through, so even had I known of a way to deliverance, I wouldn’t have been ready to follow it.

Still, I think it is human nature to expect that the next good thing can break the logjam and bring happiness. Even for those choosing alternative lifestyles, that attitude was still ingrained. Again, lucky me: I got to experience and indulge in most of the things I hoped and believed could bring me permanent happiness, and none of them worked, in fact they only increased the sense of frustration, despair, and bewilderment. And thus my presence in the plains of India after an overland voyage on the cheap through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

—Paul Breiter, excerpted from One Monk, Many Masters