Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Break all the rules. Break every rule. That’s part of what we did at at Khyber Sound Club with Nick Dourado. We begin with breathing mediation, then listening mediation, in which we focus on the background sounds in the room. Then we do several rounds of improv vocalizing. In each of these exercises, we identify the various “rules” that keep things tightly wrapped in our heads and hands. We explore how those rules inhibit or enhance our ability to respond to music, to improvise and create. As I do this practice week after week with this group, I learn to be more daring in my practice.
Since beginning Buddhism a few years ago, my inclination has always been to challenge the status quo, to rebel, to break the rules. I soon discovered the value of questioning everything I am taught in Buddhism. “Whatever they tell you to do, do the opposite.” That has been my MO in Buddhism for some time. And what I’ve discovered is that you learn exactly what the dharma is and how it works by doing the opposite of what it tells you to do.
To give a simple example, if the dharma is “when meditating, do not move at all”, then the practice is to do just the opposite. I allow myself to move anyway that I feel like moving, to let go of sitting in any formal posture, to let my thoughts wander all over the map. What I discovered was that if I continued to practice this way, I would be reinforcing habits of distraction through meditation. Obviously I don’t want to do that. So then I gradually, gently brought my mind back to mind-training, to reinforce habits of concentration. So whatever they tell you, do the opposite. Then you see what the dharma is trying to teach you. You also see its limitations, where it can help you and where it is not effective.
Every time Buddhism presents me with a dharma, a rule, a should, like ‘you should do this and you should not do that’, I do my best to break that rule. Thus I examine that rule and use the breaking of that rule to examine my own preconceived notions and habitual patterns. It opens up my mind and understanding of both buddhadharma and my own experience of life.
The practice of breaking the rules enables me to put Buddhism to the test, as Buddha said we should. it enables me to see how certain dharmas are timeless and universal, and some are very limited to certain cultures and times. It enables me to explode Buddhist mythologies, to test the value of its principles and practices, to see for myself if they really do work or not.