the practical buddhist : essentials

the buddhist who says f*ck

As a Practical Buddhist, I’m a nonconformist. I don’t  go in for the robes and rituals, elaborate ceremonies, or festivals having to to do with Buddhist traditions. I’m dedicated to a secular Buddhist practice that’s directed at helping others eliminate suffering from their lives, and is well described by Noah Levine in his two books, Dharma Punx and Against The Stream.  Click here for the website.

I’m also very free with flavoring my vocabulary with words that His Holiness the Dalai Lama probably wouldn’t ever say, but that continue to serve me well in times of expressive need.

Yes, I say f*ck and sh*t several times each day; so much so that one might call them my mantra.

I’ve used these words for quite a while. There have been times, in the last decade especially, when I’d beat myself up for swearing in front of my son. As a teen becoming immersed in the local, independent music scene in Santa Cruz, California it wasn’t like he’d never heard anyone talk this way. Still, I didn’t feel completely right about it. After all, a parent is supposed to be a child’s role model, right? (Crap…probably f*cked that up, too.)

For a while I made a concerted effort to stem the flow of f*ck and sh*t. I wasn’t too bothered by uttering damn or even the occasional goddamnit as they were always exclamations that underscored a stupid mistake on my part most of the time. In my experience language can be simultaneously meaningless and, as has been written about rather pithily,  hold the power to ‘maketh the man.’

But as I said before, I’m a nonconformist and just because something is PC or within the mainstream of society (a phrase that begs us all to become mindless lemmings, in my opinion), that doesn’t mean much to me.

As a Practical Buddhist I live my life and interpret reality according to my experience. If my experience calls for the utterance of the occasional f*ck or sh*t, so be it.  Life goes on.

My son is now 19 and living in another city and still performing regularly in local clubs around California. He periodically uses the same language but is also a straight edge, hardcore, tattooed, dharma punk. So I guess I didn’t do such a bad job raising him.  😉

Appropriate intention and harsh speech

In the Eight-fold Path, the Buddha taught that we should use speech in ways that are useful and true, that doesn’t denigrate others and /or would be considered insulting. Here’s how Noah Levine, writing in Against the Stream, described his use of harsh language:

“Harsh speech has been my habit since an early age. I have always loved the shock value of swearing. Over the years, my vocabulary hasn’t changed much, but my intentions have changed a lot. I still swear quite a bit, but my use of fuck, shit, bitch, and balls serves more as an exclamation point to illustrate my sentiment than a sword to cause harm with.”

He finishes with this:

“It is my feeling that swearing isn’t always harsh or malicious. Like everything else, it depends on the intention – in this case, our intention in using the language.”

There is a huge intentional difference between calling a woman a bitch and joking about how your job is a bitch. Calling someone a ‘f*ckwad’ is denigrating, but exclaiming, “WTF!” when you’ve inserted the wrong house key into the doorknob -for the third f*cking time- isn’t.

No sailors in my house

I don’t come from a long line of colorful linguists with tattoos and vocabularies like that of a sailor. In fact, my mom and dad never used swear words in raising us. They also never had any tattoos. But despite these obvious faults (kidding), they managed to raise three adults that use language rather freely. Maybe it’s a generational thing as my generation embraced the freedom of expression painfully birthed in the USA in the sixties.

Now that I’ve come full circle and am taking care of my mid-eighties parents, I still use the same language I’ve used for decades. In conversation with them, I refrain from using my more colorful metaphors, but they do hear the occasional f*ck it or damnit from other parts of the house.

I think Noah is right. Our language is a product of our intention and if our intention in swearing is to punctuate our expressions with emphasis, given the right social situation, I don’t see the harm. Some traditionalists will differ in their opinions no doubt, but that’s OK.

Vive la f*cking différence!