I was reading up on author Lodro Rinzler in preparation for a conversation with him about New Year’s resolutions, when I found out that the Shambhala Buddhist practitioner and teacher once attended a silent month-long retreat during which he shaved his head and took monastic robes and vows. I considered the fact that I use seven different hair products and have never maintained silence while awake for more than 45 seconds, and worried we might not have much to discuss.
Then I saw that Rinzler’s new book, Walk Like a Buddha, is subtitled, Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again, and I knew we’d have plenty to talk about. Here’s our conversation:
You’ve dedicated much of your writing to making Buddhist teachings relatable and relevant to modern society. Many of your readers have little to no experience with Buddhism. (I would be one of those.) Are you ever bothered by the idea that readers might pick and choose elements of Buddhism to grasp onto in a particular situation without delving deeper into mindfulness or making a practice of meditation?
In both of my books I tried to emphasize the meditation practice pretty thoroughly. I think if that is the one thing that people take away from the book—the fact that they could become more familiar with who they are and more present with what they do—that would be a huge accomplishment.
I am less worried about people mixing and matching the various elements of Buddhism they discover. I think there are a wide variety of teachings that are offered and made applicable to one’s daily life in these books but that they are entirely cultivated through this meditation practice. So I hope that is what people take away. The teachings presented in these books are meant to be lived; they are not theoretical. Meditation practice shows us how we make them part of who we are and what we do.
I love the idea of seeing everyone as inherently good, deep down. I want to do that. But seriously: Do you believe any people are just straight-up jackasses?
I believe people are confused, sure. I believe that, because sometimes I’m confused. At the same time I have faith in my own experience of basic goodness, or innate wakefulness. Even when I am a jerk I know that’s still something I’m capable of manifesting. And I strive to manifest it more. I think if more people had an actual experience of their own basic goodness then they would live with more kindness and compassion for others.
So no, I don’t believe that some people are just jackasses. I think some people share how they suffer in a more outright way than others, i.e., they let it manifest and affect others in a harmful way. These are people that we should have compassion for and learn to work with skillfully. We all make mistakes. The question becomes can we see them, acknowledge them, resolve not to repeat them, and move past them in order to be of benefit to others? Can we help other people do that, too? Can we engage these jerks and ideally transform them with the power of our own kindness?
Could you recommend a few New Year’s resolutions that would benefit just about everyone?
Generally what I recommend when people are considering a New Year’s resolution is not to consider something that they want to do but the quality they want to cultivate. If you say, “I want to lose weight,” or, “I want to get a better job,” those are things that you could or could not do. The question becomes “Why do you want those things?” Often we set resolutions for ourselves without any real knowledge of what we are actually hoping to achieve. Will losing weight or having a better job really turn us into the person we want to be?
Perhaps the better thing to do for a New Year’s resolution would be to think through a quality such as kindness or compassion or generosity—something you can cultivate regularly—and have your life revolve around that. You could still do these other things. You could express kindness to yourself through eating well. Or you could express compassion in your job by settling your affairs well as you transition out.
But you could also look at this quality that you want to cultivate in all areas of your life. What does it mean for you to be more kind to your family? To your friends? When you go out on a Friday night? As you can see, if there’s a quality that we want to cultivate in ourselves then that quality can seep into all the various aspects of our life and transform the very essence of who we are. Then we are creating real change in a new year.
Thank you! I feel like this talk might already be turning me into a little bit better of a person.
Thank you so much for this opportunity. I hope you’re well.
What are your New Year’s resolutions—and are you reading anything to help you accomplish them?