The word spiritual is a highly loaded word that I have struggled to define and understand. There is no agreed upon definition and if you ask a group of people you would probably get lots of different responses. I would say that spirit means something like soul or psyche or even the mind, in Wiki they talk about an intangible self, that part of yourself that is not material but something that not only moves and motivates you but is the core or centre of your very being. So being spiritual is being self aware of the intangible you; what moves and motivates you, what attitudes shape you and what core values guide you.
Being spiritual can simply mean being kind, the Dalia Lama has famously said his religion is kindness and not so famously but a huge influence on me, my father once said that his religion was being a good bloke. A good bloke in Australia is a strong Australian archetype, a man who is strong but kind, always ready to swear and poke fun at the elite except if it’s an elite sportsman who are Aussie blokes idols, and a good bloke above all has a fierce sense of humour making fun of himself as much as he relentlessly teases others. It turns out that being brought up in Australia admiring the ideal of a good bloke is actually quite spiritual in its nature.
After having a regular middle class upbringing in Australia I thought it was a good idea when I was 28 years old to sell off all my possessions, there wasn’t much, and move to a Buddhist centre and become a monk. Not your usual vocation for an Aussie bloke but I was disillusioned with the 9-5 grind and thought training my mind to be happy, wise and compassionate was a meaningful thing to do. Since then I have studied Buddhist wisdom in-depth and become somewhat obsessed with meditation as a way of life and it is here that my two paths of being a good Aussie bloke and a Zen Practitioner collide.
Zen can be quiet mysterious but the Word Zen actually just means meditation in Japenese. The practice of Zen as a way of life is more difficult to describe but it has a major component of irreverence. That is the equalising of the ordinary with the divine. A cup of tea enjoyed with total mindfulness and presence becomes an experience of Zen.
A famous Zen saying is when I’m hungry I eat, when I’m tired I sleep, so here Zen becomes the experience of being natural and divinely ordinary not trying to escape to some enlightened ideal or a perfect self or become super human but instead just being present on a morning walk is enlightened enough. Zen Master Suzuki said
“If you can’t find enlightenment right here in this moment where else do you expect to find it?”
Certainly Zen and being an Aussie bloke share an irreverence for ceremony and tradition but what I find the most similar is the Australian attitude of ‘she’ll be right mate’. An eternal easy going mentality that can laugh in the face of any adversity. In fact an Aussie bloke is apt to say in the most difficult of times, for example loss of a job, relationship break up or even a death the good ol’ Aussie bloke will often announce, ‘she’ll be right mate’.
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There is even a Buddhist deity called Samantabhadra which translates as ‘the all good’. This idea far from being cruel or dismissive is actually a recognition that at the heart of every experience both good and bad is a divine essence a Buddha nature and it’s the role of meditation to be mindful of this enlightened essence in every situation as primary and the flux of the world as a secondary apparition – like ripples on the ocean of eternity.
‘No worries mate’ is another Aussie saying that I’m fond of. Firstly Aussies love to call everyone mate. It’s like calling everyone friend, everyone is your friend and deserves a smile, even the Dalai Lama once advised to greet everyone you meet as if you were meeting an old friend. Secondly no worries is not making a big deal out of anything, not adding suffering to suffering. Sometimes shit happens but no worries mate, she’ll be right. This rings of Zen where the mind is not moved by circumstances but remains calm and centred in its recognition that the moment is enough, Zen masters have called this the imperturbability of the original mind, but as an Aussie I just call it ‘good as gold’.
“All experiences are made of the same substance but appear differently, just like all gold jewellery is made of gold but takes many shapes and styles.”
A sense of justice or ‘fair go’ is another quality that both Zen and being an Australian good bloke share. After-all Zen is a Buddhist tradition which respects all beings as equal displays of an essential Buddha nature. As an Aussie we believe in a fair go for everyone. Although we are famous for chopping down tall poppies we are also known for giving a mate a hand up, never kicking someone when their down and a real Aussie bloke would never ever hit a woman. Because an Aussie bloke loves sport so much there is a pervasive attitude that if you train hard enough and put in the work no matter who you are you deserve a shot at the title and in Zen the same applies to enlightenment, man or woman Japanese, Indian or African everyone has Buddha nature and has the potential to realise it.
There was an Australian tourist advertising campaign a few years back that showed an attractive Australian woman in a bikini on a beach beckoning the world “where the bloody are ya?” This actually can be a great Australian koan, a deep question that elicits a profound realisation. Many spiritual types are aware of the spiritual attitude of always being in the now, most famously written about by Eckhart Tolle in his book the Power of Now, but a lesser known stanza is the ‘power of here’. So often we are striving to get some place else, some elusive place in the future where things will be better and you’ll be happier, but a key to Australian Zen is to be right where you are and make the most of it. According to Zen ‘right here’ is where enlightenment is found, and is the only place you will ever be. Australian Zen is being present and mindful right where you are no matter how difficult it might be. Where the bloody hell are you? I am always here mate.
Therefore Australian Zen is above all relaxed and easy going, cheeky and irreverent, humorous always making light of the situation, it believes in a fair go for all and has an impenetrable optimism. Going with the flow and smashing down egos at every turn. Laughing in the face of adversity and exposing your buttocks to royalty, tough and resilient and ready to share a beer with the next person you meet or get in a fight defending a woman’s honour. Whatever the situation requires is what is done. Not trying to escape to anywhere else, happy in a sense of mischievous abandon in whatever is happening. This is a type of spirituality I can have fun practising and a spiritual lineage I would be proud to hand down to the next generation.
Written by Chad Foreman
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