The Buddha tells us that if we want to live a pure life, then there are some things we should give up, or quit doing. Renunciate them. Quit smoking and eating at MacDonalds every day, these things are bad for you. That sort of stuff. Renunciate cussing and gossiping, laziness, and that job as a bouncer at the Meat Market Titty Bar. Blah, blah, blah, yadda yadda yadda. If you didn’t already know the difference between right and wrong, you wouldn’t be reading this.
A big part of the Buddha’s notion of renunciation is social in nature. Renunciating evil has a lot to do with who you choose to hang out with. To be righteous, you should hang out with righteous people, if you want to become enlightened, party with enlightened people. Forego the coworkers you used to get stinking, pants-pissing drunk with whenever the Steelers had a home game.
But that hardly means that you have to hang out with boring nimrods down at the Mindfulness Center. Frankly, I avoid those guys. I am hardly an intellectual; I’m more of a thug, and it rubs me the wrong way when I am among a host of pseudo-intellectual “Buddhists” who say that Buddhism is only for intelligent people.
The most enlightening period of my life was spent almost exclusively in the company of criminals, hundreds of them, military veterans coming out of prison between 2004 – 2007, arsonists, child molesters, thieves, drug addicts, drug manufacturers, armed robbers, and my favorite kind of criminal, murderers. Back fresh from the Buddhism Emersion Experience in Sri Lanka, I was hired to implement a prisoner re-entry program for military veterans, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. It was called the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program.
Aye! aye! aye! I could write a book. (I did, actually.) I won’t belabor you with details about the project, which was the most successful prisoner re-entry program in the history of the universe, but I did get to operate a service delivery system using Buddhist principles, and I gained an enormous amount of counter-intuitive knowledge about criminality, and people in general, from the felons I served.
In a sense, former prisoners have a leg up on most other people: they’ve paid for the bad (or stupid) things they’ve done, and have spent a lot of time meditating about their lives. Many of them gained astonishing insight while they were in prison. For some people, some thoughtful people, incarceration can be a blessing.
The most enlightened of my clients were the ones who spent the most time in prison – murderers. I never met a murderer I didn’t like, which I can’t say about all Buddhists. My composite typical murderer friend is an African-American who, like Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, developed a Buddha-like nature during the twenty-five years he was locked away. All he wants is a simple room, a modest job, and a very contained life. “People murder other people for two reasons,” one of them told me, “greed and lust. Most guys like me give up greed and lust.”
I spent hours with these guys, both before they were released, and also afterward for as long as six months. We became friends, and confidants, and I heard the life stories of many, many guys, usually on the road trips we took after we picked our guys up at the prison the day of their release.
I based my system on trust – we invested trust in our clients, and they had to decide whether to maintain that trust or betray it. Eighty-five percent of the guys we got out didn’t betray the trust, and the rest were cocaine addicts.
I know men convicted of child molestation who I would trust to baby sit my granddaughters. What’s that again? Many if not most of the child molesters I served were upstanding citizens with second wives, a drinking problem, and a nubile new step-daughter who is not quite of legal age. Most of them did it only once, most of them never had intercourse with their victims, some of them even turned themselves in when they realized what they’d done, never faced the parole board and served out full sentences. They were men with integrity before they groped their step-daughters, and they reeked with it after they got out. Vietnam combat Marines, never leave a man behind. Even if he’s dead.
On a brighter note, I’ve taken up yoga. I am five-feet-seven and weight 240 pounds, and if I can do yoga, anybody can do yoga.