The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.
I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.
I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.
To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.
Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.
Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!
Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!