I live in a small town. It’s where people stop for gas between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We like our small town, of course. It’s our speed, and we’re acquainted with just about everyone.
There isn’t much here, though. No shopping to speak of, no real night life… typical small town. What is here is what the few of us here make ourselves as a community. As long as you don’t want to get rich doing it, you’ll gather enough people to have a go. I formed a community choir two years ago. We have about 25 people in it each season. Perfect. We have a small cultural arts center, a community theater group, service clubs, a dance troupe, scouting, and of course sports.
Becoming a Buddhist in a small (somewhat conservative) town presents its own challenges.
Well, not really anyway. I’ve found a few other people who practice meditation of a sort. I think we all approach it a little differently. I think that’s okay, too. The raft is not the shore, right? Whatever gets you there?
Still, I do wish we had a little more organized sangha nearby (i.e.: less than 65 miles away) with a qualified teacher. Then again, isn’t that wishing for something that isn’t part of the issue to begin with?
When you walk away from Christianity, as I have, you still have emotional reactions and attachments that are probably not very conscious, lying just below the surface. One of these, for me, is that I still crave the security of authority. Evangelical Christians depend on the authority of the bible, which to them is the direct Word (capital W) of God (capital G), and on the authority of those who teach them every week what that bible means to them. They depend on pastors to guide them, to counsel them, to make them feel safely and clearly led by the Holy Spirit. It is a leadership that is sure not only because it’s based on the Word, but because Christians know those teachers are going to help strictly accountable for the manner in which they lead. Furthermore, they know that those leaders didn’t show up by accident. They were called by God to be there. It is His (capital H) will that those men (and they’re nearly always men) be there at that time to teach what they teach. It is all providence, all predestined, and none of it is by accident.
What a contrast to what we believe. Life is random. It is what we make it. There is no predestined future. Future is imagination, the past is memory. There is only now. Versions of this may vary, but this isn’t far off the mark for most Buddhists.
So, we’re cobbling together a little raft. We’re forming a little meditation group that will meet weekly on Sunday mornings to meditate and either study a book or discuss topics, maybe even have teachers in from time to time. We’ll let it develop as we go, with no expectations, just our own skillful effort, as best we can.
Sometimes in a small town you just have to put it together for yourself. There’s nobody else around to make it happen, nobody else to bring our thoughts to life.