During a visit Zak and I fell into discussions about deeper issues as we worked. The practice of Buddhism is a frequent topic when we get together. As practiced by most Westerners Buddhism is a discipline, rather than a religion, since there is no worship and no affirmation of a deity.
And, in fact this is apparently exactly what the Buddha in mind. He was not concerned with religion or the hereafter. When some of his students came to him, saying they were leaving because he had not told them what happened after death, he asked, "Did I ever say I would address the question of the hereafter?"
"No, Master, you did not," they answered.
"No," he replied. "I only said I would teach you to deal with suffering, and it is suffering that leads you to worry about the hereafter."
As I see it (and I am no scholar) my practice of Buddhism serves to discipline body and mind, encourages me to live a useful life, and helps as I struggle to grasp the nature of reality.
By the time you are in your late 60s you have lost many loved ones. And you've seen three generations of children born, bringing with them the features and gestures of their forefathers, the laughters of aunts and the voices of uncles who died in wars 50 years before them. You see your father's 80 year-old face recast in the joyous innocence of his infant ggg-grandson, and you realize that while we are on a continuum, we are all temporary manifestations of energy, winking in and out like lightening bugs on a summer night, in an unending dance of cosmic energy.
The nature of reality is that this is the only moment we have, and what we do with it creates our lives as surely as a carpenter uses wood and a box of nails to build a house. We create our lives moment to moment with our thoughts and actions.
The practice of staying in the moment doesn't mean you don't make plans or lead a normal life, it simply means you stay awake, and pay attention to what you are doing, maintaining a disciplined mental state, rather than letting your mind wander all over the place, in an undisciplined manner. Fretting over past hurts, wrongs done me, tomorrow's potential problems or what tragedies may occur next year all take my thoughts from this moment and destroy my peace of mind. Indulging my ego in angry temper against another destroys my peace of mind, as do feeling guilt, embarrassment and shame, which are just varieties of anger against ones' self. If I have done something genuinely wrong I must make it right, but at the proper time and place, and in a peaceful way.
There are hundreds of gurus selling hundreds of books promising to reveal how to achieve peace of mind. While some are interesting and offer great insight, I've come to feel that you can't absorb peace of mind by osmosis. You can't get it by reading about it, buying a DVD, or attaching yourself to a guru.
You can only find it by practicing it. You practice by attending to the moment, and by letting go of your expectation that it is possible to acquire it by any other means. You practice it by bringing your thoughts back to the now, attending to, and living in the moment at hand with a calm discipline and deep awareness. Softly, softly, guided like a tiny child just learning to walk, kept safely on a path by a gentle touch when a wobbling step takes her too close to the edge.
I will not pretend to have achieved this state, and I constantly must check myself, but it is an excellent discipline, one I have gained a great deal of comfort and contentment from.