What is Soft Buddhism? | Satya Robyn

Photo by Kaspa Thompson

What is it about?

What is Gentle Buddhism and what qualifies me to talk about it? I’ll tell you, but first I want to describe the view from my window. I live with my wife on the ground floor of our Buddhist temple, and just outside is our vegetable garden – now a mess of gone-to-seed spinach, old zucchini plants and a scattering of shiny poppies. Beyond the vegetable garden wall is a wide expanse of valley – at this moment the mist is gathering in the hollows and I can see the faint silhouettes of trees and hills emerging from the white.

I’ll start in the valley – the skeins of mist, the translucent petals of the poppy – because that’s where I’m happiest. I’m happiest when I forget about Buddhism, soft or not, and relax into my day – face all that happens with curiosity, courage, compassion and gratitude.

Unfortunately, I am not always full of these qualities. Sometimes I’m restless, or full of voices criticizing me or telling me I’m not enough. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with compulsions — eating cake or scrolling on social media. As I was typing that paragraph, I just had to get up and leave one of my dogs outside, then the other, then they both wanted to come inside. Then Ralph wanted to sit in the same chair as Aiko, and I had to mediate their little quarrel. I noticed that impatience rose in me like mercury in a thermometer.

How to be enlightened…

Dogen, the 13the Century Zen Master, told us that to be enlightened by the ten thousand things, we must begin by studying ourselves. The Buddhist teachings offer us many wonderful ways to learn about ourselves, and that’s what I will write about in this blog – aided by my experience with the model I use as a psychotherapist – internal family systems. How can we become more friendly with the different parts of ourselves? How to discover their motivations and help them loosen their iron grip?

For decades, I trained pretty hard. It paid off – I wrote ten books, ran a successful mindful writing business, worked with several hundred psychotherapy clients, and ran a Buddhist temple with my wife Kaspa for eight years. I have very high standards for myself and can find it hard to take breaks or have fun. I approached Buddhism in the same way, seeing it as a serious and ongoing project – reading hundreds of books, completing years of study, feeling guilty when I don’t practice “enough” or when I don’t am not a ‘good Buddhist’.

I’m done pushing. It doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help anyone else either – because I carry my stress with me like a force field and inflict it on those around me. I don’t think I’m the only one to approach Buddhism in this “fiery” way. These messages are embedded in our capitalist and colonialist culture and, of course, they will also infect our interpretation of Buddhism. If we just did more meditation, if we just did more retreats, if we could just be more generous or patient or compassionate, then everything would work out! Is that okay? What is “sufficient” Buddhist practice? What if we couldn’t be more generous? What if we are overwhelmed by feelings of jealousy, self-pity, or rage? Then what ?

To the glory of sweetness

I believe that if we can approach our lives and our Buddhist practice with gentleness, we will not only feel better, but we will also become nicer people. If we can stop blaming ourselves, we will be less likely to blame or criticize others. If we can be more honest about our limitations, we’ll stop over-promising and letting others down. If we can forgive ourselves, we will be more able to forgive others. If we can heal what needs healing within ourselves, we will be more available to help others. We live in a time of great suffering – war, pandemic, economic crisis, climate and ecological emergency. We need bodhisattvas more than ever. In my experience, the quickest way to bodhisattva is to go slowly.

I feel excited about this journey into Soft Buddhism. Did the Buddha talk a lot about gentleness? And those who followed him? What does my own tradition, Pure Land Buddhism, have to offer? What about other Buddhist traditions? What are my daily experiences of Gentle Buddhism, and what are yours?

For now, it’s time to finish this writing and look out my window again for a while. The mist is still there, but the sun is diluting it and I can see more of the trees, the fields and the little houses. I can feel a new relaxation in my body as I watch – a deep recognition of my ordinary being and the relief of being acceptable as I am. Maybe I’ll sit down with a cup of tea before I go upstairs to clean the sanctuary room. Maybe I’m finally learning the way of gentleness.

I hope you will come with me.

go slow ��

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