Dear Donagh.... Someone recommended your site to me and I look at it sometimes. I'd like to pop this question to you. You’re not the first one I popped it to, I can tell you! Why is religion so boring? Religious people are always talking about LIFE as if it was going out of fashion. Life life life. We had a religion teacher in school who never stopped talking about life, and he bored the [expletive] off us for three years. I’ll never forget it. I remember looking at my sister’s cat one time and thinking the cat is less boring than that teacher. So I'm asking now, why is it so boring? (don’t give me a boring answer!) Ed W
Dear Ed, Thanks for your letter: it wasn’t boring in the least!
Yes, one of the great mysteries of religion is how we succeed in making it so boring. I think it has something to do with giving answers to questions that were not asked. Teachers are apt to think they are preparing us for life, in the sense of loading us up with provisions that will last us forever. It’s like being given the whole bakery when all we wanted was one slice of bread, or even a single bite.
But you graduated from school, and now you are free to choose your own forms of boredom! Now for a really boring answer that will make your former teacher look good! I'd like to say a good word for boredom. It’s the underdog that everyone loves to kick. I'd like to stand up for it!
I was delighted to find a really appropriate passage to quote for you. It’s by a great Korean Zen master, Seung Sahn, still alive and well, I hope. Here it is, in his distinctive English.
“Boring is very important word. If you attain boring, then everything is boring. Then this is no desire, no anger, no ignorance. Desire is boring; anger is boring; ignorance is boring; everything is boring. Then, you will get Enlightenment. So boring is very important. Everything is equal. But people don't like boring. They want something, and boring is not interesting. It's like clear water. Clear water has no taste, but no taste is great taste. Everybody likes ice cream, but eating ice cream all day is not possible. However, if you're thirsty, clear water is wonderful any time - better than honey, better than ice cream, better than anything. The truth is like this.”
Was your teacher ever able to match that?
Boredom is lying there in waiting for everyone, no matter what their race or religion. There's no such thing as a life in which there is no boredom. You know this already. The question is what to do with it. Do you spend your life running from it, or do you stand and face it? Modern life offers us millions of ways of running from it, but we can never get away from it, because we carry it inside ourselves. I remember a therapy group in which one person announced loudly one day, “I’m bored!” Quick as a shot, the facilitator said to him, “Would you like to tell us how you’re boring yourself?” He sent the ball right back over the net! We were not boring that man, he was boring himself. The world is not boring, it’s an endlessly fascinating place. Our boredom is really our own; that's why we can never get away from it. So let’s stand and face it. That's what Seung Sahn is telling us to do in that passage.
A Zen master once said to me, “Boredom is the beginning of wisdom.” During a Zen sesshin you sit in the meditation room for a total of nine or ten hours a day, facing the wall! It is a situation designed to bring on boredom. Then you face it, which means facing yourself. A thousand times you would love to get up and walk out, but a thousand times you decide to stay there. The immense background of silence allows you to become aware of your inner chatter. You listen to that chatter - worse than any religion teacher, or at least just as bad. You begin to see where it comes from, how it is driven, where it is trying to push you. A whole world of ‘wanting’ begins to show itself. This is the power that drives that chatter. It is a disease of the will, abstract; call it ‘wantingness’: wanting for the sake of wanting, wanting so as to escape from oneself. It drives the mind into a spin, and when that spin gets stronger it drives our lives into a spin. Go out on the street and take a look. The success of advertising relies entirely on our suffering from this disease.
A Zen sesshin is an extreme measure. There are all sorts of less drastic measures that one could practice. When you find boredom coming down on you don’t start running right away. Take a look at it, for half a minute. It’s not as awful as it seems. It’s yours, anyway! Don’t have any ideas about it. Make friends with it. Strange to say, that is the only cure for boredom! Later you will get the courage to dive right in. All of our consciousness is foreground, except this. This is background. This is you. For the present, pick these special moments and look at them. After a while it’s remarkable how you can study them. It’s like having a cavity in a tooth that you can't leave alone. Very small, nothing really; but the secret of the world is there! If you can live these empty moments, these cavities, then nothing can knock you down. These tiny cavities are the door to meditation.
I tried to match the next two sections of this site (Jacob’s Well and Wisdom Line) to your question. And if you look in the archive list in this section you’ll find a previous question on boredom. Greet your former teacher if you meet him. And my respects to the cat.