One night, when browsing the web, I must have stumbled upon what was then still called ’21st Century Buddhism’, a podcast which consisted of talks given by Ethan Nichtern, a young teacher in the Shambhala buddhist tradition. That is undoubtedly one of the better coincidences that have shaped my life thus far, as his insights are what eventually convinced me to commit to a regular meditation practice. Here is what he has to say on contemporary buddhism:
“To me, buddhism was this awesome gift, wrapped in really weird packaging. It would almost be like if you gave your friend who was really into football, a signed football from his favourite NFL player, but you wrapped it in frilly, pink paper, so he couldn’t tell what it was and was slightly turned off. He’d say: “I don’t want that. I don’t care what’s in here.” Something felt off about the presentation, but the teachings, once you unwrapped them, felt very relevant to me.“
(from ‘Practice like your Hair is on Fire – Part 1′ © 2009 Ethan Nichtern)
This problem of what he called “retro packaging” is exactly what his teachings help to unwrap. He talks about what’s happening in our mind as we come home from a bar at three in the morning only to aimlessly watch Youtube clips for an hour while we know we have to be at work the next day. Or how when we walk down the street and pass hundreds of people, we can only remember the two that we thought were hot. His podcasts shed light on the whole spectrum of buddhist teachings, ranging from mindfulness, karma, impermanence and desire to money, anger, sex, and almost every other topic we get confronted with in our daily lives.
Ethan Nichtern has a very likeable way of talking, calm, yet without that grueling air of holiness you can hear with teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh (whose teachings are well worth studying in their own right, mind you), and is quite witty to boot. I’ve found myself bursting out laughing many a time, mainly because of his disarming honesty. I highly recommend listening to some of his talks, and if you have to choose two, listen to ‘Desire’ (recorded on 2009-11-14) first, and then check out ‘The Basics of Working with Your Mind’ (recorded on 2011-01-03)