If someone asks me if I am a Buddhist, my answer is >Yes<. What a mundane message, I know, but bear with me for a second. This simple answer is usually followed by half a dozen disclaimer, which explain what I talk about when I talk about Buddhism. I wrote about that before >here<.
I do this because what most people know about Buddhism usually turns out to be surprisingly imprecise. Also, no matter what you say, half of all the Buddhist schools will immediately come after you with torches and pitchforks because they think you deliberately misrepresent their lineage. If you go on and then ask me >why< I am a Buddhist, I will answer that I simply tried everything else I could find and this is the only thing that ever worked for me.
From there I can go into deeper explanations, if there are further questions.
Most people somehow don’t do that. I learned that when I was younger. Asking people what spiritual path the follow would mostly get me confused looks. If I got an answer at all, it was usually that someone considers himself Christian. When I asked why, I was back to the blank stare.
Once I meet the parents of a girlfriend and they turned out to be some strange kind of fundamental Christians. I thought >awesome<, because if anyone knows their stuff, then the fundamentalists. So I asked a couple of innocent questions. I will never forget the moment when the confused mother turned to her husband and asked: “Honey, what do we believe in?”
This experience was really baffling to me, since in my life there is usually no shortage on people who will talk for twenty minutes straight about why they chose this particularly model of car and why the choice was crucial for their survival in this world.
Somehow I still think you should always know what you do and why. There is a real danger in not knowing this. If you are unaware of your path then some people might make you follow something you really don’t want to, just because you never bothered to look into it.
You should also know how other religions and spiritual paths look back at you and how the judge you. Small example: Did you know that the Pagans where convinced that Christians are not so much following a god but rather a powerful demon? I think about that, whenever I see them praying to a guy nailed to a tree. It makes me wonder.
I give you another more Buddhist example. Recently I met a wonderful and amazing woman who practices in a certain Sangha. Their practice is to sit in a circle and recite a mantra. The mantra is for healing. The idea is to send healing energy from the Buddha to yourself and others.
We talked about this and I remarked that this is a wonderful practice for healing especially with all the visualizations and that it is a really powerful way help others.
I also pointed out that it is strictly speaking (and if you want to get all technically about it) not a Buddhist teaching, since it is not a practice that is pointed at enlightenment.
I should have kept my mouth shut, because it turns out that her high-level-super-experienced-Tibetan-former-monk-teacher told her very explicitly that it indeed is a teaching that will lead her to enlightenment. She was very upset with me.
I never told her the rest of my thoughts, since it is not my business to criticize other peoples practice. However I thought to myself: If you sit in a circle and recite a mantra and you think that leads to enlightenment and that the quality of your recitation has influence on the speed of enlightenment you are not so much a Buddhist. You are a closet Hindu. You practice exactly that, what the Buddha went out to criticize the Brahmans for. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Hindu. It’s just.. you might probably want to know about it, don’t you?
There is a crucial point in that story. Buddhism is all about knowing. No excuses. Especially not of the: >But-my-teacher-said-so<-kind. You are not supposed to believe anything a teacher says, or anything you read on some weird guys internet blog. Use your own head. There was a time back in the old days, after the Buddha passed on, when Buddhism was not called Buddhism yet and the monks gathered and wondered what they should call their spiritual tradition. What to call themselves. On idea was vibhajjavadin. The translation is: Those who follow the doctrine of analysis. Or to put it in modern words: Those who break shit down.
It became the name of one of the old sects. However, it’s quite accurate as a name.
It’s really what we do. We break shit down. Down to a point where there is no more breaking down. I say it again: It is all about knowing.