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Thread: The Hesitant Buddhist

  1. #1

    The Hesitant Buddhist

    I was engaged in the process of filling out a government census form and was moving along nicely until I reached the blank box marked religion.I hesitated at this point and the intention to insert the term Buddhist into the box was put aside as something seemed amiss.Was I a Buddhist because I thought I was, or said I was ,or wrote in a box that I was?
    In a back room is a small shrine complete with a figure of Buddha and a bowl for incense and a few rows of books on Zen.On the floor is a zabuton and zafu.These items tend to lend support to the view that I am indeed a Buddhist of the Zen persuasion.But I had to admit that I sat alone with no contact with any Buddhist center in Australia and after twenty years of up and down Zen,still had not taken the precepts.So perhaps I was only part Buddhist or merely practiced as a hobby.I pondered on this for a week or so and some stuff seems clearer but it looks like a work in progress.I think the answers to the Buddhist or not question may hinge on how I have invited Buddhism,particularly the paramitas,to inform my life and in turn how I engage with the world.I would invite your thought if this topic interests you
    Two Palms Together
    Malcolm

  2. #2
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Just regarding the form, my thought would be, what business is it of theirs? (Ok, I understand, yours is the country with 10,000 people who claim to be Jedi knights... :-)

    I agree, though, with the basic point of your post. I don't call myself buddhist, even though I sit (more or less) regularly, life much of my life in a way that coincides with the buddhist precepts (but it's not because of the precepts that I live my life that way). I don't, however, have any Buddhas in my house - I've got rocks, though, and in this lineage, rocks are almost the same. :-)

    Kirk

  3. #3
    Just be Malcolm. And just be the Universe. That's not really two things, by the way. So, in the "name" space, please write "Universe". Address, "here and now"

    Oh, a Zen guy could have real fun answering census questions. You could answer the questions with more questions!

    Hope you got that form in on time while thinking about it. :-)

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: The Hesitant Buddhist

    Quote Originally Posted by malcolm
    I was engaged in the process of filling out a government census form and was moving along nicely until I reached the blank box marked religion.I hesitated at this point and the intention to insert the term Buddhist into the box was put aside as something seemed amiss.Was I a Buddhist because I thought I was, or said I was ,or wrote in a box that I was?
    In a back room is a small shrine complete with a figure of Buddha and a bowl for incense and a few rows of books on Zen.On the floor is a zabuton and zafu.These items tend to lend support to the view that I am indeed a Buddhist of the Zen persuasion.But I had to admit that I sat alone with no contact with any Buddhist center in Australia and after twenty years of up and down Zen,still had not taken the precepts.So perhaps I was only part Buddhist or merely practiced as a hobby.I pondered on this for a week or so and some stuff seems clearer but it looks like a work in progress.I think the answers to the Buddhist or not question may hinge on how I have invited Buddhism,particularly the paramitas,to inform my life and in turn how I engage with the world.I would invite your thought if this topic interests you
    Two Palms Together
    Malcolm

    Dear Malcolm,

    Some years ago I heard the story of Thich Nhat Hanh being accosted by a stranger at a street corner. "Are you a Buddhist?" asked the stranger. "No," replied Thich Nhat Hanh.

    That story may be apocryphal, but if true, it would be consistent with Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and, I think, with Buddhist teachings generally. To call oneself a Buddhist is to construct an image of oneself. And to the extent that you become attached to that image, it may lead you to ignore or deny certain aspects of your experience, such as envy or anger. It may also put a kind of icon in your line of sight, blocking your perceptions of things as they are. I think that's why Linji advised us to "kill the Buddha," should we meet him on the road.

    A while back, one of my colleagues, a sassy young dance instructor, introduced me to her students as a "Zen dude." To clarify matters, I explained that I was a "Buddhist practitioner." That seemed to help, insofar as it put attention where it belongs, which is on the practice itself and not on an alien faith or an arcane system of beliefs. When the question has come up on other occasions, I have found it useful to address it in that way.

    Gassho,

    Ben

  5. #5
    One thing that has confused since reading about Buddhism is following the Buddha's teachings, put into practice what you find true etc.. and people calling themselves Buddhists and doing rituals.

    I really don't feel qualified to type this, but I've always seen Buddhism as a religion and Buddhist practice as something you do with no label on it. Anyone could call themselves a Buddhist, Christian and the like, I could call myself a Muslim, I don't think it makes any diffrence.

    Do you have to fill that box in? I'd even be hesitant to label myself an agnostic or non-religious.

  6. #6
    I have practiced some form of Buddhism for roughly 12 years and until this last summer I was hesitant to refer to myself as a Buddhist for many reasons. I was/am suspicious of organized religious traditions and felt that calling myself Buddhist was another trap for my ego. But over this last summer I realized that the only thing that mattered was MY practice and if that was most closely aligned with Buddhism then calling myself a Buddhist as a matter of expediency when conversing with someone else was the most honest way to answer. If it makes me feel funny, that's my problem.

    All of us are extremely complex individuals when it comes to our spiritual beliefs/practices. Trying to articulate the complexity of my beliefs to others became more of a self-indulgent ego trap than simply answering them in the simplest answer, "Buddhist." I have let go of the idea that my spiritual life is important enough that I should educate others about its intricacies. If others really want to know more about it they will ask for further explanation. So I now have the approach that if someone asks, they are probably wanting a one-word answer, not my life's story. So if I had to pick a word, I would say Buddhist.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  7. #7
    Shiju has a very interesting point.

    When we say the phrase "I am a Buddhist" it kinda places a mask over our true faces. People will impose their own preconceptions as to what a Buddhist is. Not to mention that we impose our own thoughts as to what a Buddhist is on ourselves.

    For example, my old boss brought her teenaged son to my station a couple of weeks back. Out of nowhere she says to him, "Rodney is a Buddhist monk." I was a little dumbfounded (ok a lot dumbfounded...me? a monk?). When I came back to my senses, I could see her son's expression visibly change. I had gone from "dude who runs a gas station" to "paragon of wisdom" (I suppose that is a promotion).

    Another example, when my mother in law discovered my "religious preference" suddenly I became an expert on the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan forms. If I had a nickel for everytime I had to say "I don't know." in response to her questions, I'd have quite a few nickels.

    I suppose in the end it doesn't really matter what you put on the paper or what hat you decide to wear in public so long as you are always who you are rather than trying to be something that is untrue.

    Oh my suggestion, on the line that says "Sex" write in "not without dinner and a movie."

    R

  8. #8
    I have thought about this, and think that everyone is Buddhist, it is just that most people do not know it yet.

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  9. #9
    I see two different questions here:
    1. What defines a Buddhist?
    2. Should a Buddhist (or any sentient being) define oneself at all.

    1. Definition: The common doctrine is of course that you become a certified Buddhist by taking the precepts. So maybe only a minority of the forumers is actually Buddhist. Since Buddhism is practice, I think itís sufficient to accept (rather: share) the four noble truths and practice accordingly. Voila Ė youíre a Buddhist.

    2. Labeling: I donít avoid labels. Despite their emptiness they are useful sometimes. I remember Eckhart Tolle joking: "You donít pick up the phone and say: This is the nameless presence..." So I (hesitantly) learned to say "yes" when someone asks me if I am Buddhist. Unless it provokes misunderstandings: Recently I was asked by someone at my work place if I had "converted to Buddhism". Since I don't regard Buddhism a faith and since I was rather agnostic before, I said: "No. But I practice Soto Zen."

    This all sums up to: Mind matters, not words.

    Regards,
    Mensch

  10. #10
    When we say the phrase "I am a Buddhist" it kinda places a mask over our true faces. People will impose their own preconceptions as to what a Buddhist is.
    Not to argue, but unless we are silent when asked about religion/spirituality/faith/practice whatever you want to call it, any answer we give will place a mask over our true faces. It is part of the human condition to attempt to express infinite complexity with finite vocabulary. All concepts are doomed to misrepresent specific situations, but we have to say something.

    With respect,
    Bill

  11. #11
    Oh, a Zen guy could have real fun answering census questions. You could answer the questions with more questions!


    LOL Depends on how "Zen" you want your answers to be. Iagine:

    NAME: yes.
    ADDRESS: Hello.
    AGE: Blue.
    SEX: Recliner chair.
    NATIONALITY: Have some tea.
    MARITAL STATUS: Ice cream.
    RELIGION: Have some tea.
    NUMBER OF CHILDREN: Thursday.
    INCOME: Hav some tea.

    ...and so on.
    Now I have an overwhelming urge to go somewhere and fill out a form. Maybe I could apply for a hysterectomy...

  12. #12
    You dare question me! (just kidding )

    What you say is very true. Just keeping the topic narrow.

    I don't really mind identifying as a Buddhist or any of the other "isms" or "ists" that go into the attempt at describing how my mind operates. It's not something I wear on my sleeve, but I see no reason not to be open.

    To be honest I'd have fewer headaches if people remained silent. I'd save money on aspirin, but treeleaf would be rather dull. :twisted:

  13. #13
    Or a matchmaking service questionnaire.

  14. #14
    You dare question me! (just kidding )

    I weigh 130 pounds soaking wet so the only way I question anyone is from the safety of an internet posting.

    Truth is I go back and forth on the title thing. I tend to be more comfortable with titles that describe actions (jazz pianist, father, teacher) rather than ones that attempt to describe ideologies (democrat or republican, etc). I see Buddhism as being more a descriptor of action than ideology (a la Shiju's "Buddhist practitioner"), but I know that is debatable and bound to be misunderstood by the average American non-Buddhist.

    Bill

  15. #15
    Buddhist. Not Buddhist. It's all the same really. Just keep sitting

    G,W

  16. #16

    Re: The Hesitant Buddhist

    Hi Again Malcolm (if I may put that label on you temporarily ... it is just another mask and label too) ..

    Boy, so many lovely, wise responses on this thread! What a bunch of complimentary characters we are, who stumbled upon each other here in this Sangha (I am a bit biased, but it is true).


    Quote Originally Posted by malcolm
    So perhaps I was only part Buddhist or merely practiced as a hobby.I pondered on this for a week or so and some stuff seems clearer but it looks like a work in progress.I think the answers to the Buddhist or not question may hinge on how I have invited Buddhism,particularly the paramitas,to inform my life and in turn how I engage with the world.I would invite your thought if this topic interests you
    Two Palms Together
    Malcolm
    I would say that, if you are living, as you can, so as not to do harm, and sitting Zazen ... learning from Buddhist perspectives and teachings to guide you in that ... then it does not matter what you call yourself. On the other hand, if you call yourself "Buddhist" but are not living your life in such way ... well, that may be a problem.

    Someone once asked me the best way to teach friends and family about one's Buddhist beliefs. I said not to try.

    Instead, if you live your life as a good friend/son/husband, honest and caring ... and when the folks around you see the balance and stillness that manifests within you spontaneously while the rest of the world is going all to extremes ... that will be more than enough. My own mother (who at first was not so crazy about my interest in Buddhism) took to practicing herself late in life, in her sick bed, as she said she had seen the changes it had made for me.

    So, don't worry about the name. Just be a truly "human" human being. I think.

    Gassho, J

  17. #17

    Re: The Hesitant Buddhist

    Hey Jundo,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would say that, if you are living, as you can, so as not to do harm, and sitting Zazen ... learning from Buddhist perspectives and teachings to guide you in that ... then it does not matter what you call yourself. On the other hand, if you call yourself "Buddhist" but are not living your life in such way ... well, that may be a problem.

    Someone once asked me the best way to teach friends and family about one's Buddhist beliefs. I said not to try.

    Instead, if you live your life as a good friend/son/husband, honest and caring ... and when the folks around you see the balance and stillness that manifests within you spontaneously while the rest of the world is going all to extremes ... that will be more than enough. My own mother (who at first was not so crazy about my interest in Buddhism) took to practicing herself late in life, in her sick bed, as she said she had seen the changes it had made for me.

    So, don't worry about the name. Just be a truly "human" human being. I think.

    Gassho, J
    Thank you. This is beautiful. I actually teared-up a bit while reading this. I'm such an emotional slob. But what should I expect with a background in drama and the fact that I work with 5 and 6-year-olds? :roll:

    Gassho,
    Keith

  18. #18
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Malcolm

    In his book, The Empty Mirror, Jan Willem van der Wettering describes his year in a Zen Monastery. At the end of the year, Jan goes to see the Abbot, and asks if there is a ceremony for him to become a Buddhist. The Abbott replies that there is a ceremony, that he would put on the heavy robe with the brocade on, which he finds itchy, and the monks would chant. Jan says he would like to undergo that ceremony, but as he is leaving the Abbott calls out "Will it help, do you think?" Jan returns to see the Abbott and says that no, he doesn't imagine it will help with anything, as such, but, well, isn't the Abbott a Buddhist? The Abbott replies that he has no idea, and adds (apparently in an imitation of a Chicago gangster's voice, whatever that means) "Who is this Buddha fellow anyway?". Perplexed, Jan leaves and goes to talk to the monk who has befriended him. He asks him "Are you a Buddhist?". His friend replies: "Is a cloud a part of the sky?". Jan says that the issue of him "Becoming a Buddhist" was never raised again.

    Gassho

    Martin

  19. #19
    Friends,

    My practice has suffered (read: I have not sat zazen) over the last month or so because of my debilitating schedule (40 hr workweek + full time student + moving into a new apartment + a new car payment etc etc). Just this morning I found myself wondering "I haven't sat zazen in so long. Am I still a Buddhist? Is there a point at which one is no longer a Buddhist?"

    It's wonderful and serendipitous that I found this thread today. Thanks to all for their wonderful answers. Back to the cushion!

    Justin

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