The Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

The title of this post came from an email I got from a friend of mine today. He says he’s stopped recommending Buddhism to people because on balance he feels it gets in the way more than it helps.

I can see his point. If we’re looking at what we’re trying to achieve – direct seeing of reality – do we really need another thing to believe in, explore, talk about, identify with, write blogs about, teach, make careers out of? If we’re trying to become ‘true individuals’, do we want to join another group?

Another friend of mine (who is a Buddhist teacher with a few decades of experience) says he starts out a course telling people ‘Give up shouldism and take up Buddhism’. At the end of the course he says ‘Now give up Buddhism, and take up Dharma.’

I think that’s the key. Buddhism has a lot to offer in terms of helpful tools and systems. It’s also a way to come together with like-minded people to explore new ideas and learn. But we have to be careful to keep taking it deeper (or keep letting go of it, or allowing it to take us deeper).

One of the fetters that binds us to the rounds of rebirth is ‘Adherence to rights and rituals as ends in themselves’. Going through the motions. Doing it out of habit. Mistaking the letter for the spirit.

But my experience is that it’s fairly easy to avoid that if you want to. Lots of people don’t really want to wake up. They’re relatively happy with turning up once a week to a meditation class, bringing homemade cake to the festival days, going on the occasional retreat to dwell in some positive vibes and get out of the office for a bit. They love chatting about Buddhahood.

That’s fine with me. Why not?

But if you want to take it further, all we’re actually talking about is waking up to reality. And reality has a habit of whacking you round the chops until you get the message. You don’t really have to go looking for it. You just don’t actively avoid it. And even if you try that, it will find you in the end. Death is not optional and the dying process will be a strong wake-up call. I don’t mean that in a ‘repent or you’ll go to hell’ kind of way. I just mean that strong life experiences definitely happen and they definitely happen to everyone. For some that’s terrifying, for others it’s an opportunity. Other people think of it as a natural thing that doesn’t require much thought.

Personally I like to be able to prepare for the big stuff, and enjoy the small stuff. I’ve found Buddhism to be something that helps me do that. The Buddhist label can be useful to help position my take on things when I’m talking with people, but I don’t feel like the label is particularly important to me personally. I’m simply trying to live well. I’ll take whatever’s going that can help with that.


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