What makes you a Buddhist

Posted by on Aug 1, 2013 in Buddhism | 586 Comments
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I’m often asked questions like:

  • What makes you a Buddhist?
  • What do Buddhists believe?
  • How do I become a Buddhist?

I’ve always thought of Buddhism as something to do, rather than something to believe. A set of practices that support a positive experience of life.

This morning, though, it occurred to me that I don’t really experience it like that anymore.

I’ve been studying and practicing for so many years now that it’s kind of become engrained.

Now it’s more of a ‘be’ than a ‘do’. Perhaps I finally am a ‘Buddhist’?

When things don’t go your way

If I had to narrow it down to one key thing, I’d say that what makes you a ‘Buddhist’ is your attitude to things not going your way.

Things not going your way is an experience we can all relate to. But we respond to it in different ways.

Many people try harder to control their environment. They believe if they had enough power or money, they could cut down on the things that don’t go their way and make life better.

This is of course true to an extent. A new car breaks down less than an old car. A big car is less cramped than a small car. And all cars are faster than walking (except maybe the old Citron 2CV I used to own).

But it’s only true to an extent. The big things in life can’t be controlled by money or power. Old age, sickness, death. These are the ones that particularly need a different approach, but there’s a lot of smaller stuff too. In the moment, some things go your way, some things don’t. How do you respond to that?

Some people think it’s all divinely orchestrated, or that it’s fate. They throw their hands up, get down on their knees, and pray for a better future.

That works to some extent too. It can certainly help cultivate an attitude of acceptance.

The Buddhist take is different. Buddhists believe that all things are dependent an causes and conditions for their (temporary) existence. Usually they’re based on multiple causes and conditions interacting with each other.

Some conditions can be influenced by us as individuals (e.g. by getting a big new car). Others can’t (no matter how rich or well connected you are, you will eventually die).

You and your mind

Buddhists see that how happy we are has a lot to do with our own minds. If we work on our minds, we can develop an attitude that’s more in line with how things actually are, and therefore we can experience more peace.

But our minds are the result of causes and conditions too. We have limited control over them. So we need to cultivate a positive attitude to our attitude! Sometimes we won’t feel so good. Sometimes we’ll get angry. Whatever.

The Buddhist approach develops the heart and mind and acknowledges where we, and the world, are at in this very moment with kindness and non-judgement.

And when we can’t manage that and we struggle and strain to change things we can’t change, we don’t give ourselves too hard a time about that either!

This way of looking at things starts out as something conscious and thought out. But after many years it becomes how you experience life. And that way of experiencing life is one way of describing what it is to be a Buddhist.

A contribution to the soup

Buddhists are varied and different. Different traditions, schools within traditions and people within schools, have their own take on what ‘being Buddhist’ means. This is my latest take on it.

May it slosh around with the others in this in this gigantic soup bowl of life. And may it taste pleasing to some of you!

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