What Makes You a Buddhist? My Response

About a month ago I read an article in a popular Buddhist magazine that got my panties in a bunch. I was going to write a response immediately, but decided to let myself cool down before I wrote something (including the author’s name) that I might regret. I’m glad I did. Allowing for time to pass gave me time to think about what he wrote and why it made me so angry.

Here is a snippet of the article he wrote:

“… It’s not what you eat, how much you drink, or who you have sex with. It’s whether you agree with the four fundamental discoveries the Buddha [the message of the four seals] made under the Bodhi tree, and if you do, you can call yourself a Buddhist…”

“One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths:

All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are pain.
All things have no inherent existence.
Nirvana is beyond concepts.”

“…The message of the four seals is meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments…They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary…”

“If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist.

If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist.

If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist.

And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist.”


My first thought after reading this was, “What the fuck?! And who the fuck are you to say who is and who isn’t a Buddhist?”

I mean, my blood was boiling! I really hate dogma and I really, really hate someone telling me who I am allowed or not allowed to be!

I consider myself to be a practicing Buddhist but that does not mean I have to agree with everything and anything I read about it. I don’t belong to any organized religion because I ask too many questions and refuse to go along with “the crowd”.

I choose to follow the Five Precepts and that’s why I call myself a Buddhist. As far as I’m concerned, the Four Seals are open to interpretation. They are not a mandate.


There are many different Buddhist philosophies from Zen to Mahayana. There is no right way or wrong way to practice Buddhism — just different ways of doing the same thing which is to NOT be an asshole (at least most of the time). All the major religions say the same thing — be kind to each other. Since there are seven billion people on the planet, it makes sense there could be seven billion different points of view. Its called “diversity.” What makes my heart sing may not work for you and vice versa. I do think it is a good idea to be respectful of each other’s beliefs or non-beliefs.

This is my opinion, just like it was the author’s opinion about what he thinks makes one a Buddhist. We all have opinions about all kinds of things and there is no hard and fast truth, except for physics. I think we can all agree — what goes up, must come down, but telling someone they are not a Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim, unless they do certain things is stupid and arrogant.

I read somewhere that Buddhism does not compete with other religions. One can be Buddhist AND Christian or some other religion or NO religion. That’s one of the things that attracted me to Buddhism. I can’t stand anyone or group claiming to be superior to another.

Following the Five Precepts is important to me because I want to respect all sentient beings (although I will admit there are certain humans who give me a run for my money). Practicing Buddhism helps me a better version of myself. If I practice meditation daily, I am more aware of my behavior and my thoughts and I don’t have knee-jerk reactions to situations as often. Meditating helps me be a better listener and you wouldn’t know it by reading this post, but I keep my big mouth shut more often.

Probably the biggest thing I learned from reading the author’s article is; he is entitled to his opinion, just like I am entitled to mine. I don’t have to agree with what he wrote and it would be better for my health if I didn’t get so upset about it.




4 thoughts on “What Makes You a Buddhist? My Response

  1. Sorry to burst your bubble bohemian, but I agree with the other author. What you lack is wisdom. Please allow me to explain.
    You view speaks very highly of your compassion but says nothing of your wisdom. Here are two situations to ponder.
    When an Islamic fundamentalist straps a bomb to his chest and blows up your neighborhood your soft sweet version goes right out the window and you learn about impermanence of all things composite things including your highest ideas and values. All things dependent or interdependent blown away in the dust of our ignorance. We realize suffering. Another situation is you meditate diligently for years and realize enlightenment, in this moment of great bliss you know without a shadow of a doubt that what you thought was joy and happiness before pales in comparison to the state of nirvana. Even your previous happiest moments look like pain and suffering when compared. And when we see and completely understand our own involvement and actions since beginning-less time in all situations including these two we comprehend karma.
    You see here is the rub, your view lacks WISDOM, compassion without wisdom is soft mushy and serves only to our demise and of all those around us. Wisdom without compassion is hard inflexible and very cold. Nobody like a wise a$$. When we unite these two seemingly opposite views great things happen, we go beyond our concepts and see the truth in the great middle way. The four basic thoughts or the four immeasurables are of great importance. It is said that we could study and meditate on just them in order to reach enlightenment. They form the basis of the Theravada view and are a constantly recurring theme of discussion and teachings from many teachers, and they are in the beginning of many Mahayana Buddhist meditations. They set the frame for not only for our meditation but after a few years, they set the frame for our entire lives as well. Constantly reminding us of our motivation and goal. They have the effect of refocusing of our view, that for at least for most of us gets a little cloudy once in a while.

    I hope you can see now how important they are and that without them we are just a bunch of wishy washy, new age, feel good, do nothings.
    What are your thoughts?


    • My first thought is: I think its funny you consider my belief, new age, wishy washy. New age is a term used by some who think it is something new from the 60s. I assure you its not. This may come as a shock but there is no enlightenment as in, “game over, I win, I know everything about everything”. There is only an understanding that you know more than you did and can try to better this time at making choices about your life. Anyone who straps on a bomb or kills another because of his or her religion is an asshole, plain and simple and probably a psycho. Their killing has nothing to do with any religion. Hate comes from fear. All major religions write about compassion.

      I respectfully disagree with you and I stand in my belief and opinion because what you, me and anyone says about anything is still only our opinions. Years ago I worked in a diner and one Saturday afternoon a waitresses asked if she could leave for an hour so she could go to mass at the Catholic church a block away. I agreed and after she left a customer snidely remarked, “Catholics aren’t REAL Christians.” I didn’t say anything but I thought her behavior was exactly why I didn’t follow organized religion. They each think they are superior. No one gets to decide whether I am Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, etc. except me because they are all labels and I really hate labels. We humans like to label things and belong to groups (tribes) instead of just seeing us as individuals and respect each other.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I respect your right to still believe your a Buddhist, after all you are the only one who can judge that at the end of the day. It just seems a but weird to me, kinda like saying that you are a Christian but don’t believe in Jesus or a Muslim who thinks Mohammed was a bad example. When you take the core of a belief system out, what are you left with. I would like to encourage you to keep the four immeasurables perhaps in a grey zone, where you can ponder them once in a while. You never know….

        The good news is that we are all on the way to something much better 🙂

        Hope you are having a good day.

        Liked by 1 person

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