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.