What is the intention when we speak to others about our beliefs? What is the goal?
First off, like some others said, I don't get into it unless a discussion goes in that direction or unless I am directly asked. I am not embarrassed or ashamed but sometimes it is not appropriate or necessary. But when I do, I simply say, "I practice Buddhism” or “I practice Buddhist teachings”. Some may see this as nitpicking, but I believe our words can mean far more then we expect sometimes. I am very careful and specific. I don’t want to say anything that would diminish what Buddhism is or not properly convey the ideas to another person. I want to have that person leave with some understanding of it, even if it is only a very small aspect. I feel the statement; “I am a Buddhist” starts the dialogue of on the wrong foot. It automatically sets Buddhist ideas on the same level as other religions/philosophies and conveys the idea, “I have chose this way and the work is done.” And we all know choosing to walk the path is only the beginning.
So what is my intention? What is my goal when it comes to publicly discussing my beliefs? To show respect for the teachings and properly explain them within reason to whom I’m talking to. And considering most of those around me, to start that off with, “I am a Buddhist” would very much hinder that goal. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to talking about Buddhism, it’s about spreading the ideas for the benefit of everyone, not about declaring my association to them. I know my level of devotion to the Buddha, the teachings and those that follow. Saying the words, “I am a Buddhist”, even just to myself, would not affect that level. However if it helps others build confidence in their practice I fully encourage it.
Through many of samsara’s births I hasten seeking, finding not the builder of this house - pain is birth again, again. O builder of this house you’re seen, you shall not build a house again, all your beams have given away, rafters of the ridge decayed, mind to the unconditioned gone, exhaustion of craving has it reached.(Dhp - 153, 154)