Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

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Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Mawkish1983 » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:15 pm

Out of curiousity, why do many people I meet who I would say are Buddhist not define themselves as such?

I've noticed it particularly online on sites like Facebook. There seems to be a weird trend for people I would consider to be Buddhists to describe their religion as 'a path to happiness' or some other wishy-washy definition.

Yes, I know I should not be worried about what these other people do... but could it be that their refusal of an outward public religious label shows they are more 'developed' than me on the path?

Does labeling yourself a Buddhist somehow hold you back?
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby nathan » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:55 pm

I might write buddhist on a census form or a medical form. Beyond that buddhist doesn't really mean much. These days it seems everyone and their dog is a 'buddhist' for a week whenever some new age title sweeps the bestseller list. I prefer to pass on all of that fun. People can call me whatever they like.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:19 pm

I posted this over at e-sangha once:

The usual answer I get when I go to a Zen or Vipassana center, when asking if they are Buddhist:

No
No, just a vipassana practitioner
No, just a zennie
No, meditation practitioner
No, just looking
Buddhist?! Hell no, I'm not a member of any religion
No, I'm an atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish, etc.

But they practice Buddhism in most outward appearances, have an altar at their homes, etc.

I think it is better to state that one is Buddhist, if that is what you are following. If you are still searching or unsure, then the above is fine, but after a while it is best to pick some path and stick with it. By being eternally neutral you may not make much progress because there is no commitment.

On a slightly different subject, I have noticed that academicians prefer to say they are agnostic, atheist, not following any specific religion. Some think that they are being more 'objective' by being neutral and then some take it a step further and think they are superior to those who claim a certain religion. Since leaving a teaching position at a college, I have found myself more at home in forums open to all (like Dhamma Wheel), rather than those geared to scholars and professors since I am quite open about being a Buddhist.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby clw_uk » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:25 pm

I think some of it comes from western social conditioning


In the West there is now a lot of attack on religion as superstitious, ignorant and is subject to a lot of ridicule, so i think that when people discover buddhism they dont want to be thought of in this way and so practice the Dhamma but just dont call themselves Buddhist


Thats what i think the reason is anyway



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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby nathan » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:05 pm

I have no idea what I am supposed to do with the term buddhist. What is it supposed to mean? If someone tells me they are a christian it could mean about a thousand different things that I know of and some. I still have no idea what I am supposed to think about them. Same with buddhist, it could mean about a thousand different things that I know of and then some. It is about as helpful as calling myself white. It distinguishes me, and very poorly since I am pink, from other people by color and otherwise it provides no information at all. So what is the point of it? I would rather explain the 4NT and then add that this is what I think is the truth of things for living beings. At least it means something to me and might potentially mean something to someone else.

I don't have any paraphernalia to prove my buddhistness. No statues, no posters, no stickers, no nothing. Why would I want to have to go to the trouble of getting all kinds of useless brickabrak to satisfy someone else's idea of what religion is? Besides, no one for hundreds of kilometers in any direction from here could care less if I am a buddhist or not. I don't think of myself as a buddhist at all. I think of myself as someone who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Buddhism, from my pov, is a field of study in universities given this label by some 17th or 18th century academicians.
Last edited by nathan on Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby clw_uk » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:07 pm

Where did the word "Buddhism" come from anyway? I know the Buddha never used that term (well at least not a recorded instance) also what did Buddhists call themselves before this term was thought up? I heard somewhere that it was just Dhamma follower or Buddhadhamma follower, is that right?
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby pink_trike » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:16 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:Out of curiousity, why do many people I meet who I would say are Buddhist not define themselves as such?


Hi Mawkish,

I practice and study the Dharma, but what would be the purpose of my identifying as a "Buddhist"? I eat and study food too, but that doesn't make me an Eatist. Where is this "me" to label "Buddhist"? How would labeling myself as a "Buddhist" benefit my steps on the path? I I'm closer to clarity by entertaining as few identifications as possible, and I'm seen more clearly by people the less identifications I smokescreen with.

What would change if I started identifying as a Buddhist? The only thing I can see is that I'll alienate some people, and I'll have smeared a thick concept all over my concept-hungry identity-seeking mind. Oh, and then I'd have to add other identifying concepts to clarify which kind of Buddhist I am and am not (...am I xxxx Buddhist, yyyy Buddhist, or zzzzz Buddhist?).

Also, Buddhism is generally perceived as a supernaturalist religion. Since I'm not "religious" I prefer not to be associated with Buddhism in the public realm.
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Clear Light is Union
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---

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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:32 pm

One of the early terms, around the time of Ashoka was vibhajjavada, which means “doctrine of analysis.” The followers would be called vibhajjavadins, which would basically mean “analysts” or “those who analyze.”
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:33 pm

I hardly ever speak of it to people I don't know anymore because I don't want to get into the misconceptions or weary attempts to explain. Sometimes there are people who get it, but if they get it, they usually are already practicing. :buddha1:

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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby zavk » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:30 am

Hi Mawkish and friends,

My two cents...

I wonder if the issue of calling oneself a 'Buddhist' or not, or calling oneself an 'agnostic'/'aetheist' or not, has something to do with questions of honor, status and prestige. I am referring to the sociological concept of 'symbolic capital'. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you like, but by way of example: In addition to the usual factors determining the outcome of a presidential election (i.e. knowledge, expertise, experience), there is also the factor of symbolic status. For example, in the case of Obama it was around the color of his skin, whilst for McCain it was around his past as a war hero.

In contemporary secular societies where there is much distrust and discomfort towards anything remotely 'religious', to call oneself a 'Buddhist' is to potentially diminish status, honor and prestige. It is to lose symbolic capital. By the same token, to call oneself an 'agnostic' or 'atheist' is to potentially boost status, honor and prestige. It is to gain symbolic capital.

Perhaps this is why some people prefer to call themselves 'vipassana practitioners' or 'Zennists'. For after all, vipassana is widely perceived to be non-religious in nature, whilst Zen (having been popularised by the Beat Generation) has a certain artistic and counter-cultural status in the popular imagination. By the same logic, it should be quite obvious why some people prefer to call themselves 'agnostic' and 'atheist' (For academics, given the role and function of educational institutions, it is easy to see why they think of themselves as more 'objective').

As Buddhism takes root in the West, it seems that people are becoming more willing to call themselves 'Buddhist'. In some situations, calling oneself a 'Buddhist' gives one more prestige and attracts less chance of ridicule than calling oneself a 'Christian'. Buddhism, no doubt, is accruing symbolic capital in the West. This manifests in positive and negative ways. We can see how the Dalai Lama is widely revered, or how Buddhist iconography is exploited for commercial purposes.

I agree with TheDhamma that committing oneself as 'Buddhist' can be a good thing as it can encourage progress on the path. However, as I have been trying to suggest with the concept of 'symbolic capital', 'Buddhism' or 'Buddhist' cannot be separated from wider sociocultural dynamics. The concept of 'symbolic capital' clues us in into the way in which individuals grapple with their sense of self, and especially, their sense of self in relation to others.

So, following pink_trike, I would suggest that if one is committing oneself as 'Buddhist', one has a responsibility to be ever mindful of the processes behind the use of such labels. For insofar as Buddhism is committed to selflessness, is this not what being 'Buddhist' demands of us?

Your fellow Buddhist,
zavk
With metta,
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby genkaku » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:11 pm

Does labeling yourself a Buddhist somehow hold you back?


Dear M -- Of course it does. That's the beauty of it. It holds you back and encourages you to find out that you can't possibly be held back.

As to the label business, the Korean Zen teacher Soen Sa Nimh was once asked why he wore those robes. He said that if we went to a beach where everyone was wearing a bathing suit and what we needed was a cop, it would be easier to spot a cop in a uniform.

My hunch is that people who decline to label themselves as Buddhists are just afraid of committing themselves to just one thing. Let's keep the options open. This may seem more sensible -- keeping the options open -- but the problem is that at some point everyone has to pick one thing -- just one thing -- and vow to get to the bottom of it if they want to find some peace. Just one thing ... maybe it's Buddhism, maybe it's Hershey bars. The label, whether used or unused, doesn't make much difference: It's the getting to the bottom of things that matters. Broad-minded too often just means scattered or fearful. That's not a criticism, just an observation.

A Buddhist doesn't worry too much about calling him/herself a "Buddhist." True, you might not want to wave it in anyone's face (at a Christian revival meeting for example :)) but simultaneously, pretending to scorn labels is just a means of finding another label.

Just my two cents.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Individual » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:41 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:Out of curiousity, why do many people I meet who I would say are Buddhist not define themselves as such?

I've noticed it particularly online on sites like Facebook. There seems to be a weird trend for people I would consider to be Buddhists to describe their religion as 'a path to happiness' or some other wishy-washy definition.

Yes, I know I should not be worried about what these other people do... but could it be that their refusal of an outward public religious label shows they are more 'developed' than me on the path?

Does labeling yourself a Buddhist somehow hold you back?

Anatta.

So many people casually label themselves as Buddhists, as a kind of fashion. They drink their Starbucks coffee, wear their sandals or crocs, wear sunglasses, smoke cigarettes, have their tattooes, with their man-purse or Tibetan shoulder-bag over their arm, and then they say, "Oh, I'm a Buddhist."
Last edited by Individual on Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby PeterB » Sat Mar 07, 2009 3:43 pm

In my own case I have sometimes been reluctant to identify myself a "Buddhist" in case people judge The Dharma by me.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Jechbi » Sat Mar 07, 2009 4:34 pm

Sometimes the people who ask if you're a Buddhist seem to have misconceptions about what it means to be a Buddhist, so if you just answer "yes" or "no," you're not really answering their question. In that case, it can be tempting to answer, "No." Maybe a better answer would be: "What do you mean by Buddhist?"
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby jcsuperstar » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:01 pm

if someone asked i'll say im a buddhist, but it has caused problems with co-workers before, who were shocked to find out "i didnt worship a living god", they also didnt seem to "get it" when i asked "as opposed to worshiping a dead god?"

it makes a certain part of the population think im cool and others think im a freak, but i spent years in punk bands in the south, i'm quite used to being labled a freak...
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Snowmelt » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:13 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:Out of curiousity, why do many people I meet who I would say are Buddhist not define themselves as such?

I've noticed it particularly online on sites like Facebook. There seems to be a weird trend for people I would consider to be Buddhists to describe their religion as 'a path to happiness' or some other wishy-washy definition.


Perhaps they are uncomfortable being in a minority, which would be the case in any Western country.

Mawkish1983 wrote:Yes, I know I should not be worried about what these other people do... but could it be that their refusal of an outward public religious label shows they are more 'developed' than me on the path?


I don't think so, although one who has achieved Nibbana no longer requires the words of the Dhamma. They are considered a raft that, having crossed the stream, the arahant can safely discard.

Mawkish1983 wrote:Does labeling yourself a Buddhist somehow hold you back?


Not if one keeps in mind the simile of the raft. :)
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Snowmelt » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:26 pm

nathan wrote:I have no idea what I am supposed to do with the term buddhist. What is it supposed to mean?


To me it denotes one who desires to let go utterly of greed, hate, and delusion and attempts to do so by following the Buddha Dhamma. But, since there are so many who call themselves Buddhists but show no inclination to let go of the defilements, perhaps a better term might be "Dhamma Follower".

nathan wrote:I don't have any paraphernalia to prove my buddhistness. No statues, no posters, no stickers, no nothing.


I also have little to no interest in such things. I am interested in the words of the Dhamma and in their application.

nathan wrote:Why would I want to have to go to the trouble of getting all kinds of useless brickabrak to satisfy someone else's idea of what religion is?


No good reason to do so, as far as I can see. :)
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Snowmelt » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:28 pm

pink_trike wrote:I practice and study the Dharma, but what would be the purpose of my identifying as a "Buddhist"? I eat and study food too, but that doesn't make me an Eatist.


Good point. :)

pink_trike wrote:... I'll have smeared a thick concept all over my concept-hungry identity-seeking mind.


Another good point. :)
Last edited by Snowmelt on Mon Mar 09, 2009 4:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Snowmelt » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:31 pm

zavk wrote:I wonder if the issue of calling oneself a 'Buddhist' or not, or calling oneself an 'agnostic'/'aetheist' or not, has something to do with questions of honor, status and prestige. I am referring to the sociological concept of 'symbolic capital'. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you like, but by way of example: In addition to the usual factors determining the outcome of a presidential election (i.e. knowledge, expertise, experience), there is also the factor of symbolic status. For example, in the case of Obama it was around the color of his skin, whilst for McCain it was around his past as a war hero.

In contemporary secular societies where there is much distrust and discomfort towards anything remotely 'religious', to call oneself a 'Buddhist' is to potentially diminish status, honor and prestige. It is to lose symbolic capital. By the same token, to call oneself an 'agnostic' or 'atheist' is to potentially boost status, honor and prestige. It is to gain symbolic capital.

Perhaps this is why some people prefer to call themselves 'vipassana practitioners' or 'Zennists'. For after all, vipassana is widely perceived to be non-religious in nature, whilst Zen (having been popularised by the Beat Generation) has a certain artistic and counter-cultural status in the popular imagination. By the same logic, it should be quite obvious why some people prefer to call themselves 'agnostic' and 'atheist' (For academics, given the role and function of educational institutions, it is easy to see why they think of themselves as more 'objective').

As Buddhism takes root in the West, it seems that people are becoming more willing to call themselves 'Buddhist'. In some situations, calling oneself a 'Buddhist' gives one more prestige and attracts less chance of ridicule than calling oneself a 'Christian'. Buddhism, no doubt, is accruing symbolic capital in the West. This manifests in positive and negative ways. We can see how the Dalai Lama is widely revered, or how Buddhist iconography is exploited for commercial purposes.

I agree with TheDhamma that committing oneself as 'Buddhist' can be a good thing as it can encourage progress on the path. However, as I have been trying to suggest with the concept of 'symbolic capital', 'Buddhism' or 'Buddhist' cannot be separated from wider sociocultural dynamics. The concept of 'symbolic capital' clues us in into the way in which individuals grapple with their sense of self, and especially, their sense of self in relation to others.

So, following pink_trike, I would suggest that if one is committing oneself as 'Buddhist', one has a responsibility to be ever mindful of the processes behind the use of such labels. For insofar as Buddhism is committed to selflessness, is this not what being 'Buddhist' demands of us?


:goodpost:
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Re: Why are there so many 'secret' Buddhists?

Postby Snowmelt » Sat Mar 07, 2009 5:36 pm

Jechbi wrote:Sometimes the people who ask if you're a Buddhist seem to have misconceptions about what it means to be a Buddhist, so if you just answer "yes" or "no," you're not really answering their question. In that case, it can be tempting to answer, "No." Maybe a better answer would be: "What do you mean by Buddhist?"


Or, perhaps an explanatory answer would be good, such as "I want to become free of greed, hate, and delusion, and I follow the Buddhist path in order to do so".
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