Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Sanghamitta
Posts: 1614
Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2009 9:21 am
Location: By the River Thames near London.

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Sanghamitta »

I think you are over thinking Lazy eye. I am convinced that the experience of the Buddha under the Bo Tree gave rise to the best explanation that I know of concerning the nature of things, and the way to transcend the inherent suffering therein by a process of understanding . The conventional appellation in the west for people who share that pov is Buddhist, ergo I am a Buddhist. Its that simple.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.
User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 996
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Lazy_eye »

Sanghamitta wrote:I think you are over thinking Lazy eye. I am convinced that the experience of the Buddha under the Bo Tree gave rise to the best explanation that I know of concerning the nature of things, and the way to transcend the inherent suffering therein by a process of understanding . The conventional appellation in the west for people who share that pov is Buddhist, ergo I am a Buddhist. Its that simple.
Maybe it all comes down to taking refuge, as the quote in your sig line suggests.

Nothing wrong with using the conventional appellation, in my view. On the contrary, it's important and useful. But at the same time, labels have a tendency to foster attachment -- how could they not? The very term suggests this... a label is something that "sticks". The process of labeling involves inclusion and exclusion, and (not surprisingly) aversion and desire. We can see how emotionally fraught the discussions become when people start debating who is and isn't a real Buddhist, for instance. On a related note, every time I pick up one of the mainstream Buddhist magazines, I'm struck by the commerical side of things -- all the stuff you or I can buy to shore up our identity as Buddhists. Ya know?

Could be I am overthinking it, though.
Sanghamitta
Posts: 1614
Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2009 9:21 am
Location: By the River Thames near London.

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Sanghamitta »

Maybe, butI see a lot of attachment in people who are keen to avoid labels. Attachment to a negative , an absence , can be very strong. I see people defining themselves by what they dont believe which seems to be another and sometimes more insidiuous form of attachment. The Zen people ( I dont often quote from Zen sources but it says it well ) talk about the thorn that you use to remove another embedded thorn, and then you drop both thorns. Buddhadhamma is a good tried and tested thorn with which to remove the thorn of dukkha. I am quite happy to be a thornist.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.
User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 996
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Lazy_eye »

Sanghamitta wrote: The Zen people ( I dont often quote from Zen sources but it says it well ) talk about the thorn that you use to remove another embedded thorn, and then you drop both thorns. Buddhadhamma is a good tried and tested thorn with which to remove the thorn of dukkha. I am quite happy to be a thornist.
That's a great quote -- thanks! I might sign up for "thornism" myself. :)
User avatar
pink_trike
Posts: 1130
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:29 am
Contact:

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by pink_trike »

Sanghamitta wrote:Fear of labelling is a learned phenomenon like arachnaphobia.It arises within a culture that values individualism to an unbalanced degree. It will pass.
And on the other hand, the loosening of our habitual grip on labeling is freedom from a cultural milieu and the patterns of mind that arise with it that obsessively divides and separates everything, naming it, identifying with it, and attaching to it. "I", "I'm", "my", "mine". Labels are best used carefully like medicine, and held lightly.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
seanpdx
Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by seanpdx »

It didn't take me any time, from the moment that I took refuge, to publicly call myself a buddhist.
Laurens
Posts: 765
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2009 5:56 pm

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Laurens »

There are a few things that make me shameful to asscociate myself with the term Buddhist. Without being overly specific, there are a lot of ancient superstitions and whatnot, that in some cases have promoted shameful sectarianism and discrimination.

I think we should try to weed out this kind of poisons, but sadly even westerners are caught up in it. There are many cringeworthy things in Buddhism for me, but thankfully there are some teachers who work to remove such things.
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
User avatar
Cittasanto
Posts: 6636
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:31 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin
Contact:

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Cittasanto »

it is a term which has its uses at the end of the day!

sometimes we still use what can be clung to, to remove the clinging.
can't remember the sutta reference to quote properly
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill
User avatar
Aloka
Posts: 7191
Joined: Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:51 pm

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Aloka »

I used to teach in a Catholic secondary school, and there was no problem saying "I am a Buddhist" at my job interview, or in getting on well with the staff who were mostly Catholic and knew that I was a Buddhist. I've never had a problem telling other people in general if I've been asked. However I don't go around shouting it from the hilltops ! :smile:

_/\_
User avatar
Tex
Posts: 703
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2009 9:46 pm
Location: Austin, TX, USA

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Tex »

I take refuge every day and try to learn from the Buddha's teachings and put his instructions into practice, so I have no qualms about referring to myself as "a Buddhist". As for when I started referring to myself as "a Buddhist", right after the first time I took refuge.

I make it a point not to advertise that "I am a Buddhist", though, mostly because most people here don't know any Buddhists, and I make a lot of mistakes, and I'd hate for someone's only experience of "a Buddhist" to be me on a bad day. Maybe when I'm further along the path and I feel like a better example of "a Buddhist" I'll make it a point to describe myself as a Buddhist to others. Or maybe not.
"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus
PeterB
Posts: 3909
Joined: Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:35 pm

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by PeterB »

I take your point Tex. I have no problem in thinking of myself as Buddhist, and if anyone asks which doesnt happen much I will indicate my interest. But I am a reluctant ambassador, I dont want to put people off, and after many years I am still trying to get the hang of Buddhism.
User avatar
imagemarie
Posts: 420
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by imagemarie »

Tex wrote: I make it a point not to advertise that "I am a Buddhist", though, mostly because most people here don't know any Buddhists, and I make a lot of mistakes, and I'd hate for someone's only experience of "a Buddhist" to be me on a bad day. Maybe when I'm further along the path and I feel like a better example of "a Buddhist" I'll make it a point to describe myself as a Buddhist to others. Or maybe not.
PeterB wrote:I am a reluctant ambassador, I dont want to put people off, and after many years I am still trying to get the hang of Buddhism.
These are moving and somehow heartening responses :bow:

Thank-you.
User avatar
Kokoro
Posts: 43
Joined: Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:36 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Kokoro »

I often describe myself as a student of Buddhism.

:anjali:
User avatar
Kim OHara
Posts: 5491
Joined: Wed Dec 09, 2009 5:47 am
Location: North Queensland, Australia

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by Kim OHara »

I do sometimes say, "I am a Buddhist,' but rarely and reluctantly. The main obstacle is that such a simple, unqualified statement aligns me, in the listeners' minds, with religious structures and beliefs I'm ambivalent about as well as those I wholeheartedly support. So I am more likely to say something like, 'I am more Buddhist than atheist or Christian,' or, 'I try to meditate regularly,' (being honest, here, with the 'try'!) or, 'There is a lot in Buddhism that I like.'

The other obstacle to the simple, mostly-truthful statement is that I'm a habitual non-joiner - not quite commitophobic, but close. I usually support organisations from the outside, not the inside.

A separate reason for avoiding the simple statement is that a less absolute statement helps the other person feel more comfortable about talking to me about the dharma, if they want to.

:namaste:

Kim
nowheat
Posts: 533
Joined: Thu Oct 15, 2009 3:42 am

Re: Saying "I am a Buddhist"

Post by nowheat »

I don't recognize the distinction that some do, that you have to have taken the precepts to be a Buddhist. To me, a Buddhist is someone who gives their best efforts to following the teachings of the Buddha and that is all it's about -- lineages and refuges are only peripherally relevant.

I've always been a bit of an outsider so have never had trouble labeling myself. I am what I am, and I'm a strong believer in people talking about the ways in which they feel different, isolated, or alone, in people sharing experience as a way of helping others (and themselves) feel not so alone. Philosophically I feel that it's better for people and the world if we open up and share rather than close up and put on our "normal" face all the time.

And then, I'm an evangelist for Buddhism. I don't hand out pamphlets, or knock on doors, and get in people's faces, but I see Buddhism as both extremely helpful for individuals and having huge potential for changing social attitudes and the history of the world if its message of tolerance spreads. If I don't stand up and say I'm a Buddhist, how will anyone know what a Buddhist might look like, act like? Who can someone interested come to privately to get past their discomfort about asking about Buddhism if there's not a tolerant Buddhist known to them, someone who labeled themselves a Buddhist?

If I don't agree with everything every Buddhist everywhere stands for, that makes it more important, not less, for me to stand up for the sort of Buddhism I do believe in. Any religion (any belief system) represents a range of people and ideologies; if I don't make my voice heard then those who get interested in Buddhism but can't accept its more fantastic beliefs may feel they are alone in worrying about those parts of Buddhism they can't take on faith, and they may turn away and lose the opportunity to find a practice that is both logical and very helpful in their lives.

It's not about being attached to the label -- I don't call myself a Buddhist for its shock value, or its coolness value (in fact, it rarely comes up) but a label is a tool -- language is a tool -- to communicate with others. We need to use those tools wisely.
Post Reply