I am not a Buddhamentalist

Sometimes in Buddhism some people like to really indulge in heavy sectarianism. Only their style of Buddhism is best. Flags and banners are raised and wearing the colors of their team and shouting out chants with a zealous roar are not unlike fans of any particular sports team. But Buddhism is not a sport or pass-time. It is a way of life.

Often I feel these folks are as narrow-minded as fundamentalists of any other religion. And it has been my experience that this is a phenomenon primarily in North America. Having explored a number of different forms of Buddhism though practicing the Soto Zen style of meditation throughout more than 25 years of practice I find each has its merits and detriments.

I practice the Soto Zen style because I like its simplicity and I feel that meditation is the center of Buddhist practice. But being of an intellectual bent, personality-wise, I do enjoy the Buddhist canon and subsequent commentaries especially by the Chinese and Tibetan commentators.

It isn’t wrong to feel a sense of belonging to a particular school or even religion. But to try to argue that point of view right into the ground smacks of a certain insecurity of belief. Sometimes I want to ask “Who are you trying to convince? Me or you? Do you really need my validation for your practice? Just do it. Why worry about any of this other shit?” I am not talking about debating any particular point of dharma here but about practice as a whole.

Perhaps it is because conversion to Buddhism is an unusual thing in the general milieu of North America. Being surrounded by non-Buddhists, some of whom no doubt attack the adoption of an “Eastern” religion, can be daunting. And perhaps defensiveness of non-majority belief is an understandable posture in response. But preaching to the converted is not the answer to bringing a sense of validation to practice. Living a Buddhist life is the only answer I can come up with that gives me a sense of peace with it all.

North Americans often have a very myopic world view. Either you are like us or you are “different”. And often if you are “different” we don’t really want to know too much about you. Differentness is a scary thing. I find India to be very different in world view. There is a brief assumption that I am a Christian, if the topic of religion comes up in conversation, because I am a white woman living in India, but when I say I am a Buddhist there is not much of a surprise. “Oh yeah.” is kind of the way it goes.

There are so many people of different religions living in India and there has been for so many centuries that its just not a big deal. No, the different groups do not always get along, and that is generally the doing of a few whipping people up into anger but on a day to day basis, people just don’t seem to care too much about what their neighbor does. Perhaps that is in part because the majority of people are Hindu and Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion. According to the popular view no one can convert to Hinduism, you have to be born Hindu.

Even the ISKCON folks (the Hare Krishnas if you don’t know who that is) who worship Krishna are not “real Hindus” but some kind of wannabe Hindus. And they are not excluded by the Hindus by birth. In fact ISKCON sets up a lot of meal programs in schools and does a lot of other social work in India for the very poor. Most people outside India do not know that. Their organization has taken a lot of criticism over the years for bad practices, and rightly so, but they do seem to be getting things together in recent years.

India is very interesting with regard to religion. It permeates every aspect of everyday life. There is nothing done without some, however subconscious, religious reference. Religious life there really is life viewed from a religious standpoint. That doesn’t mean everyone goes to the temple every day or makes overt religious references or even talks about religion all the time but it does mean that some thought is given to religion at various points throughout the day.

The contrasts between world views is interesting to me and has given and is still giving me a lot to learn about the world and about myself in the world. Learning this has definitely brought down a lot of defensive barriers and shattered many illusions. A lot of which I didn’t realize even existed.

So I guess the point is to cling desperately to one point of view is counterproductive to say the least and dangerous both to self and others when taken to an extreme. It doesn’t mean to accept anything and everything without some common sense and complete lack of critical examination.

And it doesn’t mean to not get angry about things. Heaven knows I am sometimes so pissed about so many things I can hardly stand it. And they are almost always surface kind of things that pass. Some though are real deep like seeing unnecessary poverty nearly every day. But I do what I can about those things. See my article Why I live in India to know what I choose to do-and it took a long time to get to where I could make those choices-and I don’t advocate the same for anyone else. We each have our own way. So there is nothing to prove to others about one’s personal choices in this life, from a religious standpoint, if you are a Buddhist.

Live and let live is the motto I hear most frequently in India. And it means more than just indulge yourself or ignore everyone else. Like many things in India, and in the world, it means acknowledging and respecting your life and the lives of others.


2 comments on “I am not a Buddhamentalist

  1. Hello- I came to this blog via a search for information on the skull mala. I inherited one from my grandmother (who had no idea what it was, I am sure) and I think it is at least 100 years old. I was wearing it the other day- often I do if I am feeling the need to remind myself of impermanence or to mark Gma’s death, or the death of other loved ones- and my boss at the coffeeshop/bookstore where I work was pretty upset about it. I’m in Boulder and the shop specializes in Buddhist books among other things and he was under the impression that the beads were full of “heavy energy” and not used in beneficial practice. I said that I just liked them (always had-even when I was a kid) and he said well, you make like guns but you wouldn’t wear one loaded around your neck, would you? Got me thinking and searching. So far I have not found hardly anything about these beads- your blog is the first of two where actual people have them. Otherwise they are for sale…yuck. One thing that was interesting was that I read that malas shouldn’t be taken to the bathroom (among other disrespectful things) and my particular mala actually broke in the bathroom at the SHambhala Center while I was doing a meditation workshop. Anyway, I’ll keep looking. Sorry for so much rambling, but I did enjoy your writing and wanted to share a little of how I came upon it.

    Be well


  2. Thanks Jessica.I am intrigued by the skull malas also. I will ask around among my Tibetan friends for their views on the subject. Beads in themselves, regardless of the image have no “energy”. It is whatever symbolism we choose to attach to them that bears examination. In your case as a gift from your grandmother the symbolism is very different than that of someone who doesn’t understand your particular context.

    As for not taking malas or other religious objects into the bathroom this is a view that is prevalent in Hinduism. One should not subject religious object to “unclean” situations is the common viewpoint. It is considered disrespectful.

    That your mala broke when you went into the bathroom could be due to the fact it is an antique and likely has some brittleness to it. And as one adjusts their clothing etc after using the toilet or while washing hands this could have strained it. I wouldn’t get all “spooky” about it but that’s just me.

    (Sorry I took so long to respond but have been busy with family visits and paperwork to get back to India)

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