I encountered this opening phrase in a blog post recently. “In my opinion, one mark of a good Buddhist is…” That kind of sums up a lot of what Buddhism has come to be about. It begins with one’s opinion and ends with a behavioral prescription.
Here’s a roundup of what constitutes a “Good” Buddhist according to the Internet. [Yes I’ve collected these things in a manner similar to Bodhipaksa’s Fake Buddha Quotes]
The marks of a “good” Buddhist:
- Just BE GOOD!
- respects others first
- Obey the laws of the country
- can admit that they are not very good at following their religion
- keep the precepts
- Celebrate important Buddhist holidays
- won’t be a leader as that’s showing ego
- never being lazy
- Try to not be rude or mean.
- follows the Dalai Lama
- Uttering and promoting slander will hold you from nirvana.
- Speak only true and helpful things
- is a whole person
- don’t gossip.
- Speak gently
- become a vegetarian or a vegan
- Certainly we do not offer consolation or turn to others for support
- Try to live simply
- don’t seek comfort
- Limit TV time, computer usage etc
- won’t make jokes or laugh
- Shave your head
- It is good to set up a shrine
- must become completely detached
- should not question things
- follows karma
- has respect and humour
- have no knowledge of good and evil
- Only think good thoughts
- Hostility is very unbecoming of a true Buddhist [from an evangelical Christian blog-all the rest here are from Buddhist related or affiliated sites]
- Learn all you can about Buddha, the 4 noble truths, the Buddhist laws, etc
- Meditate as often as possible
- Show respect to parents, teachers, monks and nuns, and the elderly.
- Help those in need where-ever possible, such as the poor, the infirm, disabled and homeless.
- respect and accept all religions
- show disregard for everything or else they have to admit attachment
- be the best person they can be
- has overcome personality
- is cheerful
- makes no choices and accepts all
- should not travel regularly and stays in one place
- follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the path to the realisation of Nibbana.
- isn’t hung up about rules and prohibitions
- never argues
- do not create desire in others
- discards all material things
- should be in a state of celibacy
- must avoid being distracted by malls and stuff
- brings happiness into their life
- should not commit adultery
- questions everything
- kills their ego
- never flames on the Internet [my note: but writes passive-aggressive slam articles instead]
- follows a middle way of not too much and not too little in everything
- avoid professions that create desire (like sex work or advertising)
- Being a good Buddhist does not guarantee Nirvana, but good behaviour in life is believed to ensure that in the next life the individual will be born higher up. In this hierarchy of rebirth, animals are at the bottom and men are higher up than women. Monks are at the top.
- has no aversion
- When we live according to the principles of the Dharma, we are in fact living as `good Buddhists practicing Buddhism‘
- take full responsibility for all actions
- Shares the dhamma with all
- is quiet and peaceful
- won’t accept money for their work
- does not want to have sex
- gets along with everyone
- are environmentally friendly
- helps themselves and others to get better
- will tell the truth no matter what
- Buddhists are generally forced to live their lives one day at a time
- needs to learn to obey their teacher
- wants to remove all individuals from earthly wants
- always be open, patient and humble
- behaves properly
- practice compassion
- knows everyone’s opinion is equally true
- has good manners
- be grateful and give thanks
- never says words like idiot
- good Buddhists will burn to death if they need to make a point
Clearly much of this is made up. And many of these are contradictory. A lot of these statements rely on interpretation of popular culture. Many are idealized notions of what a Buddhist and especially a “good” Buddhist is. While some have basis in Buddhist thought, quite a few have nothing to do with Buddhism at all.
Most are about social control. And translating the current mechanisms of social control into a Buddhist context.
We can first consider the term Buddhist. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse wrote a book not long ago called What Makes You Not a Buddhist. In that book he states very plainly the following:
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 (p.3)
These are called the Four Seals of Buddhism. He continues to write:
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. With a little contemplation one sees that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. Thee is no mention of good or bad behavior. They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary. (p.4)
He does not say morals and ethics are to be ignored. In fact on the same page he writes:
Broadly speaking, wisdom comes from a mind that has what Buddhists call “right view”…Ultimately it is this view that determines our motivation and action. It is the view that guides us on the path of Buddhism. If we can adopt wholesome behaviors in addition to the four seals, it makes us even better Buddhists.
The book then goes on to give an explanation of these four seals.
What is evident is that without understanding the four seals, which is the core of Buddhist philosophy, we can behave as “properly” as anyone wishes to delineate but we are merely play acting at being Buddhists. We would be putting on a Buddhist show for everyone else and trying to fool ourselves as well.
The “good” part of the Buddhist script is being written all over the place as the examples above indicate and in a few links below.
In the West
From the OneCity blog Londro Rinzler has a post What would Sid do: 7 steps that make for a “good Buddhist”
In the East
These perceptions are not limited to “Western” convert contexts. teikbin from Malaysia has a document at scribd labeled What is a Good Buddhist? where he categorizes numerous varieties of “Eastern” Buddhists in many of the same ways that “Western” Buddhists have been categorized.
From the Buddhist Channel Be a good Buddhist and put that out Bhutan is the first country in the world to make tobacco illegal. One cannot legally import, stock or sell tobacco products. Public smoking is forbidden. But people still do all of this in spite of the ban.
Even on Facebook
There is a Facebook page called How to Live as a Good Buddhist. But there’s nothing on it. Maybe that’s appropriate.