Monday, 7 February 2011


last week, whilst browsing the mighty internets i came across the following joke - What's the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist? A Buddhist knows there is none. a brief smile, but then i got to thinking about it a little bit more and something began to bug me. of course, jokes aren't meant to be taken seriously but i saw no good reason why that should stop me so let's plunge forward...

first off, i'm not sure how true it really is. we'd like to be able to say "i know there's no difference between you and me" but speaking for myself here, i bloody love the label of "Buddhist". i don't approach it as some kind of evangelical trip (at least, god, i hope i don't but then maybe some of my friends might say otherwise) but i make no qualms about hiding the fact. in a sense there's nothing wrong with that - anything which plays a big part in who we are in life  then we'd naturally want to share with those close to us. but "Buddhist" can be just another identity we construct for ourselves, one of several we take out of the bag depending on the occassion. so what's supposed to guide us towards some truth instead becomes another cloak of misdirection. and boy, i sure do love my Buddhist identity! it's much more appealing than shedding all these illusory constructs and standing naked and ugly.

the second thing which got me is how contradictory such a joke is in its tone of smarmy elitism - "oh poor unenlightened fools, they think there is a difference whereas i, uber-compassionate bodhisattva wonderman know there is none". let's be clear about this, as Buddhists we're not smarter, not more loving or compassionate, not wiser, not less attached, not more immune to fucking up on numerous occassions. to think so is bullshit. even the things i'd be tempted to pin a difference on - awareness of impermanence, awareness of suffering, perhaps some insight into the cause of suffering - aren't certainties. what is certain is that there are non-Buddhists out there who - gasp! - are far more Buddhist than me. about all i can say with any confidence then, is that just like anyone else i don't want to suffer but as a Buddhist i believe the Buddha taught a way to free oneself from such and on the rare occassions i'm on the ball, i try to be mindful of and implement his teachings.

all this ties in with the issue of honesty, which has somewhat been on my mind of late. the problem with prior reflections is that i'd been bemoaning a lack of honesty in our encounters with ourselves on the Dharma path and subsequently somewhat unintentionally constructed this ideal of the ubermensch to aspire to and become. when we get down to it though, each person comes to the Dharma with their own history, their own problems and their own hang-ups. in bemoaning that someone may struggle to confront themselves "as they are", i'm really just expecting them to live up to the nonsensical ideal i've foisted upon myself. worse, i'm ignoring the real value that can lie in the struggle. far better to quit all the bullshit, welcoming and accepting others for who they are just as i have been myself. Amida's Vow is non-descriminating.

namu amida butsu 


  1. Being accepted as you are by others is a very powerful thing, a lot of my suffering in life in the past, has come about by spending my time with people who want you to be how they want. I guess in all kinds of relationships this is a cause of great tension. The world of encounter through Amida Buddha, can be a place of trust and ease and deep friendship through this deep acceptance, where we can act with confidence. However my experience as a Shin Buddhist on the other hand, involves waking up to our ugly, poisonous self power, where we lose any sense of being special or wonderful buddhists, but also depending on the antidote of the vow in our daily struggles.

  2. hi Ant, thanks for your thoughts. i think where i feel the tension, or "push 'n pull" if you will, is that i seem to form an ideal to aspire to and then project it onto others, expecting them to live up to it as well. then when i fall short of it (which is inevitable really, as an ideal it's really just ephemeral, like chasing after a phantom) i become angry and myself and at others.

    i think i'll be butting heads with this tendency quite a bit in the coming months so it's definitely worth further inward reflection and contemplation...