Sometimes I am asked, “How long have you been a Buddhist?” I will often reply, “Oh, I am not a Buddhist. However, I do practice a form of Buddhist meditation.”
I try taking to heart the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to “be a Buddha not a Buddhist.” Frankly, I am not very comfortable affixing labels to myself. I am always that person at workshops and conferences that balks at writing my name in Sharpie on one of those, ‘Hello My Name Is’ stickers. Except that isn’t exactly a true statement, is it?
If I label myself a Buddhist exactly what type of a Buddhist am I? Zen, Shin, Tibetan…what am I to say about my Iyengar yoga practice, which I am also committed to or my love for the wisdom of Rumi? I love the Gospels of Mark and John and the Epistle of James. What about them? In fact I have come to believe that James is a mini spiritual tradition in and of itself. Perhaps, I am a Jamesian?
We become too attached to labels. If I label myself a Buddhist not only do I show my ignorance of Buddhism, in general (which is great to begin with) but, I close myself off to the possibilities available in other “isms” and traditions.
In the west many of us are running from the traditions of our time and place, which for a lot of us is some form of Christianity, and running toward the exotic philosophies of the east. But, in so doing we forego the sage wisdom of our elders.
Thomas Merton, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and C.S. Lewis have much to offer us as we journey through our post modern world. So does Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr. I am also kind of partial to the scholar Elaine Pagels and theologian Matthew Fox. The Bishop Shelby Spong is another voice that we may not wish to ignore.
Because we are so close to Christianity we see its glaring faults of culture, practice and politics. We fail to see that the traditions of the east are besotted with the same problems. We assume the philosophical superiority of traditions foreign to us because we don’t see them at a cultural level. Reading a dialogue of the late Krishnamurti may help us gain some perspective here.
Be a Christ not a Christian.
Be a Buddha not a Buddhist
If you encounter the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus crucify him.
If meet the Buddha along the path kill him.
We are much too enchanted by our labels. We mistake them for our true identity, but often we are simply showing the world our hubris. Even this post of mine is more hubris then humility. Once I was on a meditation retreat and an older woman whom had befriended me started sharing her “spiritual autobiography” with me as we walked to the dining hall for dinner.
“I was raised a Swedenborgian,” she announced to me with a gleam of pride in her eyes. There was also something of a challenge to me in her voice. I was a young man who took great pride in studying philosophy in college.
Speaking of arrogance…
She was stunned that not only had I heard of Emanuel Swedonborg I had read his seminal book Heaven and Hell among other works. I took great pride in showing off my knowledge, which was book smarts and theory. There was no practice and thus no transformation.
Years later I would finally see that I had preferred my label of “philosophy student” over being present in the moment with a fellow sojourner on the path of life. As a lover of books and knowledge it is often a painful lesson that the great jewel of dharma or of the gospels and the Koran is not knowledge of some arcane and erudite discipline. It’s in the present moment. Life not books.
To completely and totally misappropriate the words of Thomas Jefferson, we need to cull the diamonds from the dung heap. The diamonds are found in giving up labels (to the best of our abilities) and living life. Chogyam Trungpa used the metaphor of dung in the field of dharma to describe this. Manure is a foul thing yet it fertilizes the soil and wonderful things grow. The lotus flower blooms in the muddy and brackish water. Our spirits come wrapped in labels. We need to remove this bit of hermetically sealed soul packaging and expose what is underneath to the fresh air.
now is the darkness vanished away.
See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.
We are the young - our lives are a mystery,
called to be light to the whole human race.
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage to enter the song.
Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place, the new light is shining;
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in - all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
It might be good to open our eyes and see."
— Thomas Merton (via awakeinthedream)
— Mark Twain (via avulsion-unspoken)
(Source: , via libraryland)
At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.
One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”
Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”
In a way, Republicans have accomplished that. This spring, in an effort to reduce the deficit, a Democratic president proposed to cut $2 trillion in spending, much of it from domestic programs Democrats have long championed. Last week, Republican leaders withdrew from talks with the vice president on a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit because, as another part of the solution and like every bipartisan budget deal for decades, the president proposed to raise revenue. Specifically, he proposed to raise $1 in new revenue (through closing loopholes or ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans) for every $2 in spending cuts. In response to that modest proposal, Republican leaders walked out.
It is now clear that the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless. Taxes — a dirty word thanks to Norquist’s “no new taxes” gimmick — are made to seem beyond the pale, even as the burden of paying for our society shifts disproportionately to the middle class and working poor. It is the height of fiscal folly. It is also not who we are as a country.
For nearly a decade, our federal government paid for two wars and a costly prescription drug benefit with borrowed money. Our government paid for the Bush tax cuts with borrowed money. Now, after exhausting the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration, the only spending Republicans are willing to discuss cutting is spending that helps the poor and vulnerable — meaning anything that does not touch the interests of large corporations and the very rich. Last December, Republican hard-liners held hostage benefits for people out of work in exchange for an agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for those who make a million dollars or more a year. Last month, many of the same lawmakers rallied to protect special tax benefits for oil companies that have made record profits on high gas prices.
Meanwhile, some mom-and-pop stores and college students pay more in taxes than some of our largest corporations. Still, taxes are sin to the hard-liners, though they have difficulty demonstrating a correlation over the past decade between tax cuts and economic growth.
Everyone knows that we have to reduce the deficit. Everyone also knows that reducing government spending and addressing revenue shortfalls have to be a part of the plan. This isn’t partisan; it’s pragmatic. Some might even call it conservative. But Norquist and the rest of the radical right have so hypnotized the Republican leadership that they can’t come out and say it. For them, maintaining their rhetoric about spending cuts is more important than preserving the civic investments that make America stand out from the rest of the world.
That political calculus has consequences for the rest of us.
If the deficit is reduced by spending cuts alone and there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling, here’s a sampling of what happens: We stop paying our soldiers or supporting our veterans. We stop feeding the neediest children and families. We stop providing nursing-home care to seniors. We stop inoculating schoolchildren. We stop helping young people go to college. The unemployed are on their own. Roads and bridges continue to crumble. And we jeopardize the creditworthiness of our economy at one of the most fragile moments in history. All to protect the marginal benefits of the most fortunate and the political purity of the radical right.
I remember sitting in the Dunster House dining hall at Harvard with Norquist when we were sophomores or juniors in college, while he explained his view of government, or lack thereof. It sounded logical — the notion that we could live independently of each other, making our own decisions in our own self-interest. But then who puts out the fires? Who answers the calls to 911? Who educates poor children? Who helps people with disabilities?
I’d like to think that the most prosperous nation in human history can have both freedom and security. I think we have reached a point where my personal success is not threatened by a program to help our parents retire with dignity. Voters are smart enough to see that taxes are one of the ways we get those things. They are the price we pay for civilization.
-Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, Democrat
— Thornton Wilder
— Cyril Connolly (English literary critic, editor, and writer)