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Buddhism is Non-Theistic; Buddhists aren’t (“oh, the Karmapa’s sooooo amaaaaazing!”)

As a lifelong Buddhist, everywhere I look in Buddhaland, lately—covers of Buddhists magazines, posters for sale, cards, photos in Buddhist gift shops—I see the handsome, wise, young face of the 17th Karmapa staring out at the horizon. Okay, I get it—he’s a powerful, well-trained young man, he embodies the fragile future of Tibetan Buddhism and his previous incarnation, the 16th Karmapa, was a big deal, a powerful teacher who my parents’ teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (a powerful teacher in his own right) was himself genuinely and most humbly devoted to.

But last I checked, Buddhism is non-theistic. That means we don’t go looking outside for salvation. That means we regard the Buddha as—inherently—no different that ourselves. The Buddha himself said, “Look, I don’t have anything to teach, I’m nothing special, I’m just human.” And his early students said, “Please, please, show us the path that you have discovered from suffering to sanity!” And he said, “Oh, alright. Here you go. Meditate in this way. Contemplate compassion…” etc. But when I see my parents’ generation smiling like fools and bowing to the ground, I wonder where the dignity has gone. Talk to the Karmapa, be interesting and interested—that’s devotion. This groveling stuff was, in my experience of his visit to Boulder, boring.

We’re all Kings and Queens of our own lives, as SHAMBHALA: SACRED PATH OF THE WARRIOR details. So sit like a mountain, work with one’s own discursive mind, work for the benefit of others—and we’ll experience a vajra-like humbleness, a humbleness full of dignity and absent of groupie-like idol-worship.

PS: all this non-theistic stuff goes for yoga teachers, too.

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.