April 13, 2015

“Why are you a Buddhist?”

buddha statue

People ask me once in a while why I’m a Buddhist.

Sometimes they ask because it seems weird and foreign to them. Sometimes they ask because they think I should follow some other religion. Sometimes they ask because they are simply curious (often I am the only Buddhist that they know).

I never really have a good answer.

It would be easy to say, “Because meditation practice has become a regular part of my life.”

But, that doesn’t work. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to meditate. I could have embraced meditation to manage my anxiety and improve myself without becoming a Buddhist.

People do that all the time. A lot of the people I meditate with practice other religions or no religion at all. And that’s okay.

So, why am I a Buddhist?

It’s the fastest growing religion in America, but still uncommon.

People sometimes ask me if my parents were Buddhist, if I was raised in this religion.

No. My parents weren’t Buddhist.

That makes me think, of course. Some of us step outside the religion we are raised with, but most people don’t.

I was a bit of a spiritual explorer from the beginning, but I’ve come to understand that a majority of people just don’t think about spiritual or religious topics much.

Why do we think that a good reason to accept spiritual teachings is “because my parents did” or, “because the people around me do”?

Seems weird to me, but I guess that is the way we think.

There’s nothing wrong with staying with the religion of your parents, but this assumption that we are supposed to strikes me as bizarre.

That being said, why did I become a Buddhist?

I sometimes think losing my parents was a part of the reason. Suffering often leads people to ask big spiritual questions.

The Buddha lost his mother as a young child. Zen Master Dogen lost both of his parents as a child. They were both inspired by these great losses to seek out and understand the truth about suffering and our place in the world.

Did the deaths of my parents cause me to search for spiritual truths and ultimately find Buddhism? I think so. So many people in the world don’t ask the deep questions: Why are we here? What causes suffering? What is reality?

The suffering caused by my loss led me to these questions.

But why Buddhism?

There are many spiritual paths I could have entered to ask and try to answer great spiritual questions. But Buddhism was the one I chose.

Sometimes, though, I think I probably didn’t choose it.

The truth is that when I learned about Buddhism, I felt pulled into it like gravity. I had to learn more. So I started studying and studying as much as I could. It felt like something had been missing from my life all along and I was finally finding it— a coherent and developed philosophy that matched the way I look at the world.

The cultivation of the six perfections (generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom) seems like absolutely the best way to live my life. I am on a mystical path of self transformation.

Any other path wouldn’t feel right to me.

I resisted at first. For a while I was studying Buddhism, but I didn’t want to become a Buddhist. But I couldn’t resist. Like I said, I was pulled into it like gravity.

One of my Zen teachers said he thought I might have karma from a past life that directed me to this path.

I’m not sold on the idea of past lives. I’m a skeptic in that regard. But that statement made sense.

Why am I a Buddhist?

I can barely imagine not being one.


Relephant read:

10 Reasons why Buddhism is Better than your Religion.


Author: Daniel Scharpenburg

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Flickr


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keyadutta Nov 16, 2015 1:39pm

So beautiful!

Nel Aug 2, 2015 3:05am

Believing that there is suffering, the cause of suffering, its ceseasion and the path to end suffering doesn't need a person to be a buddhist or christian. The four Noble Truth is there regardless of what people believe in – a kind of universal truth. But I like the idea that buddhism will give people insight on how to look at suffering. Before I use to blame everybody for what is happening in life. I even blame God for all the mess of this world – until buddhism offered another looking glass on how suffering came about. I settled and accept things as they are. No one to blame, nothing to be afraid of – it is just how things work, its cause and effect.

Rinaldo Apr 16, 2015 12:52am

Great article in my opinion. Your journey is uncannily similar to my own. When our baby daughter (Zoe-Grace) died, my first child and my wife's second, I felt unimaginably inconsolable. I realize, now that while I seemed fine outwardly, I was a real mess. For me, life had lost it's meaning. I felt like I was all wrapped up in cotton-wool mentally, physically and spiritually. I felt dead. Buddhism has felt so right, so intrinsic that I often wonder where my mind has been these past 40 years.

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City. He’s been practicing Buddhism for nearly 20 years. He teaches at the Open Heart Project Sangha and is a Zen Teacher (Fashi) in the Dharma Winds Zen Order. His main focus is on mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings and compassion practices rooted in the Bodhisattva Tradition. He has taken Bodhisattva Vows and Brahmajala Precepts and he is affiliated with the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook