15 months ago when I was in Boudhanath, Nepal, something called me to visit the library.
It wasn’t just any library though. In Boudhanath, the shops that surround the Stupa are quite visible to the eye. Superior to them, on the first floor, resides another set of shops.
However, it’s almost impossible to catch the stairs that lead you to them, as the ground floor shops are very dense. As I was checking out some Tibetan Singing Bowls, I fortunately glimpsed the word “library” with an arrow that pointed to the next floor.
I walked up to that library and directly headed to the right corner as if something literally called me there. This is when I spotted the book What Makes You Not A Buddhist.
It was authored by a Tibetan Buddhist Master called Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. Dzongsar is a writer, filmmaker and someone whom I’d love to meet one day just to pay him gratitude.
What Makes You Not A Buddhist isn’t just any spiritual book. It’s a book that slaps you graciously on the face. It brings our perception of Buddhism to a whole new level.
Dzongsar states that you don’t have to wear robes, shave your head and cut out meat to be a Buddhist. We can listen to Eminem, idealize Paris Hilton, smoke every once in a while and still be called Buddhists.
According to Dzongsar, what makes us Buddhists are four simple points:
- Understanding that all compounded phenomena are impermanent.
- Knowing that all emotions are pain.
- Accepting that all things have no inherent existence.
- Understanding that enlightenment is beyond concepts.
Although each chapter serves a poignant purpose, I find those that discuss fabrication and impermanence particularly important.
So, here are some quotes that personally jolted me awake—I even have them underlined in the book so I can read them daily. When I do read them on a regular basis, it makes my life considerably easier.
I find myself letting go faster and better than before. For the first time in my life, I can say I’ve actually read something that convinces me and leads me to the way of consciousness.
The following are excerpts from What Makes you Not a Buddhist.
On denying death:
“Most of us do not contemplate the nature of death on a deep level. We don’t acknowledge that our bodies and environment are made up of unstable elements that can fall apart with even the slightest provocation. Of course we know that one day we will die. But most of us, unless we have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, think that we are in the clear for the time being.”
“We forget that our days are always numbered. Even if we understand intellectually that everything born must die and that everything assembled will eventually disintegrate, in our emotional state we constantly slip back into operating out of a belief in permanence.”
How expectations are harming us:
“Subconsciously we are lured by the expectation that we will reach a stage where we don’t have to fix anything ever again. One day we will reach ‘happily ever after’. We are convinced of the notion of ‘resolution’.”
“Why would any person of sound mind shed tears and blood for something that he knew would eventually evaporate or must be abandoned?”
Dzongsar on why relationships are the result of believing in permanence:
“Recognizing interdependence, we recognize impermanence. […] Such awareness prevents us from getting caught up in all kinds of personal, political, and relationship dramas. We begin to know that things are not entirely under our control and never will be, so there is no expectation for things to go according to our hopes and fears. There is no one to blame when things go wrong because there are countless causes and conditions to blame.”
“If we do get fed up and think ‘enough is enough’, we may leave a relationship, only to start all over again with another person. We never grow weary of this cycle because we have hope and belief that the perfect soul mate or flawless Shangri-La is out there waiting for us.“
And finally, understanding that change is pivotal:
“Eventual change is inevitable. There is no degree of hope or chance involved. If you feel hopeless, remember this and you will no longer have a reason to be hopeless, because whatever is causing you despair will also change. Everything must change.”
“The recognition of impermanence is the key to freedom from fear of remaining forever stuck in a situation, habit or pattern.”
“If there is no impermanence, there is no progress or change for the better.”
“Things might last for the duration of your experience of this existence, or even into the next generation; but then again, they may dissolve sooner than you expect. Either way, eventual change is inevitable. There is no degree of hope or chance involved. If you feel hopeless, remember this and you will no longer have a reason to be hopeless, because whatever is causing you despair will also change. Everything must change.”
When I was choosing the quotes I wanted to mention here, it proved to be a difficult task. Why? Because I believe that What Makes you Not a Buddhist is a book that is captivating from the beginning through to the end, without exception.
It teaches us about so many truths and realities that we continue to deny. This is a book that is authentic, real, straight to the point and capable of becoming anyone’s daily bible.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Courtesy of Author