“Buddha cannot save us, cannot make us enlightened. We have to do it ourselves, by following his advice, practicing his teachings. So Buddha is like our teacher and guide, or like a doctor who tells us what’s wrong and prescribes the cure.” ~ excerpt from “Introduction to Buddhism, Readings and Materials”
Religious people are often baffled when they learn I’m a practicing Buddhist.
The first question they ask is, “Did you relinquish your previous religion?” Since Buddhism falls under the label of “religion,” many people think they must relinquish their former religion to practice Buddhism.
However, I’m fond of what Dzongsar Khyentse has to say about this:
“I feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace and meditation. Buddhism can’t be easily explained. It is almost complex, vast and deep. Although it is nonreligious and non-theistic, it’s difficult to present Buddhism without sounding theoretical and religious.”
Since Buddhism is nonreligious—as Dzongsar Khyentse says—Buddhists aren’t interested in our religion. Our background, nationality, color, religion and culture don’t matter to them.
In the Introduction to Buddhism course I took this year in India, there were more than 100 students from many different nations. There were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Jains and atheists. It was remarkable to see how every person offered their prayers to their own gods in the morning and evening.
What makes this diversity of religion possible, in the practice of Buddhism, is its essence—which is exactly what makes Buddhism unique from other religions in the world. Buddhism doesn’t have a set of rules for people. They don’t have marriage ceremonies in their Sutras, nor anything that tackles our cultural life.
Buddhists don’t have a god of their own and that is precisely what makes Buddhism applicable to all. Despite what people think, Buddha is not deemed “a god.” Buddha is a human being—just like us—who discovered the root of suffering and the way out of it. Buddhists consider him a remarkable teacher who can show us the right way of eradicating suffering and reaching enlightenment.
Again, Dzongsar Khyentse says:
“Buddhism is not culturally bound. Its benefits are not limited to any particular society and have no place in politics. It’s not interested in academic treatises and scientifically provable theories. Whether the world is flat or round did not concern the Buddha. He just wanted to get to the bottom of suffering.”
Consequently, Buddhism’s whole concern is suffering. And since they believe suffering lies in our minds, we can say that Buddhism’s concern is to teach us how to deal with our minds.
Other religions speak of suffering and its consequences as well. However, not all religions give a practical solution to end that suffering. (By suffering, Buddhists mean physical discomfort, emotional problems such as disappointment, loss, loneliness, depression, stress, fear, dissatisfaction, and so forth.) Most religions teach us to look outside ourselves to eradicate our suffering—it is usually done through prayers to certain deities. This is where Buddhism stands as distinctive: it tells us no one can eradicate that suffering but ourselves; we are the masters of our own lives.
I’m truly convinced that being religious is one thing, and working on one’s mind is something else. As I have said, Buddhists say no one puts an end to your suffering but you—through working on your mind.
No one is going to do that job for us. I experienced being religious in the past, and now I have close interactions with religious people from different religions. They seem to know—like I did before—how to deal with life’s basic notions such as love, forgiveness, faith, and so on. And they’re quite faithful to their religion’s practice—which is astonishingly inspiring. Nonetheless, when it comes to dealing with the hows—even how to love or how to forgive—some of us are puzzled. The reason is because we’ve been raised to be dependent on an external figure that takes care of the hows.
This personally caused me trouble in the past because I became so dependent on praying and asking, but I never took the action myself. It even created conflicts within myself since I was pretty satisfied when I got what I wanted, yet so desperate and mad when I didn’t.
That said, we need an empirical method that teaches us how to end suffering, and it’s found in Buddhism—regardless of our religion. This is why Buddhism is helpful, because we need to learn more about ourselves before learning about anything else—like how our minds, bodies and emotions work.
Buddhism taught me how to look inside before looking outside—it even made me understand the religion I was raised with. It taught me that my suffering is my own doing, and I’m the only person who can remove it by taking action. Even when I pray nowadays, I don’t pray asking for something to happen. I pray to be offered the right wisdom that inspires me to take the right action and say the right speech.
Through Buddhism I learned that the mind is everything—it’s my reality. The way my mind is depicts how my reality is. So, understanding the mind, and training it, is a way to change one’s life—as it did with me.
Buddhism doesn’t pull us away from our religion. Actually, it might as well bring us closer to it, because then we can understand it (and ourselves) on a more practical, spiritual level. Buddhism is simply a philosophy we can practice, no matter where we come from.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Deviant Art
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina