Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Calling Oneself Buddhist

JewishMuseumBerlin Having lived most of my adult life in the Western world, where the concept of religion is strongly influenced by Abrahamic religions (declaring faith to one god, exclusivity, etc.). I didn’t have a concept of religion growing up in Japan, where I prayed in front of the household shrine, learned Zen proverbs, visited Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples (remembering to clap twice for the shrine, and no clapping at the temple). I didn’t label myself as anything, though if someone asked me if I believed in God, I had an answer. I could also tell you which of my relatives will have Buddhist vs. Shinto funerals. I had a colleague who had a frustrating day, who was taking it out on his staff. I could hear him shouting from across the hall. When I went into his room for my appointment, he wasn’t done with the ranting. When I didn’t let the amplitude of his voice overpower the argument, and provided an alternative point of view, he shouted back, “You know, I’m a Buddhist priest!” as if that explained everything. I was puzzled first because I wasn’t sure why he had the need to tell me that, and secondly, because I don’t think anyone would have pegged him as a Buddhist, never mind a Buddhist priest.

Then I realized why I felt uncomfortable calling myself a Buddhist: doing so doesn’t make you one (just as calling your self kind, doesn’t make you kind). Perhaps it makes better sense with Christianity, which is more a faith-based religion than Buddhism. Because Buddhism is a religion of practice more than that of faith, I feel that for one to be a Buddhist, others must be able to perceive you as one through your practices and acts. It’s not so much that I need others to identify me as anything. It feels disingenuous (? self-congratulatory?) to be labeling myself as “belonging to” one religion.

Photo: An exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2015 by in Buddhism, Family, Identity and tagged , , .
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