Tuesday, May 22, 2012

am I a Buddhist?

Elsewhere on the Internet, someone asked how to know if s/he were a Buddhist. I recognize that this question can honestly mean something to some people, but I couldn't restrain myself....

Here are the ten incontrovertible qualifications for really being a real Buddhist really:

1. Adopt a wise and wizened demeanor -- someplace between George Clooney and Mahatma Gandhi.

2. Memorize the 108 holiest and most convoluted of all possible paradoxes. Dispense as necessary.

3. Clothes ... don't forget the clothes!

4. Walk slowly as if permeated with some weighty liquid.

5. If you're a lay person, yearn for ordination. If you're an ordained person, yearn for laicization.

6. Chant softly but audibly in public rest rooms.

7. If you visit a temple or monastery, make sure to bring home some small tourist treasure to indicate you visited. Hang it prominently, but with humble discretion, in your living room...next to all those books, perhaps.

8. Offer a small, carefully-crafted smile when someone tells you a first-class joke.

9. If someone asks you if you are a Buddhist, consider the question in a dour and somewhat quizzical silence.

10. Treat all beings with equanimity and kindness ... right up until the moment when you can't stand it any more and simply kick the cat. Repent as necessary.

And if all of this strikes you as utterly ludicrous, find a Buddhist practice, practice it and never mind who's a Buddhist and who's not.

Everyone suffers ... nuff said


  1. Why such a facetious answer? Are you addressing some particular issue with people who aren't living up to your idea of "buddhist"?

    There are a more straight forward answer. I will give one.

    Informally, one would Join a Buddhist sangha (a temple, church or group), in time you may come to feel supported by the group and you continue to learn more about the Buddhadharma and put it in practice. At some point you decide to support the group in one or more ways. There people who are quite moral and extremely diligent with their practice but never label themselves; Others may label them as buddhist.

    For some there comes a point when one may wish to make a more formal declaration of commitment. In many sects this is called taking the (lay) precepts (Japanese Jukai).

    Of course one may wish to declare an even deeper commitment and take "lay ordination" or a even clerical ordination.

    None of this is to say that people can't be weak, misinformed, confused, full of doubt, or just less than honest with themselves or others in keeping their vows or commitment to practice. Also it is not uncommon to get sidetracked and over emphasize in some aspect of buddhadharma or try to enact some idealized form. These folks may still consider themselves and may be consider buddhists but not necessarily role model buddhists.

    1. Jelly Roll BuddhistMay 22, 2012 at 6:13 PM

      "Role model Buddhists"? Are you writing that with a straight face? Tell me, Ananda, do the humor-deprived have the Tathāgatagarbha?

    2. Auntie Nanda Loves her DiamondsMay 23, 2012 at 2:46 PM

      Venerable Jelly Roll,

      Neither the humor-ful nor the humor deprived have the Tathāgatagarbha. Why? Because to ask the question "do they have the Tathāgatagarbha" implies that the Tathāgatagarbha is a material thing or component of or a collection of material things, or is a feature, or a characteristic. The Tathāgatagarbha can not be recognized by thing, feature or a characteristic nor can one be said to possess the Tathāgatagarbha.

      All composite things
      Are like a dream, a fantasy,
      a bubble and a shadow,
      Are like a dewdrop and a flash of lightning.
      They are thus to be regarded.

    3. Jelly Roll,


      If you want to call yourself something, doesn't it behoove you to be the best something there is even as you face your own obstacles, doubts, etc.

      Those so-called Buddhist leaders who really mess up deserve appropriate criticism, but making light of situations like clergy abuse, abuse of power, etc. that's pathetic, not funny.


      Now tell us YOUR understanding of the Tathāgatagarbha.

  2. I always enjoyed the section of van de Wetering's The Empty Mirror on this subject. Janwillem could never get a good answer to his inquiry about whether any of the monks were Buddhists or not. They simply said, "I study Buddhism." He tried to get his teacher to ordain him as an official Buddhist, but was nonplussed to find that his teacher basically seemed to consider the ordination to be a lengthy ceremonial hassle, and discouraged him from doing it.

    1. In the really early days, when two sramanas met on the road they didn't say "Hello" or "How are you?" Instead the common greeting was "Whose dharma do you follow?" So simply saying, "I follow (or study) the dharma of the Buddha." is the time honored original way to call oneself a Buddhist.

  3. Adam
    Love the list, thanks. Sadly, I fall into some of these "incontrovertible qualifications" myself from time to time and still struggle to come up with a decent answer for point 9!
    Your post is a welcome reminder.

  4. Thanks for the morning belly laugh Adam. Holiness and a holy demeanor makes my teeth itch (if I may steal your phrase). :)

  5. Eido Shimano certainly has number five down pat!

    1. 5. If you're a lay person, yearn for ordination. If you're an ordained person, yearn for laicization.

      It's Genpo who really went for laicization not Eido. Eido's the one who needs the role, the status, and the robes.

      Reduce to lay status.
      The reduction a of a persons or a thing having an ecclesiastical character to a lay condition.
      The removal of the clerical character or nature of; secularized