What makes you not a Buddhist

When I was thirteen, I bought in a bargain bin at WH Smith a book entitled 'The Compassionate Teachings of the Buddha' and read the first sermon that the Buudha gives after his enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath including to the five ascetics who had formerly rejected him when he broke the rigor of his fasting, taking milk from goat herder, and set out on discovering the 'middle way' between denial and the sensuous. The attachment to either being a delusion of permanence and control. It left its mark upon me.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse's book, 'What makes you not a Buddhist' is a pithy, if not punchy (if that were 'allowed' Buddhists) restatement of the core truths of Buddhism (from a Mahayana perspective) that seeks to take the reader beyond the trappings to the heart of things - the four seals of Buddhism - without some understanding of, and experimental faith in, you cannot see yourself as treading the Buddhist path.

They are the impermanent nature of all reality - there is nothing to hold onto, everything arises connected in a web of mutual causation, all passes away. All emotions are pain - they all encourage, seduce you into attachment and the imagination, for good or ill, that they will last forever, they don't. Nothing has an inherent existence - everything is constructed, everything will be deconstructed, even God. Nirvana, liberation, true freedom, is beyond all concepts, the truth of all experience, to be experienced, not to be grasped or 'understood'.

Read off like that it does strike one as a all a bit gloomy - what is left? But it is the exemplary skill of the author to show it as the Buddha saw it and show why, as it sinks in, it may, in truth, be a liberation.

Think for a moment how recognising that we are constructed out of a myriad interweaving causes makes us likely to become slowly both looser in condemning ourselves or others behaviour, more compassionate, and if all things are impermanent more open to the prospect of change.

If the only time I am going to enjoy this particular cup of tea is now: why not simply enjoy its unique particularity now rather than compare it to past cups of tea or expected future cups?

If my God is the one and only true God and all the others are just delusions, am I not myself deluded? If all raids on the infinite are conceptually bankrupt might I not wait until the infinite comes a visiting - though there may be practices that prepare for its arrival - like meditation or the practice of generosity?  (And that is how 'God' ought to be approached as the Dalai Lama said of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, 'if that is what is meant by God, I can be a theist'!

And so on, and so forth...

Yet ultimately I left myself out of the fold, maybe I remain to attached to my ever subtle ego (which is undoubtedly true), but there is something missing in an account that does not account for memory - not in the practical sense of whether or not I have put the cat out as I stumble into bed - but the sense that each and every moment is cradled in consciousness as infinitely precious and that ultimately there is something irreducibly beautiful in each and every identity that is itself. This is probably the fault line between a theist - where everything is ultimately gift - and an atheist - where everything is ultimately given.

In being ever more vulnerable to the reality that is presence/present (another fault line) perhaps ultimately we will find there is only one song running through all reality.

In the meantime, we must be faithful and compassionate on our journeys (and learn from one another as we go).


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