Friday, August 17, 2007

Letter to Mary

When we were in Nepal, sitting around a fireplace on chilly night, Stephen Batchelor said something I've never forgotten: "Buddhism is something you do, not something you believe in." It follows then that he doesn't even call himself a "Buddhist." Nor do I. It's a meaningless label. As are all the different schools of Buddhism, or the eight-fold this, or the three precious that. Much like Christians could rely on the Beatitudes alone to understand the meaning of their own religion, "Buddhists" can read the heart sutra, contemplate its profound meaning, and have all they need to understand the Buddha's teachings. Read it. Think about it.

And certainly don't worry about being "wrong." What can be wrong with having compassion for all sentient beings, even your enemies? Or being kind, giving, nurturing? Or taking care that your acts don't cause harm to the environment or others? Do that, and the rest takes care of itself. Even if the hereafter, whatever that may be, rewards only Christians (which is really too ludicrous to even write but I do so for the sake of argument), would it be because of their label or of their good works? If just the label, then the hereafter is hell, not heaven, and no place I want to be. Can you imagine spending the rest of eternity with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell? Jesus, take me somewhere else.

So forget the labels! If somebody asks you what you are, use the label you're wearing. "I'm a...let's see here. I'm a Nike." Maybe then they'll get the message.

And you can't worry about your family. If they worry that your path is leading you away from their own belief system, be kind and understanding but firm. You might even relate to them what the Dalai Lama told the National Council of Churches when he addressed them. He said in his own humorous way that Buddhism was not trying to take "market share" from them; rather, Buddhist thought and practices can make someone a better Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Protestant, whatever. One can practice Buddhism within the context of any faith because, in fact, it's not a faith. It's a way of life.

Returning to Batchelor, it's what you do, not what you believe. And "doing" compassion is how you get there. It is good in and of its own. It is also the effective tool used to peel away the self to find the true nature of reality. And that's the deep irony of Buddhism; being selfless is ultimately a form of selfishness, too.

Be purposeful, but without hurry. There is no "answer" to find, only an emptiness full of no obstacles. A path never trod before, a lit darkness, a night bright as the first day of summer. The seeking and the awareness you develop to do that is life itself. Enjoy.