What makes me Not a Buddhist

There was a time when I thought maybe I was a Buddhist. 

I really enjoy what we do at meditation conferences, and those speakers all talk about Buddhism.   We meditate, and let go of suffering – our middle-class, first-world version of “suffering”, anyway.  We spend time awash in compassion – self-compassion, mostly, but also compassion for others.   Afterwards, we stretch and shake out the kinks and smile at the person next to us, and get on with the lecture for the day.

And I am totally there!  It’s fun, if you enjoy that kind of thing, which I do.  It’s physically nourishing, and mentally refreshing.  It’s all about love and oneness, love and self-acceptance.  All you need is love.

 It feels great. 

Except – that’s not Buddhism.  That’s our fun, Americanized version of Buddhism. 

Buddhism is actually about letting go of the desire to love and be loved, as well as letting go of hate. Letting go of self, letting go of others.  Letting go of the illusion of choice. 

That’s not just something I came up with.  Check out the book “What Makes You Not a Buddhist”, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khentse.  Khentse is a Tibetan Buddhist lama, teacher, writer and artist, and while he’d be glad for you to be a real Buddhist, he also refutes our American version of Buddhism, and he does it simply by stating the basic Buddhist principles.  For instance, he reminds us that “If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain … then you are not a Buddhist.”  All emotions are to be relinquished. 

Even love and compassion.

Woops.  We are pretty much not into that. 

As a culture, we go for lovingkindness and compassion – I certainly do.  But renouncing our desire for love or compassion as no different from our desire for hate and rejection? Seeing both the guilt of the abuser and the pain of the abused as equally illusory? Letting go of the desire to love or be loved, the desire to care about others, or even myself? 

Nope.  That’s just not us.  It’s certainly not me. 

We champion the underdog, we care about those who are downtrodden, whether it’s sexually abused children or transgender adults with no bathroom access.  We respect others, and we try to learn to love ourselves. 

Because the Americanized version of quasi-Buddhism comes at the world from a Western mindset, one which rests, however uneasily, on our culturally Christian foundation.

It’s a Christian foundation based on the primacy and reality of Love – bastardized and twisted though the living out of that philosophy has often been.  God as Love.  Justice.  Grace.  Mercy.   Those experiences, those values, are only affirmed as ultimate reality in the Christian tradition. 

And only in its non-perverted form, even there.

Buddhism says all desire – desire to hate and desire to harm, desire to love and desire be loved – all desire is false.   Every emotion is to be relinquished.

Only in the core expression of Christian truth do we find love as the ultimate reality.  Love as the foundation, the truth; the way forward and the goal of the journey. 

Because only in Christianity is ultimate reality defined as Love – unconditional, underneath-it-all, no-matter-who and no-matter-what Love.  We are made alive in love, we learn how to walk in love, by love, through love.  Because we have been loved.  We have experienced God’s love and grace and mercy to us, and our job now is to love, just like we have been loved.

So.  I’m not a Buddhist.  I believe suffering is real, and that it matters.  It matters enough that God came as Jesus and died to cover the payment justice demanded from us – the ones who caused suffering.  I believe love is real, not illusion.  The most real “real” of all.  I believe that God is love – and I love that God is love.  I love that the truth underneath it all is love. 

I can rest in that love.  And I am safe to love.  Really.  No matter what. 

And that’s why I meditate.  Because God is love.  Because underneath it all are the Everlasting Arms.  I want to live the reality of that love. Not to lose all desire, but to nourish and deepen my desire to live in the truth. 

And that truth is love.   I meditate to deepen my ability to love and be loved.    

Then I can love me better.  And love you better, too.




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