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Barbara O'Brien

What Buddhists Look Like

By July 12, 2011

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama is conducting a Kalachakra for World Peace in Washington, DC. Coverage of the event from Washington news media is a bit hit-and-miss. One writer for the Washington Post expressed surprise that there were attendees wearing "normal" western clothes, not "dripping with prayer beads, swathed in batik or floating along in gauze." They look like normal people! And some of them are lawyers!

Gabriel Riera, also writing for the Washington Post, describes sharing a cab with Buddhist teacher and author Sharon Salzberg and a deranged cabbie who was screaming that the Dalai Lama is a Chinese Communist. No doubt the fellow had read some of the right-wing blogs commenting on His Holiness's remarks on Marxism.

Riera's theme is that Buddhism is gaining acceptance in the West, and he wonders why that might be so. "What's the appeal?" he asks.

Answers provided in the article include finding meaning in life (but see what Mumon says about "meaning") to inner peace. I'd say the primary draw is the same one that drew the Buddha all those centuries ago -- what to do about dukkha.

I also think the dominant western religion, Christianity, is having its own identity crisis at the moment. Those Christians institutions that have not been sucked into fundamentalisms and absolutes seem to me to be struggling a bit to clarify even to themselves what they have to offer a postmodern world. Buddhism is becoming more visible just as more people are looking for an alternative to their religions-of-origin.

How would you answer the question? What's the appeal?


Comments
July 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm
(1) John says:

I can’t state what the appeal is for people other than myself. Frankly, I can barely express it *for* myself but the appeal is basically two-pronged for me.

First, the concept of the three Marks of Existence spoke volumes to me: Impermanence, non-self and clinging. A person could spend their entire life contemplating these three things and never need to move further.

Second, the aspect of contemplation is sorely lacking in Western religion. From my perspective, contemplation is the stark opposite of fundamentalism. The deeper your contemplation, the less attached to a particular creed or dogma you become. This is not the sole provenance of Buddhism but it is an aspect that is, seemingly, more in the forefront of Buddhist practice than other religions (or non-religions).

Cheers,

John

July 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm
(2) CL says:

Instantly, I would say, yes, I agree, it is dukkha, clearly, but the answer I want to have is what Yangdon said when repeating the words of the Dalai Lama as he spoke directly to the audience. I want that to be the answer, for everyone’s sake.

July 13, 2011 at 12:06 am
(3) Mumon says:

.. a deranged cabbie who was screaming that the Dalai Lama is a Chinese Communist

That’d certainly come as news to the folks running the PRC.

Regarding the appeal of Buddhism, I might answer the question by pointing out as per the CL, what’s the appeal of the alternative, being stuck in dukkha, other than being attached to things that might provide some temporary pleasures?

July 13, 2011 at 8:01 am
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

“what’s the appeal of the alternative, being stuck in dukkha, other than being attached to things that might provide some temporary pleasures?”

That’s true for those who have been practicing for a while, but I’m not sure that’s what arouses initial interest in dharma.

July 13, 2011 at 9:17 am
(5) Lee says:

i was searching for the answer to this thing we are in the midst of and the glaring fact that we all cease to exist in this thing at some point. when i read about buddhism it struck a chord … and in our independent John Wayne world to find a ‘religion’ that says ‘prove it for yourself to be true’; ‘don’t believe in something, practice!’; ‘find the answers yourself’ and to top it off they never answered my questions they just asked me a question that made me find the answer. “YES!” this seemed to be the way to go … it was more real than having ten people grab me on the head ‘laying on hands’ and screaming in tongues and telling me I was the receipient of something from God.

July 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm
(6) hein says:

Regarding the question; “what Buddhist look like” I would like us be just part of the crowd around. When I started out with Buddhism i wore my mala daily. As i am in the law/public service in a secular state I think one should not wear/show trappings of once religion. Everybody around me knows that I practice Buddhism. It is rather more important how you live your life than people see/notice the “groceries” (all your religious paraphernalia. Whether I am successful is a day-to-day assessment.

Regarding the question what the appeal of Buddhism is; i would obviously have the same as the other people (Three Marks of Existence and the Four Noble Truths), but I would go one step further and say Buddhist practice have taught me how to be aware that I am alive. There are more, but that is the basic; I am aware what I am.

July 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm
(7) Glen says:

What attracted me to Buddhism at first is pretty simple: it wasn’t a group telling me what I should believe and how to live my life, it wasn’t an organized religion that seemed to exist solely to continue it’s own existence by persecuting people who didn’t think the same way, and it is/was SIMPLE and straightforward. There aren’t any mysteries in Buddhism, just plain talk and ideas that we, as practitioners, can “test” and believe ourselves if we choose to. I can’t tell you how important “Be a lamp unto yourselves” has been to me, nor can I adequately describe how significant it has been to me to realize that there is no “me,” there’s “all,” and that “I” and everything and everyone else is a part of that. Totally changed my whole outlook on life. “Change, pain, and death are inevitable, but suffering is not,” and all I need to do is change my point of view? Where do I sign up?

I used to be an Adkin’s diet “If God didn’t mean for us to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of tasty meat” gas guzzling truck drivin’ sort-of-violent semi-Republican. Now I’m a vegan working out how to change the world for the better of everyone conservationist educator peaceful martial artist with the sincere and actively expressing hope that the world can be a nicer place if we all just learned how to get along and be a little more far-sighted kinda guy.

July 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm
(8) Dhammachick says:

What does a Buddhist look like? Well _THIS_ Buddhist is a digital media tech living in jeans and polo neckas at the moment (it’s winter in Australia). I don’t have any outward stereotypical Buddhist attire (except my mala beads which are usually tucked up my sleeve).

What attracted me to Buddhism is the fact that Buddha exhorted us to test out his teachings, no blind faith. The 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path cemented to me that this is the path I wish to travel. I like the fact also that it’s OK to not know everything and that mistakes are accepted as a part of life.

I’m still learning (and always will), so I am by no means an expert, but I think Buddhism is a good thing for people to learn and practise. It encourages living in the NOW, not preparing for a future life we probably won’t remember if we get there.

In metta.
Raven

July 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm
(9) Bill says:

The appeal, for me, came from the feeling and experience of those first few tiny bits of insight. Here is one ready example. “Buddhist morality grows out of insight into the causes of our grasping and suffering, not from following rules or believing doctrines.” This sentence from Barbara’s recent post is typical of what appeals to me. It just makes sense. In physics, we talk about “deriving results from first principles” in contrast to memorizing them. If you do that, you gain insight aside from getting your homework done. Whatever one thinks about the precepts of Buddhism, can anyone doubt the reality of suffering and desire or their relationship? Don’t know, but I can’t. Given the experience of suffering, desire and the tiniest bit of insight into their relationship, it seems natural and feels like a relief even to just seek more insight.

July 15, 2011 at 10:28 am
(10) Tim says:

Buddhism is the un-faith. I love it. 8-)

July 15, 2011 at 11:40 am
(11) Yeshe says:

For what a Buddhist looks like, since I’ve been wearing my monk’s robes I’ve encountered many people that I was standing next to that I’d never have known were Buddhists. Just the other day, the pleasant young woman that took my order at the Taco Bell turned out to be a practicing Buddhist. If I wasn’t in robes, I never would have known. Fifteen minutes later I met a Nepalese man from Kathmandu, wondering where a local temple or practice-place is. Then, a couple of days later, I ran into someone who asked if I knew so-and-so, and I said I had met her a couple of times. Turned out she died recently, and I wouldn’t have known.

July 19, 2011 at 11:12 pm
(12) bullet bob says:

The attraction of Buddhism

Can the Eightfold Path be compatible and compliment all the major religions? The most important function and message of all religions is to guide the development of our moral and ethical system as well as a reminder to obey it. Is there a better message for guidance than the Eightfold Path?

We all create our very own moral and ethical system and most of us by experience and meditation continually improve it. Perhaps that system is our very own God that we create. And in mysterious ways we create our very own heaven or hell as we attempt to obey in accordance. The perfect moral and ethical system may provide a miserable existance. Does that suggest that the middle path be appropriate?

July 20, 2011 at 9:07 am
(13) Barbara O'Brien says:

Can the Eightfold Path be compatible and compliment all the major religions?

Only on a very superficial level. In actual practice, no.

The most important function and message of all religions is to guide the development of our moral and ethical system as well as a reminder to obey it

I disagree with that. I think that when morality becomes the central focus of religion, the spiritual center is lost. I’d say the central focus of religion is to re-connect to something we feel we have lost, whether heaven or the Garden of Eden or suchness.

Is there a better message for guidance than the Eightfold Path? We all create our very own moral and ethical system and most of us by experience and meditation continually improve it. Perhaps that system is our very own God that we create.

If you are creating your own moral and ethical system, are you still following the path? If you are creating God, I’d say no.

And in mysterious ways we create our very own heaven or hell as we attempt to obey in accordance. The perfect moral and ethical system may provide a miserable existance. Does that suggest that the middle path be appropriate?

Stop attempting to “obey.” That’s not how it works.

July 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm
(14) bullet bob says:

Thank you Barbara for your reply to my comment. My thoughts can always be improved. I am not a scolar of any religion, but I search for common ground to keep the peace. Each religion attempts to provide a solution to the mystic , the cosmos and the spiritual along with guidance as we move through the passages of life. And, ofcourse, a social network, et al. But, providing guidance in the development of our morals and ethics seems most appropriate because we would like a peaceful existance during this journey on earth. Tuff job for all society since man is such a bad behaver.

Using the word “God” seems to always create confusion and arguement. Wow, there are so many concepts, beliefs and defintions. Quote Joseph Campbell, “Nobody knows”. I sure don’t know, but would like to know, another contraversial word,” truth”. It’s natural to search for answers to the mystic. Too bad it may be natural to disagree pasionately about the mystic. I guess that I agree that a centrall focus of religion is to help us connect to the spiritual, for I believe all of us feel the spirit, and maybe we do posess a spiritual sensor. It is not tangible, can’t prove it!

Maybe “obey” is not the appropriate word for behaving in accordance with your moral and ethical standards. But, seems like all religions have a reward and punishment for how well you behave to their moral and ethical standards.
If “obey” is not the way it works, please pardon my ignorance. Please give me a short and sweet clue for the approprite word or concept as to how this moral and ethical system works? Perhaps there is Buddhist literature on the subject.

Again, thank you for the reply. I am honored, for you do a great job and have very special insight and knowledge. You are way ahead of me on this path.

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