Yesterday, Sept. 25th, marked the 28th anniversary of the day I became a Buddhist. I received gojukai (“receiving the precept”), the equivalent of going for refuge in the Nichiren tradition, on a bright and warm Sunday morning in 1983 at Myoho-ji in Etiwanda, California. I do not mark the occasion as the day I took faith in Buddhism, but rather the day I made a determination to practice Buddhism. Although, to be honest, at the time, I wasn’t too sure what I was doing.
The reason I put such a great emphasis on practice is because, and this may surprise some people, practice was the drumbeat of the Soka Gakkai. The motto was always: Practice first!
I wouldn’t try to tell anyone that my practice has been perfect. And I wouldn’t trust anyone who tried to tell me the same about their practice. I learned early on not to look for saints, or try to be one.
I call myself a Buddhist. It’s just a label but I’m proud to wear it. If asked to expand on that designation, I will say that in general I follow Mahayana Buddhism or that I am a non-sectarian Buddhist. Otherwise, I’m not too interested in labeling myself further.
Since leaving the tradition I joined all those years ago, I have thought that the non-sectarian approach was a very good thing, and perhaps even the wave of the future. I envisioned Buddhists of all stripes coming together, transcending sectarian differences, and fashioning a sort of holistic Buddhism here in the West.
It seems to me that we’re headed in the opposite direction. That’s why I don’t have much use for Engaged Buddhism, Integral Buddhism, Existential Buddhism, Secular Buddhism, Speculative Non-Buddhism, Humanistic Buddhism, Post-traditional Buddhism, Neo-Buddhism, Protestant Buddhism, True Buddhism, Rebel Buddhism, Consensus Buddhism, Practical Dharma, Living Dharma, Buddhist Geeks, Dharma Punx, etc. More labels. More “isms” to splinter the Buddha-dharma further. It’s far too splintered already. Why is simply being a Buddhist not enough?
I think it’s great that Buddhism comes in many flavors. I just don’t feel it’s necessary to give each one a brand name.
I don’t see Buddhism as a faith, a religion, or psychotherapy, although I recognize it has elements of those things. I see Buddhism as a path, a Way (Ch. tao, Jp. do), something we do not have a category for in the West, something that inevitably embraces all the “isms” listed above, if you are open to it.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide an alternative to some trends that bothered me. I wanted to show people that there is a way to view Buddhism that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, ala Stephen Batchelor, and that it is possible to introduce change and innovation without redesigning the dharma-wheel. I didn’t intend to make a big splash, and I haven’t.
I also wanted to use the blog as an outlet for expression. In that regard, it has served its purpose. Nevertheless, as much as I have enjoyed blogging overall, occasionally it has been a chore, and it’s taken up time that should have been spent on other projects, or practicing Buddhism. Lately, I have not felt much like blogging.
Tomorrow, I go into the hospital for several days to receive chemotherapy treatment. When I return, I will put up a post informing anyone who is interested how it went. Sometime after that, I may resume regular blogging, but maybe not. Who knows?
I am not looking forward to this treatment (understatement of the year). This past week, I have revved up my meditation and chanting, and tried to get myself into a peaceful and confident state of mind, but without a great deal of success. I thought maybe my practice was too rusty. Maybe I was not determined enough, not trying hard enough. I couldn’t stop obsessing on my suffering.
Then, Saturday, I read this post at Ben Harper’s blog, One Time, One Meeting. It was one of those V-8 moments. All along, I had been missing one critical ingredient. So focused was I on my own suffering (or the prospect of it) that I had forgotten about the suffering of others. You can read the comment I left in which I explain to Ben how his post turned me around.
The two most important things I have learned in my 28 years as a Buddhist is that to find the real value of Buddhism you must practice, and that means practice for oneself and others. After all these years, I still need to improve in both departments, but I’m trying, and being a “lifetime beginner”, I am still learning.
In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
– Bob Dylan
Joan Osborne and Jackson Brown sing “My Back Pages”: