Buddhism is about realization and experience, not institutions or divine authority. This makes it especially suited to those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious.
There is no Buddhist God.
Different schools of Buddhism have different views about who the Buddha was. One thing is certain: he was not a God, deity, or divine being. His faculties were purely human, any of us can follow his path, and our enlightenment will be exactly the same as his. Ultimately, we are no different from him, and vice versa.
It’s about your basic goodness.
Buddhism is not about salvation or original sin. It’s not about becoming somebody different or going somewhere else. Because both you and your world are basically good. With all its ups and downs, this world of ours works. It warms us; it feeds us; it offers us color, sound, and touch. We don’t have to struggle against our world. It is neither for us nor against us. It is a simple, vivid world of direct experience we can investigate, care for, enjoy and live within.
The problem is suffering.
The answer is waking up. Buddhism exists to address one problem: suffering. The Buddha called the truth of suffering “noble,” because recognizing our suffering is the starting place and inspiration of the spiritual path. His second noble truth was the cause of suffering. In the West, Buddhists call this “ego.” It’s a small word that encompasses pretty much everything that’s causes us difficulty internally and globally. All suffering, large and small, starts with our false belief in a solid, separate, and continuous “I,” whose survival we unknowingly devote our lives to.
The way to do that is by working with your mind.
So, according to the Buddha, the problem is suffering, the cause is ignorance, the remedy is waking up, and the path is living mindfully, meditating, and cultivating our wisdom. There’s really only one place all that happens: in our minds. The mind is the source of both our suffering and our joy. Meditation — taming the mind — is what gets us from one to the other. Meditation is Buddhism’s basic remedy for the human condition, and its special genius.
No one can do it for you. But you can do it.
In Buddhism, there is no savior. There’s no one who’s going to do it for us, no place we can hide out for safety. We have to face reality squarely, and we have to do it alone. Even when Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, what they’re really taking refuge in is the truth that there’s no refuge. Not seeking protection is the only real protection.So that’s the bad news — we have to do it alone. The good news is, we can do it. As human beings, we have the resources we need: intelligence, strength, loving hearts, and proven, effective methods. Because of that, we can rouse our confidence and renounce our depression and resentment.
There is a spiritual, nonmaterial reality.
Some people describe Buddhism as a rational, “scientific” philosophy, helping us lead better and more caring lives without contradicting our modern worldview. It is certainly true that many Buddhist practices work very nicely in the modern world, don’t require any exotic beliefs, and bring demonstrable benefit to people’s lives. But that’s only part of the story.Buddhism definitely asserts there is a reality that is not material. Other religions say this too; the difference is that in Buddhism, this spiritual reality is not a God. It is mind (and some consider these God/Mind the same).
Buddhism offers a wealth of skillful means for different people’s needs.
Buddhism is not a one-path-fits-all system. It’s highly pragmatic, because it’s about whatever helps reduce suffering. Today, people who want to explore Buddhism have many resources at their disposal. For the first time in history, all the schools and traditions of Buddhism are gathered in one place. There are fine books, excellent teachers (many of them now American), practice centers, communities, and blogs and the new kid on the block, YouTube.Whatever works for you — no pressure.
It’s open, progressive, and not institutional.
Identities of all sorts, including gender, nationality, ethnicity, and even religion, are not seen as fixed and ultimately true. Yet they are not denied; differences are acknowledged, celebrated, and enjoyed. Buddhism has been described as disorganized religion. There’s no Buddhist pope. (No, the Dalai Lama is not the head of world Buddhism. He’s not even the head of all Tibetan Buddhism, just of one sect.) There is no overarching church, just a loose collection of different schools and communities.
What we find is that Buddhism works. For millennia, Buddhism has been making people more aware, caring, and skillful. All you have to do is meet someone who’s been practicing to know that. In our own time, hundreds of thousands of Americans are reporting that even a modest Buddhist practice has made their life better — they’re calmer, happier, and not as carried away when strong emotions arise. They’re kinder to themselves and others.
But it’s really important not to burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations. Don’t expect perfection. We’re working with patterns of ignorance, greed, and anger that have developed over a lifetime — if not much longer. Change comes slowly for most of us. But it does come. If you stick with it, that’s guaranteed. Buddhism works.
This is not an attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism. There is no need for that. But those who think of themselves as spiritual but not religious can find a lot in Buddhism to help them on their personal path, however they define it.
Peace and Love, Jim