To Be A Buddhist

What makes someone a Buddhist?  All religions have a core belief that defines whether a person can call himself a follower.  In Christianity, a belief that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Son of God defines one as a Christian. To a Muslim, a belief that the Koran is the word of Allah presented to Mohammed, the last prophet, is essential. What are the core beliefs in Buddhism?

We often confuse the rituals of a religion with the underlying beliefs. Many people think that chanting, sitting in meditation, burning incense and being an outwardly calm person defines one as a Buddhist. However, these are only some of the practices a Buddhist might perform. In his book “What Makes You Not a Buddhist”, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, a Tibetan monk, states four basic teachings presented by Gautama Buddha. Khyentse contends that unless you believe these four ideas you are not a Buddhist.

All compounded things are impermanent. The Buddha realized that nothing is permanent. All living things eventually die. Inanimate objects form, and then eventually wear away. Even thoughts undergo constant change as our understanding and perceptions evolve. Our desire for permanence in this life, and the afterlife, is a fundamental cause of our suffering.

All emotions are pain. On the surface, this seems absurd. How are joy and love pain? Certainly, at the moment we experience these emotions, we are not suffering. Yet, our desire to hold on to these emotions, for them to be never-ending opens us up to suffering. This does not mean that a Buddhist life should be devoid of emotion. Rather, one should live these emotions to the fullest, savor the delight they bring, while understanding that they too shall pass.

All things have no inherent existence. Who are you? Are you the five year old you? Are you the teenage you? Are you the adult you? Is the acorn the oak tree? Is the tree the oak table? Is the table the pile of broken furniture? The Buddha taught that nothing truly exists. All things arise and fall. Made up of a collection of elements, things constantly change. When we realize the moment, it has already passed. Nothing is static; change is constant.

Nirvana is beyond concepts. Almost all other religions have some form of heaven. Often, Nirvana is confused with heaven. However, Nirvana is not a place; it is a condition. The person who has attained Nirvana is free from all desires. Liberated from greed, anger and ignorance, they have overcome all suffering. The irony is as human beings we see things thru the filter of our ego. As such, we are unable to conceive of Nirvana. Whatever we think it is, it isn’t.

These are the essentials of Buddhism. However, you need not be a Buddhist to practice the Buddhadharma.  The teachings are universal; reality is as it is.