Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Gandhi: incredible non-Buddhist, incredibly non-Buddhist

Recently, I have been reading Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and, while reading it, I realized it was something that I very much enjoyed which had nothing to do with Buddhism.

I feel like Buddhists, myself included, frequently try to ‘claim’ Gandhi – to express our love for his ideals by scuttling him under the Buddhist umbrella. But I’m not sure that’s best for Buddhism, or for expressing a sincere respect for Gandhi.

I realize that this same kind of behavior happens in the larger Buddhist landscape, both when any old thing is shoehorned into Buddhism and when the Dharma is made to be compatible with any given thing.

This weekend I was hocking Buddhist wares at a trade show when a woman walked up to my booth and unfurled that she was,

…working on a book about health and fitness, and the mind and stuff, and how the mind produces quantum waveforms that alter the body – and that’s what Buddhists believe, right?

I got about three syllables in, up to the “Well, I’ve ne–” into, “Well, I’ve never heard of anything like that, but tell me more!” and the woman had already flashed me a hostile glare, turned her head, and was appropriately powerwalking down the aisle.

Apparently me saying that her views weren’t part of any sort of Buddhism that I had ever heard of were taken as something that devalued her views. This is a shame – since when did something have to be Buddhism to be helpful, inspiring, or even true?

The draw to group everything that is true or good under “Buddhism” worries me because it allows for a worldview that, once the series of assimilations has occurred, allows Buddhism to be the only good thing; which can only lead down a road of closemindedness.

On one occasion I was talking to a group of young people at a temple and asked how many considered themselves Buddhists. The results were fairly split – about half did and half did not. While I could go on about the weird problems that American Buddhists have with self-identification, I found it very inspiring that one of the most common reasons I heard from the non-Buddhists was that they didn’t like the idea of calling themselves Buddhist because this closed the doors on all the other possible things which they could be.

I’m really glad that they are using religion to open their minds instead of close them, and am assured that they are growing up with a very healthy sense of non-self.

  • http://www.djbuddha.org djbuddha

    Great post, John! Boy, I have about a million very similar stories about what people assume is “part of” Buddhism! Some recent good ones from my in-laws. But that’s another story…

    You wrote: The draw to group everything that is true or good under “Buddhism” worries me because it allows for a worldview that, once the series of assimilations has occurred, allows Buddhism to be the only good thing; which can only lead down a road of closemindedness.

    I also think that when everything that’s good is a part of Buddhism, them Buddhism loses its uniqueness. It becomes diluted to mean “everything,” and if it’s everything, then why even call it Buddhism?

    Thanks again for the great post!

  • http://politicalbuddhism.blogspot.com/ Robert

    Unfortunately this tendency to claim that “whatever *I* think is good is Buddhist, because Buddhism is about good” is also very bad, and very arrogant. There is plenty of dispute on what actually had good results and what doesn’t, particularly with regard to complex situations like social issues and public policy. To claim something as Buddhist simply because *you* think it’s good is to attempt to hijack Buddhism for *your* own purposes.

    Attempting to hijack Buddhism like this is a very common phenomenon in the west recently. Though I suppose people have been trying to do it in various ways for over 2,000 years, it seems much worse in modern times and in the west.

  • Pingback: What does it mean to not be Buddhist? « Dharma Folk