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.