Call yourself a Buddhist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about labels lately. As a rule, I don’t like them. And my good friend Motherfunker presents a pretty good case against them in her wonderful post Life of Pi…lau

But I have also been thinking about commitment. And specifically about my commitment to Buddhism.

For well over a year now, I have been going to meditation and dharma classes held by an Order Member from the local Triratna Buddhist Centre. Initially, I had some reservations about the Triratna community (it just takes a quick Google search to find out why ;-)). But my experience of the Order, and of the meditation they teach, and the dharma they transmit has in no way been negative. This week, I had the honour of attending my first ever mitra ceremony, where a very lovely lady M became a mitra. It was a very moving and beautiful ceremony.

So what is a mitra? Basically, in the Triratna Buddhist Order, a ‘mitra’ (the Sanskrit word for friend) is someone who makes the public declaration that they:

1. Consider that they are Buddhists
2. Want to live in accordance with the five ethical precepts; and
3. Believe that the Triratna Buddhist Community is the appropriate spiritual community for them

I have a regular meditation practice. I try to live my life in an ethical way, according to the five precepts. I study and endeavour to understand the dharma. But am I a Buddhist? I suppose I am in as much as I have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and I aspire to enlightenment. In some ways, I want to shout out loud “Yes! I am a Buddhist!” But then, I think, is it just my ego looking for a label?! Is calling yourself a Buddhist a way of trying to define yourself, as though there were some permanent, unchanging self to define? Does it even matter? Would becoming a mitra help me to feel more committed, or would I find it too restrictive?

Ach, I’m no good at this deciding whether to make a commitment lark. Maybe I’ll just wait and see for now 🙂

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19 thoughts on “Call yourself a Buddhist?

  1. Motherfunker says:

    Buddhist principles are peaceful. They encourage reflection, meditation, soul searching. What’s the harm in walking a tolerant and loving path? I figure the biggest lesson in this life is figuring out where our anger comes from in order that we can heal and make peace with ourselves and the world. The most joyful people who believe are light-hearted because they forgive others, they are kind, generous, care for other people and animals. Buddhism is a compassionate belief system on paper…. it’s what’s going on in your heart that’s really important. The outer layers of ritual, of clothing, of ornament, are cultural, human, and even shamanic in their nature – but they all point a person inwards to their true nature where real enlightenment can happen. Religion can be a framework and force for good when a person genuinely and sincerely seeks to be a more loving and tolerant individual. When it’s used to exploit, control, shame, ridicule and hurt then it is a mis-understanding and mis-guidance, because the only thing that really matters is love.

  2. Motherfunker says:

    And you are a loving person with a kind heart xxx

    • vivjm says:

      Thanks MF. I like what you say about religion can be a framework for good, when practiced with in a sincere & tolerant way. I hope that can be me 🙂

  3. Renata says:

    Looks like I’m not the only one thinking about labels lately 😉 Great post.

  4. MindMindful says:

    Labels of any kind, even a peaceful one like “Buddhist”, are inherently limiting. This is so because they immediately say: Yes, I’m this (inside this circle) & all of that (outside the circle) is not-me. And suddenly a barrier is there! Cuts down the fluidity of just being ………..

    I, little BuddhistPagan that I am, am just beginning to understand this fully …… Still, the world tends to demand that we provide labels, doesn’t it? Maybe we can just say: I am ….. here:)

  5. A beautiful and thoughtful post! I’ve enjoyed all of my reading here. Part of my own spiritual journey has traveled along many of the same paths. My oldest daughter is a medical herbalist, so I loved seeing that brought into the circles of your children’s lives and teaching along with so much fabulous art, quilting, and the beauty of nature’s bounty in so many ways. It is always a joy to come for a visit here and leave feeling a bit more serene and appreciative as well as so grateful for the gift of lovely blogs and wonderful blogging friends!

    • vivjm says:

      Ah, Michele, thank you for your lovely comment. It makes me feel all squishy inside when people tell me that they feel joy at my blog. Makes it all worthwhile 🙂

  6. Oh, and I am just now reading some of the comments to this immediate post and you all are so wise and yet it all also makes me laugh. At some point, we do simply drop labels (but I’m not sure it is in this lifetime) and then we reach ” I AM” in all ways. Until then, being part of all by saying I am this or that, to me in simply including more and more and more until we are part of and inclusive of, that one place, of one peace, of being all 😉

  7. I had this discussion with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. My resulting thoughts lead me to the conclusion that you do not need to be affirmed as a Buddhist to be one. Our brain automatically classifies things, because it is easier to process and store information that way. Personally, I did want to affirm my Buddhist beliefs, but this was more for the public than it was for me. Thanks for a great post 🙂

    • vivjm says:

      Good point re the brain classifying things. I understand what you mean re affirming your Buddhist beliefs more for the public than for you. I guess if you know in your own heart what you believe, what the path is you are following, then that is enough. But if it helps other people “get” you, then a label can be useful too!

  8. JWB says:

    It’s good that you have found a direction, because with no compass, we are simply lost.

  9. Both myself and my wife come from a pagan background but are becoming more and more interested in Buddhism. I don’t know what I class myself as now or indeed if I need to be labeled at all.
    Thank you for a wonderful post and such interesting comments.

    • vivjm says:

      I have several pagan and paganish friends and they seem very much on the same wavelength – living with a respect for others & the earth. This labelling business is rather tricky and often unnecessary I think 🙂

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