In my last Buddhism in the News, July 2012, I provided a link to an article about a man who escalated a road-rage incident by whipping out a crossbow and pointing it at the other driver. It was later discovered on his facebook page that he described himself as 'a Buddhist who holds tolerance in great importance'. This was something I found quite humorous (not to mention ironic), considering that anger and purposely inflicting harm are big no-no's according to Buddhist beliefs.
While I posted the link mostly in jest, a dear 'blog friend' of mine also pointed to lessons that could be learned. He expressed concern about how anyone who is not familiar with Buddhism could not only jump to conclusions about this individual, but about Buddhists in general. He added that whenever someone does something wrong, any labels they have attached to themselves can reflect badly upon others identifying themselves with that label.
These statements got me thinking about labels in general. Lately I have noticed how often people attach labels to themselves, sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. Although labels such as nationality can be useful, most are fairly ambiguous. Even if they have a completely different perception about what a label means, the minute we label ourselves, people think they've got us figured out. Based upon assumption, this prevents people from truly getting to know one another as individuals, and can also be a source of great misunderstanding.
So then why do we need to make it so clear to others that we are Buddhist, Christian, minimalist, hippie, vegan, omnivore, republican, democrat, conservative, liberal? Is it an ego thing, to show others just how sure we are of our own identity? Or are we actually very insecure about who we really are, so we need to find ways (or in this case, words) to make ourselves appear solid and consistent?
Of course since the basis of ByChanceBuddhism is my journey on the Buddhist path, it is clear that here I am identifying myself as a Buddhist. Fair enough. But in regard to my off-line existence, one of the first things I learned while studying Buddhism is that Buddhists don't necessarily have to go around telling everyone they are Buddhists. Many of the first books I read on the subject made it clear that our actions in daily life are much more important than 'being Buddhist'.
Over time, I've begun to temper the impulse to reveal my 'labels' to people I meet. I also have started to let go of the constant need to define myself to others, and tested the idea of being just a little bit more mysterious. For the most part (and actually, to my amazement), this has resulted in more authentic interactions between myself and others. I guess that when it comes down to it, if I care at all about what others think about me, I would rather they think I am a good person than 'getting' the fact that I'm a Buddhist. I just need to remember that it's okay if others don't always know exactly where I are coming from, as long as I know where I'm going.
I would like to thank Dan Kurtti over at dankurtti.blogspot.com for inspiring me to think critically about this topic and post. If you have a moment please click over to Dan's blog and check it out!
"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama
May all beings be happy!