After first encountering basic Buddhist concepts and then learning more and more about them, I often found myself surprised, even awed, by what I learned. I don't know if it the Western 'pop-culture' view or my own Judeo-Christian background were the sources of my initial views of Buddhism, but the more I learned, the more I realized how much my initial impressions of Buddhist ideology differed greatly from the actual teachings and culture. I also remember some of my fellow Buddhists (who grew up in Southeast Asia, and had been born into a Buddhist culture) being surprised when they learned that I did not initially know some of these things about Buddhism (especially numbers 9 and 10), but were understanding about my lack of knowledge once I told them where I was coming from.
Here is my 'top ten' list of the things that surprised me most about Buddhism, from the mundane (and perhaps even silly) to the profound:
1. Many Buddhists are not vegetarians.
2. To be Buddhist, one doesn't have to renounce all one's material belongings (or shave your head!).
3. Buddhists are not necessarily pacifists.
4. Many Buddhists do not meditate regularly- in lotus position no less!
5. 'Fat Buddha' is different from Shakyamuni (i.e. the historical) Buddha.
6. Buddhism has a tradition, even a foundation, of questioning and challenging beliefs.
7. Buddhism and science can harmoniously coexist.
8. Buddhism is not possessive, anyone can incorporate Buddhist principles into their life without 'becoming' Buddhist.
9. Buddha was not a god, but a mortal human being who suffered as we do. The difference was that he found the way to end this suffering.
10. Buddhism is 'equal opportunity'. Every being in the universe has Buddha-nature, or the potential to become a Buddha.
If you are a 'new' Buddhist like me, were you surprised by any of these characteristics of Buddhism? Do you have any to add? I would love to hear your thoughts!
May all beings be happy!