Monday, October 9, 2017

I am a 'bad' Buddhist

In many of my posts I try to use an even, careful tone. This is because I do my best to not assume anything about whoever may be reading BCB and be as inclusive as possible. When I think about the fact that someone who may be searching for information about Buddhism actually happens upon this blog, it is truly humbling. 

However, please do not mistake this statement as an attempt to portray myself as pious or somehow spiritually 'accomplished'. Despite the careful written tone, I do get angry sometimes. Sometimes I feel frustrated and resentful. I can be self-centered and speak harshly, even to those I love. It is often difficult for me to calm my mind and to be grateful for what I have. 

Being pretty familiar with human nature, I also guess that I am probably like many other people.

But how could this be, since, after all- do I not claim to be a Buddhist? Shouldn't I be able to meditate for hours and generate waves of compassion towards every sentient being? Shouldn't I have quenched the internal fires of anger and silenced the biting mental criticism of myself and others? Aren't I a more evolved human being, a gentle, wise vegetarian whose few words are full of love and meaning?

Though this caricature of a 'Buddhist' may seem a little over the top, I do wonder if this kind of imagery has not somehow crept into the collective psyche.  

Why do I say this? Though my experiences may be anecdotal, they are supported by independent events that assert the 'Buddhists are better' stereotype. For example, an outraged acquaintance (who was unaware I practice Buddhism) was discussing atrocities committed by Sinhalese against Tamil people in Sri Lanka*. She ended her statement with a breathless exclamation - ". . . and they are BUDDHISTS!" More recently I have heard similar statements regarding the Buddhist majority in Myanmar versus the Rohinga Muslim minority*. On a personal level, I recall on several occasions being chastised by family members for becoming angry or impatient being punctuated with, " . . . and you're a BUDDHIST!"   

Although I have heard similar exclamations hurled towards holier-than-thou Christians, this bizarre 'higher standard' regarding Buddhists does seem quite pervasive. Is it a bad thing? Probably not terrible, but it may prevent non-Buddhists from seeing Buddhists in a human (and more accurate) light, which could be disillusioning and damaging to mutual understanding down the road. 

So though I don't know how to approach (or even if others have experienced) this 'Saint Buddhist' phenomenon, I will say that in light of the standards by which others may view Buddhists I am definitely a 'bad' one, anger, impatience, harsh speech, meditational ineptness and all. 

However, I can only hope that my readers and those who know me personally would realize that these are the many reasons I practice Buddhism, that its ideas and precepts have been incredibly important aspects of my personal journey, and really have helped me become a more patient, more compassionate person. I have also learned that no matter what our background or philosophy, we are all unified by the simple aspiration of being our best self- Buddhist practice is just one of the many ways of working towards that.
Have you experienced the 'Saint Buddhist' phenomenon (or even espoused this view)? Feel free to share in the comments!

May all beings be happy!  

*For some people, these topics may elicit strong emotions. I am only mentioning them to make a point regarding expectations about Buddhists around the world, and not to assert (or dispute) anything about the conflict/s themselves.