What does it mean to become a Buddhist?

- through Francois Leclercq

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Are you a Buddhist? Or tempted by Buddhism? The question seems simple, the answer is not.

Buddhists? All people practicing the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) do not necessarily recognize themselves in this name. The question does not make sense to Gilles, who follows the teachings of Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. “What interests me is to become fully alive, now, to be in this state of presence. There are moments of grace and of suffering. The key is to stay present with it, not to run away from it. Others fear being locked into a definition. “I don't know what it means to be a Buddhist; for me it is a label; I am against labels", recognizes Thala, a young woman who follows the teachings of Venerable Nyanadharo. This Laotian monk, who founded the Bodhinyanarama monastery in Ardèche in the tradition of the monks of the forest, questions Thala: “Who are you? » « I am a living being, who has chosen to advance on a spiritual path with discernment; I am not in belief; I am certain that in each of us, and inside me, there is this wisdom, this nature that is said to be awakening”, answers the young woman. “This presence,” adds Venerable Nyanadharo.

Answers to own problems

For Elio Guarisco, Italian meditation instructor and translator of Tibetan texts, "it is not necessary for anyone to lock themselves into names and definitions, and to feel a sense of belonging to a group or to a religion. Often this separates us from others, from those who are not of the same group or religion, and can lead to the undesirable attitude of fanaticism and fundamentalism. »

Practicing Dzogchen (1), Elio Guarisco gives his vision of Buddhism: “Every human being is confronted with external and internal problems, and sometimes, we can find the means to face them in a spiritual teaching. What we learn in Buddhism, but also in the other systems, is that each individual already possesses within himself the potentiality to discover all the answers to his own problems and questions. This potentiality is the ability to be in the presence of spirit and in awareness. Thanks to this, we have the possibility of discovering the mechanisms of the functioning of our mind and, just by this discovery, to free ourselves from an unhealthy way of thinking, behaving and speaking. Only thus can we approach the natural condition that resides within us. If we do so, whether we call ourselves Buddhists or not, we are in accordance with the Buddha's teaching. »

Not concepts, but fundamental principles

However, even if Buddhism does not allow itself to be limited by concepts, this spiritual path remains structured by certain fundamental principles.

I will take refuge

Whether it is formulated with an external master or for oneself, taking refuge is essential. “If our way of life does not satisfy us and we turn to teachings, if these resonate deeply with us and upon reflection we realize that we can trust, then we take refuge and, thus, we become Buddhists”, explains Philippe Cornu. For this academic specialist in Buddhism, writer, translator from Tibetan and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, to take refuge is "to trust in the Buddha as the guide who will tell us how to orient our lives and how to practice so that things are transformed. . It is to have confidence in its teaching and its practices (the Dharma). And to realize that the friends who take this step are companions on the way, it is the sangha in the broad sense. It also means no longer “taking refuge” in money, the powerful of this world, the fan club of a star or a politician. This does not prevent one from being a citizen, but an informed citizen, capable of observing oneself in order to better understand oneself and, thus, better understand others, which develops compassion for others. »

Adherence to the Four Seals

These are the four pillars of Buddhism, remembered by all teachers.

  1. Everything that is composed is impermanent
  2. All that is contaminated by the passions is suffering
  3. All phenomena are devoid of existence in themselves
  4. Nirvana (the state beyond suffering) is peace

Understanding and admitting these four points is the minimum to truly enter Buddhism. Many commentaries have been written on these four seals. Better to refer to them if you want to understand them more in depth. Interesting consequence of the 3rd seal: “We can stop thinking that our personality is a real entity to be defended at all costs. This does not mean that we no longer have a personality, but we put it into perspective, we know that it is a mental construction”, illustrates Philippe Cornu. “These seals, age-old ordinary truths, are based on wisdom, which is the main concern of a Buddhist. Morality and ethics are secondary. A few puffs of cigarettes and a bit of levity will not prevent you from becoming a Buddhist, which does not mean that wickedness and immorality are allowed,” says lama and director Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentsé in his book Is not a Buddhist who wants.

“Taking refuge does not prevent one from being a citizen, but an informed citizen, capable of observing oneself in order to understand oneself better and thus, better understand others, which develops compassion for others. »Philippe Cornu

Ethical commitments

Lightness does not equal immorality. Thus Buddhism invites to observe certain precepts, the number of which varies according to the schools. The first five are to abstain from killing, from taking what has not been given, from dissolute sex, from slander and from intoxicating oneself with products that undermine self-control. “Ethics have been very neglected in the Buddhism presented in the West. Even if we don't take these wishes formally, the idea is to try to comply with them as much as possible, ”admits Philippe Cornu.

Whether he calls himself a Buddhist or not, isn't the common point of all practitioners of Buddhism this progression towards a better knowledge of himself, through this "presence of mind" who helps him become aware of his intentions and take responsibility for his actions? “Becoming a Buddhist means purifying one's gestures, words, mind; Free yourself from your fears, your anger, your ignorance. A Buddhist is one who seeks to know himself”, recalls the Venerable Nyanadharo. It remains to find the way and the practices that will resonate best to help us discover this presence in ourselves. Between "ancient" Buddhism, still predominant in the current Theravada school (sometimes called Hinayana, "Small Vehicle"), the "Great Vehicle" (Mahayana), the "Diamond Vehicle" (Vajrayana) and the way of Great Perfection or Dzogchen, the choice is endless.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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