Like many of you, I was brought up a Christian. I was raised in a small offshoot of the Mormon Church. Church twice a week minimum plus camps and retreats. Unlike some of you, I really enjoyed it. I did music, I gave testimony. I was devout. But something happened when I was a teenager, and I lost my faith. I tried to get it back in college and tried again when I got married, but it was just gone. There was a hole there, and that’s when I found meditation.
Right from the beginning I was interested in Buddhist meditation, not just any old meditation. I wanted to real thing. But I wasn’t quite ready for the hard stuff. It took time. Little by little though, I started to want to go a little deeper. There’s only so many “Introduction to Meditation” books a person can read without wondering what’s next. I went to a retreat or two led by monastics, began reading the suttas themselves, and before I knew it, I was chanting the Tisarana in front of a giant stone Buddha in a 3 Refuges ceremony lead by the wonderful monk Bhante Sati.
I am a Buddhist.
You see, it’s not that I am a secular humanist that does Buddhist meditation. It’s not that I believe all paths lead to the same realization eventually. It’s not that I don’t think Buddhism is a religion, so I just follow the path and leave it at that. I’m an honest-to-God Buddhist.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a secular humanist who happens to meditate. I think they are much better off that a secular humanist who doesn’t meditate. It’s just that I’ve come to believe that it’s a mistake to only take one little part of the dhamma and try to live the rest of your life as though The End of Suffering is something you do 30’ a day.
We need community. It is very difficult to practice alone. Fortunately, there is a community of meditators with history and depth of teachings that go back thousands of years. It is called Buddhism. Few people try to do, say, science on their own with no community. And few people that do science would be shy about calling themselves scientists. So I am a Buddhist.
I sometimes hear the argument: “Buddhism isn’t about labels. We should label ourselves. Don’t get hung up on ‘being a Buddhist.'” I agree that getting hung up on being a Buddhist might conceivably be a problem. But the Buddha didn’t think it was much of an issue. That’s why he spent the last 45 years of his life building a four-fold assemble, building sangha, building dhamma communities.