“Buddha cannot save us, cannot make us enlightened. We have to do it ourselves, by following his advice, practicing his teachings. So Buddha is like our teacher and guide, or like a doctor who tells us what’s wrong and prescribes the cure.” ~ excerpt from “Introduction to Buddhism, Readings and Materials”
Religious people are often baffled when they learn I’m a practicing Buddhist.
The first question they ask is, “Did you relinquish your previous religion?” Since Buddhism falls under the label of “religion,” many people think they must relinquish their former religion to practice Buddhism.
However, I’m fond of what Dzongsar Khyentse has to say about this:
“I feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace and meditation. Buddhism can’t be easily explained. It is almost complex, vast and deep. Although it is nonreligious and non-theistic, it’s difficult to present Buddhism without sounding theoretical and religious.”
Since Buddhism is nonreligious—as Dzongsar Khyentse says—Buddhists aren’t interested in our religion. Our background, nationality, color, religion and culture don’t matter to them.
In the Introduction to Buddhism course I took this year in India, there were more than 100 students from many different nations. There were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Jains and atheists. It was remarkable to see how every person offered their prayers to their own gods in the morning and evening.
What makes this diversity of religion possible, in the practice of Buddhism, is its essence—which is exactly what makes Buddhism unique from other religions in the world. Buddhism doesn’t have a set of rules for people. They don’t have marriage ceremonies in their Sutras, nor anything that tackles our cultural life.
Buddhists don’t have a god of their own and that is precisely what makes Buddhism applicable to all. Despite what people think, Buddha is not deemed “a god.” Buddha is a human being—just like us—who discovered the root of suffering and the way out of it. Buddhists consider him a remarkable teacher who can show us the right way of eradicating suffering and reaching enlightenment.