need to be responsible for ourselves and examine anything that claims
to be the truth. That's what the Buddha did long ago to free himself
from his own discontent and persistent doubts about what he heard,
day-after-day, from his parents, teachers and the palace priests.
Although he was a
prince born into a wealthy and powerful family, the young Siddhartha
often just wanted to get away from it all. He wanted the space to think
independently about who he was and what the spiritual path was about.
Such freethinking was important to the Buddha's search for inner truth
and his ultimate realization of enlightenment. These days more and more
people in the West are following the teachings and example of the
Buddha. But what are these teachings about? What is Buddhism? It looks
like a religion, but is it?
are many definitions of religion. Some are so broad they'd include your
neighborhood garden club. Others are narrower: your garden club would
need a deity, enthusiasm for that deity, and a set of beliefs and
practices. We all have some sense of what religion means to us, but when
we start talking about it -- trouble!
you search "world religions," you'll find "Buddhism" on every list.
Does that make Buddhism a religion? Does it mean that because I'm a
Buddhist, I'm "religious"? I can argue that Buddhism is a science of
mind -- a way of exploring how we think, feel and act that leads us to
profound truths about who we are. I can also say that Buddhism is a
philosophy of life -- a way to live that maximizes our chances for
Buddhism is, at this point, is certainly out of the Buddha's hands. His
teachings passed into the hands of his followers thousands of years
ago. They passed from wandering beggars to monastic institutions, from
the illiterate to the learned, from the esoteric East to the outspoken
West. In its travels, Buddhism has been many things to many people. But
what did the Buddha intend when he taught?
the start of his own spiritual quest, Prince Siddhartha left his royal
home, along with its many luxuries and privileges. He was determined to
find answers to life's most perplexing questions. Are we born into the
world just to suffer, grow old, and die? What's going on -- what's the
meaning of it all? After years of experimenting with different forms of
religious practice, he abandoned his austerities and all his concepts
about his spiritual journey -- all the beliefs and doctrines that had
led him to where he was. At the end of that journey, with only an open
and curious mind, he discovered what he was looking for -- the great
mind of enlightenment. He woke up from all confusion. He saw beyond all
belief systems to the profound reality of the mind itself -- a state of
clear awareness and supreme happiness. Along with that knowledge came an
understanding of how to lead a meaningful and compassionate life. For
the next 45 years, he taught how to work with the mind: how to look at
it, how to free it from misunderstandings, and how to realize the
greatness of its potential.
teachings today still describe a deeply personal inner journey that's
spiritual, yes, but not religious. The Buddha wasn't a god -- he wasn't
even a Buddhist. You're not required to have more faith in the Buddha
than you do in yourself. His power lies in his teachings, which show us
how to work with our minds to realize our full capacity for wakefulness
and happiness. These teachings can help us satisfy our search for the
truth -- our need to know who and what we really are.
do we find this truth? Although we can rely to some degree on the
wisdom we find in books and on the advice of respected spiritual
authorities, that's only the beginning. The journey to genuine truth
begins when you discover a true question -- one that comes from the
heart -- from your own life and experience. That question will lead to
an answer that will lead to another question, and so on. That's how it
goes on the spiritual path.
start by bringing an open, inquisitive, and skeptical mind to whatever
we hear, read, or see that presents itself as the truth. We examine it
with reason and we put it to the test in meditation and in our lives. As
we gain insight into the workings of the mind, we learn how to
recognize and deal with our day-to-day experiences of thoughts and
emotions. We uncover inaccurate and unhelpful habits of thinking and
begin to correct them. Eventually we're able to overcome the confusion
that makes it so hard to see the mind's naturally brilliant awareness.
In this sense, the Buddha's teachings are a method of investigation, or a
science of mind.
on the other hand, often provides us with answers to life's big
questions from the start. We don't have to think about it too much. We
learn what to think and believe and our job is to live up to that, not
to question it. If we relate to the Buddha's teachings as final answers
that don't need to be examined, then we're practicing Buddhism as a
any case, we still have to live our lives and face up to how we're
going to do it. We can't escape having a "philosophy of life," because
we're challenged every day to choose one action over another -- kindness
or indifference, generosity or selfishness, patience or blame. When our
decisions and actions reflect the knowledge we've gained by working
with our minds, that's adopting Buddhism as a way of life.
the teachings of the Buddha reach us and pass into our Western hands,
what determines what they will be for us? It's all in how we use them.
As long as they help to clear up our confusion and inspire confidence
that we can fulfill our potential, then they're doing the job that the
can use all the help we can get, because strange as it seems, we hang
onto to our confusion. We cling to it because we think it shields us
from something. But like wearing sunglasses day and night, we are only
avoiding looking at who we truly are. We prefer to wear our "shades,"
simply because we're not used to the bright light of our minds. The
teachings of the Buddha -- no matter how we label them -- show us how to
open our eyes to that brilliance.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a meditation master in the Nyingma and
Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the author of several books
including "Rebel Buddha (Shambhala Publications), scheduled to publish