What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is around, does it make a sound? And why are Buddhists so obsessed with the sound of stuff?
Deep questions like these could be a part of your life, too, as you join an estimated 500 million other Buddhists around the world in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Neophytes on the road to wisdom and weary old travelers alike will benefit from a review of the basics, so assume the lotus position, and read on, grasshopper.
One of the nice things about Buddhism is that it generally doesn’t take itself too seriously. Buddhists are a light-hearted, peace-loving group who haven’t gone around burning astronomers, drowning weird old women, or drinking Kool-Aid (at least, not in the last 2000 years). Our point: understand that our use of humor in this SYW is not intended to insult anyone. If you are insulted, chug yourself a glass of Kool-Aid and get over it.
Know what makes Buddhism different
from other religions
There’s a story told in Buddhist lore about a follower of another religion who went to the Buddha to try to convert him. The man was so impressed by the words of the Buddha that he decided to become a follower of the Buddha. Buddha said to him, “Make a proper investigation first.” Notice that the Buddha did not proselytize aggressively, but suggested that people should take it or leave it according to their own personal assessment without relying on hearsay or mere tradition. So study as broadly as you need to and make up your own mind. Keep this story in mind as you read about Buddhism; it strongly exemplifies its core values of achieving your own internal happiness instead of blindly following the words of others.
OK, so what is Buddhism? Is it a religion or a philosophy? It doesn’t have a fixed, unquestionable ideology like major religions of faith, but there are definite elements of mysticism and spirituality. The most practical (and common) approach to understanding what Buddhism fundamentally is, is to consider who’s doing the asking. If your Presbyterian relatives are wondering whether you’ve lost it and gone and joined a cult, and are rewriting their wills accordingly, then reassure them quietly that Buddhism is strictly a philosophy for rational, inquiring minds. When you’re claiming tax breaks from the IRS for the shrine going up in the garage, you can definitely call it a religion. What could be simpler? >>More
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