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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 34 mitzvahs and Passover seders. In college, I started studying Bud- dhism intensively, drawn to the possibility of training the mind to accept the present, whatever that may be. After studying at a Buddhist monastery in India, I decided, with a sense of heavy- handed finality, to “become” a Buddhist. For a while, I was self-consciously territorial about my new- found religious assimilation. I enjoyed pointing out to liberal- minded friends who thought Buddhism seemed “cool” that it is actually a religion—not some New Age concept—which de- mands a commitment to prescribed rules (the precepts), ritu- als (rigorous meditation practice, prostrations, visualizations), and beliefs (karma, emptiness, interconnectedness). The aspects of the practice that had enlivened my own life—compassion for difficult people, relief from the anxious cycle of self-involved thoughts, the simple ability to sleep better and feel more joyful on a daily basis—seemed to me inseparable from the label “Bud- dhism.” I felt that the world would be a better place if everyone were Buddhist, and I was blind to the fact that I was adopting the religious exclusivity common to the forms of fundamentalism I’d always taken issue with. Perhaps there was something appealing to me about the promised structure of a “real religion”—the same concept, no doubt, that appealed to both Aziz and my grandparents. Within a clear framework of spiritual, practical, and ethical guidelines, one has the freedom to explore one’s inner life, rather than floundering in purely cerebral considerations of the pros and cons of various religious practices. Perhaps this is why the Dalai Lama and Pema Chödrön caution against “shopping around” for a religion. While Pema Chödrön advises spiritual seekers to “stick with one boat,” the Dalai Lama says it’s best to find spiri- tual fulfillment through the religion in which one was raised, “since all the different traditions have the same potential to bring inner peace, inner value.” That two leading Buddhist teachers would promote acceptance for all religions is hardly surprising. The idea that Buddhism is a “better” religion than others is clearly counter to teachings of emptiness, which render judgments and comparisons mean- ingless. Nonetheless, for those of us who became Buddhists as adults, it’s a hard line of thought to avoid. We “chose” Buddhism because we felt there was empirical evidence of the good that can come from exposure to meditation and Buddhist study. So it was not until my mother started representing Aziz and telling me about her visits with him that I started to see the The dangers of religious ideology have been documented so well that I fear many of us have forgotten that religion is not the enemy. Stalin, after all, was an atheist.