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Lions Roar : November 2013
schools and traditions of Buddhism are gathered in one place. There are fine books, excellent teachers (many of them now Amer- ican), practice centers, communities, and indeed, magazines. These are all available for you to explore according to your own needs and path. You can practice meditation at home or go to a local center and practice with others. You can read a book, attend classes, or hear a lecture by a Buddhist teacher. Whatever works for you—no pressure. It’s open, progressive, and not institutional. While Buddhism in its Asian homelands can be conser- vative, convert Buddhists in the West are generally liberal, both socially and politically. Whether this is an accident of history or a natural reflection of the Buddhist teachings, Buddhist com- munities embrace diversity and work against sexism and racism. Identities of all sorts, including gender, nationality, ethnicity, and even religion, are not seen as fixed and ultimately true. Yet they are not denied; differences are acknowledged, celebrated, and enjoyed. Of course, Buddhists are still people and still part of a society, so it’s a work in progress. But they’re trying. Many Americans have turned away from organized religion because it feels like just another bureaucracy, rigid and self- serving. Buddhism has been described as disorganized religion. There’s no Buddhist pope. (No, the Dalai Lama is not the head of world Buddhism. He’s not even the head of all Tibetan Bud- dhism, just of one sect.) There is no overarching church, just a loose collection of different schools and communities. As you’ll quickly discover if you go to your local Buddhist center, things may run smoothly (or not), but the atmosphere is likely to be open and relaxed. It probably won’t feel institutional. And it works. We can’t see or measure subjective experience, so we can’t judge directly the effect Buddhism is hav- ing on someone else’s mind and heart. But we can see how they act and treat other people. We can hear what they say about what they’re experiencing inside. What we find is that Buddhism works. For millennia, Buddhism has been making people more aware, caring, and skillful. All you have to do is meet someone who’s been practicing meditation a lot to know that. In our own time, hundreds of thousands of Americans are reporting that even a modest Buddhist practice has made their life better—they’re calmer, happier, and not as carried away when strong emotions arise. They’re kinder to themselves and others. But it’s really important not to burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations. Change comes very slowly. You’ll also see that when you meet a Buddhist meditator, even one who’s been at it for a long time. Don’t expect perfection. We’re working with patterns of igno- rance, greed, and anger that have developed over a lifetime—if not much longer. Change comes slowly for most of us. But it does come. If you stick with it, that’s guaranteed. Buddhism works. This is not an attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism. There is no need for that. But those who think of themselves as spiritual but not religious can find a lot in Buddhism to help them on their personal path, however they define it. When I first encountered Buddhism, what struck me was its absolute integrity. I saw that it was not trying to manipulate me by telling me what I wanted to hear. It always tells the truth. Sometimes that truth is gentle, softening our hearts and bringing tears to our eyes. Sometimes it is tough, forcing us to face our problems and cut- ting through our comfortable illusions. But always it is skillful. Always it offers us what we need. We are free to take what we wish. ♦ 9 10 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2013 49