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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 52 been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment. When a conversation arises like the one with my seatmate on the plane, a non-Buddhist may casually ask, “What makes someone a Buddhist?” That is the hardest question to answer. If the person has a genuine interest, the complete answer does not make for light dinner conversation, and generalizations can lead to misunderstanding. Suppose that you give them the true answer, the answer that points to the very foundation of this 2,500-year-old tradition. One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths: All compounded things are impermanent. All emotions are pain. All things have no inherent existence. Nirvana is beyond concepts. These four statements, spoken by the Buddha himself, are known as “the four seals.” Traditionally, seal means something like a hallmark that confirms authenticity. For the sake of sim- plicity and flow we will refer to these statements as both seals and “truths,” not to be confused with Buddhism’s four noble truths, which pertain solely to aspects of suffering. Even though the four seals are believed to encompass all of Buddhism, people don’t seem to want to hear about them. Without further expla- nation they serve only to dampen spirits and fail to inspire fur- ther interest in many cases. The topic of conversation changes and that’s the end of it. The message of the four seals is meant to be understood liter- ally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments. With a little contemplation one sees that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. There is no mention of good or bad be- havior. They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary. A few puffs of a cigarette and a little fooling around don’t prevent someone from becoming a Buddhist. That is not to say that we have license to be wicked or immoral. Broadly speaking, wisdom comes from a mind that has what the Buddhists call “right view.” But one doesn’t even have to consider oneself a Buddhist to have right view. Ultimately it is this view that determines our motivation and action. It is the view that guides us on the path of Buddhism. If we can adopt wholesome behaviors in addition to the four seals, it makes us even better Buddhists. But what makes you not a Buddhist? If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist. If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist. If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist. And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist. So, what makes you a Buddhist? You may not have been born in a Buddhist country or to a Buddhist family, you may DZONGSAR JAMYANG KHYENTSE RINPOCHE is a student of Khenpo Appey Rinpoche and is responsible for the education of approximately 1,600 monks distributed between six monasteries and institutes in Asia. He is the founder of several dharma centers in the West and three nonprofit organizations: Siddhartha’s Intent, Khyentse Foundation and Lotus Outreach. He is the director of the films The Cup and Travellers & Magicians. This teaching is adapted from his first book, What Makes You Not a Buddhist, available from Shambhala Publications. Buddhists venerate wisdom above all else. Wisdom surpasses morality, love, common sense, tolerance, and vegetarianism. PHOTOBYBUT-SOULAI