Beyond -ism

Buddhism is a mirror, that’s what it was designed to be.

That’s why it’s so many different things to different people. Buddhism is as you are. It can be psychology, philosophy, or religion. It can be phenomenology, subjective empiricism, a culture, a folk tradition, or a novelty. It can be practical or idealistic; down-to-earth, over-the-top, and everything in-between.

That’s what makes it both awesome and confusing.

I’d never encountered such a nebulous paradigm before in my life. Whenever I try to narrow it down to just one thing, it all falls apart, because that’s not its nature. Buddhism is as vast and empty as the universe it talks about.

No matter where we start with it, or how we relate with it in the beginning, I think it’s vital to eventually move beyond the -ism in it, beyond -isms in general. However we see it, I think it’s vital that we don’t always see it that way. For me, Buddhism is just my ordinary life, everything I experience happens in the context of Buddhist practice.

And even when I turn away from that practice, it’s so that I can come to understand it better. Sort of like stepping out into the cold for a few minutes in order to savor the fireplace.

As we practice, we eventually become identical to the Path we’re walking. The neat thing about that is that it topples all dogma. You can be a Buddhist and still research other religions and philosophies. You can be a Buddhist and still dive into physics, astronomy, and politics. You can fall in love; you can grieve.

Because none of it’s separate from the Path.

Does that mean we can go around murdering, raping, pillaging, and plundering and still be Buddhists? That’s not for me to say. Buddhism is just a word, and if you choose to adopt it as a label, then you’re a Buddhist—at least to you. Whatever you call yourself or consider yourself to be, I’ll call you that as well, but I won’t consider you that.

What I’ll consider you to be is totality, and totality includes the nasty bits too. I’ll say that harm and benefit are both universal, that our actions create us. But I won’t judge—or at least I’ll try not to.

Beyond -isms is a gray area, lorded over by rules of thumb rather than absolute truths. It’s a dangerous territory if we haven’t trained for it, because it’s easy to slip into a post-modern, “Anything goes,” point of view. But anything doesn’t go, the cosmos isn’t a chaotic free-for-all. Mars isn’t going to just break orbit all of a sudden and go to Arby’s for a roast beef and cheese.

Once we glimpse the order, we can enter that gray area, that place beyond -isms.

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