So tonight, I would like to talk on the topic of why I am an interfaith Buddhist. First, I will talk about why I am a Buddhist, and then why I am interfaith, and thirdly why I am an interfaith Buddhist.
So, why am I a Buddhist? Well, I started out in a different faith tradition that many of us may have started out with, too, in this American country. And my process of becoming Buddhist has taken about 12 years so far, and in becoming Buddhist I did not necessarily leave behind all the beautiful jewels of my former first religion. Rather all the beautiful jewels in that tradition, I just simply brought them along with me as I have more and more self identified as Buddhist over the last 12 years.
One of the reasons why I love the spiritual path of Buddhism is because of the practice of mindfulness and meditation, which of course exists in some form in every religious tradition, but in Buddhism, it is at the top of the list. It is not something obscure. It is quite obvious that meditation is a part of Buddhism, and I love Buddhism for that.
Also, in many other traditions in history, there has been sometimes an overemphasis on seeking help from outside sources. Of course, the source of support is both within and all around us, so yes, you can ask for help outside of yourself, but that emphasis in Buddhism is more on seeing how that source of support is deep within you.
And so, there is a saying of the Buddha, which I have mentioned before. "If there is a beautiful space across the river, and on your side it is just all poverty and misery, the wise thing to do is not to put your hands together and pray, 'Other shore. You are so beautiful. I praise you. Please come to me. I want to be with you.' That would not be the wisest thing to do. Rather, the wise thing to do is to build yourself a raft and throw yourself across to the other shore." This is one of the stories that the Buddha taught.
And so, we do the practice. We do the homework. And we don't just pray and ask for some other source to do it for us, but we can do it ourselves because it is already within. And it is not to say that your ego is going to do it. We are not saying that, but there is something about you more than your ego, something infinite, something precious, something beautiful, something vast, and that is what is within you that can know how to build a raft and row across to the other shore.
I also love Buddhism because it is very inclusive. Unlike some traditions that believe in eternal damnation and hell as an option for most beings, in Buddhism, realms of the mind that are hell-like are only temporary. They may exist because, well, we create hell from time to time, don't we? In our own minds and around us sometimes through our actions. But, it is temporary. It is not permanent.
Ultimately, the good news of Buddhism is that even the crazy ones of us will one day become enlightened. Some of us take a little bit longer than others, but that is okay. We're all in this together.
Another thing about Buddhism—which is also inclusive--is the fact that in Buddhism, the Buddha, when he was reaching out to all the people and teaching the way of enlightenment, he eventually allowed women to become his disciples as nuns, not just men as monks, but also women as nuns. This was quite controversial in his day. In fact, it was one of the first in history where you heard of such a large number of women being accepted into such a religious order like that.
For Buddhists, everyone can be enlightened, men and women equally. Now there are some traditions in Buddhism that are a little bit still behind the times, and they believe this crazy notion that women can advance on the path of enlightenment, but they have to be reborn as a man in the last lifetime to become a Buddha. I think that is quite ridiculous. And actually, many Buddhists think that is ridiculous, too. It was probably some monk that made up that story long time ago.
But if you meditate enough and practice with others enough, you can tell which are the parts of the story that are made up by prejudiced people and which ones are genuinely the authentic teaching of the Buddha. I also love the Buddha's story because in his culture, people are divided into caste systems, and there are those that are the lower castes, and even lower than the lowest caste were the untouchables. And they were not allowed to even be in the same household with those of higher castes and certainly were not allowed to touch you. Otherwise you become unclean.
And they were definitely not allowed into religious life and religious orders. Only those of higher castes could do that, and when the Buddha began his ministry of enlightenment, he allowed everyone of any caste to come into his religious order and his community, including untouchables. And once you became a part of his community, a part of his order, there was no such thing as caste anymore. All that mattered was your practice and your enlightenment. That was the only true measure of your level of caste--spiritual caste, you see.
He said that in that day, the Brahmins were considered to be the highest caste, but the Buddha said, "A true Brahmin is simply one who walks the way of compassion and wisdom." That is the true Brahmin. It is very similar to the teaching in the Christian Bible where it says, you know, "A Jew is not one born of Jewish parents, but a true Jew, a true child of God, is one who walks the way of righteousness. That is the true Jew." You see? It is very similar. And you find these kinds of statements in all religious traditions. A true Muslim is not just one who says they're Muslim but lives a life of true peace.
I also love the Buddhist path because there are so many rich resources of spiritual practice that are practical and step-by-step. You know, when I grew up in my religious tradition, upbringing, I was told many times, "Love your neighbor as yourself," or "Love God." Or, "Don't hate. Don't be angry." And I just kept thinking to myself, well, how? They never told us how.
But in Buddhism, we are told how. These kinds of practices help with these kinds of problem. This kind of practice helps with this emotional state, and so forth. If you go into the depths of the Buddhist teachings, there are meditations and practices for everything, step-by-step. So I like that. It is a practical spiritual path.
I also love Buddhism because, although I believe that all paths have truth in them, I do believe from my study of all the religions over several years that of all of them, Buddhism seems to have the most direct path of enlightenment. Or at least if not the most, one of the most direct paths of enlightenment. Now, does that mean it is better? No. No. No. Just because something is more direct does not mean it is better, but I just happen to prefer things that are more direct, and so that is my path of choice. Other people like the scenic way. Really convoluted with lots of drama and scenery and creative things, and that is good too. That is life. Some people like to go to enlightenment with more music and prayer and rituals, and that is fine also. But I love Buddhism because it is a very direct kind of path. But again, just because something is more direct does not mean it is better. All of them are, I believe, good paths.
Also, in Buddhism, you do not have to go through someone else to get to heaven or enlightenment. You do not have to have somebody else do your intercessor or intermediary. You can go directly to the source without any priest or intermediary or Messiah between you and the source, because you yourself are an expression of the source.
Now why am I interfaith? And of course, as I talk about Buddhism, I haven't told you everything about Buddhism, just a few things. Otherwise, it would be way too long to talk about. But why am I interfaith? I am interfaith because I believe that no religious tradition has the corner on the truth, a monopoly on the truth.
Even the Buddha said that truth is like this: you have an elephant and you have these blind men who are trying to describe what an elephant is like, the one blind man comes over and touches the ears of the elephant, and he says, "An elephant is like a pancake." And then another blind man touches the trunk and said, "No. No. An elephant is like a hose." And then another blind man comes up and touches a leg of the elephant and says, "No. An elephant is like a tree trunk." And the last blind man says, "Oh no. You are all wrong," and then touches the tail of the elephant and says, "No. An elephant is more like a broom or a brush."
That is the way it is with all of our religious traditions. We all kind of approach truth from different angles and with our limitations, and what we have to say about the truth, there is some validity to it, but it is not the whole truth, and that is why I am interfaith. I believe that it is important to learn from the various perspectives of the different traditions that have developed in human history, because they would not have survived up to this point if there was not something about them that had something to give wisdom to us today.
At the same time, there is a lot of trash and garbage in our religious traditions. And sometimes by studying various ones, we can see the commonalities, the good parts, and we are better able to see the parts that are maybe not so good. So that is why I am interfaith, so that we can differentiate between the parts of our religious heritages and cultural heritages that are positive, that we want to continue to move forward into the future and also those which we want to let go of and reform and transform.
Also, I am interfaith because that is the only possibility of world peace. If we only cling to our own perspective and understanding without learning from other perspectives and having dialogue in a friendly nonviolent way, there is no possibility of world peace at all. That is also another reason why I am interfaith.
And the last reason why I am interfaith? It is no fun. It is much more fun to be interfaith than to only know about one kind of path. You know, it is rather boring that way. It is much more fun, more interesting, more creative, more eye opening to have an interfaith perspective. Otherwise it is kind of like eating British food your whole entire life and that is it. That is very boring. Fish and chips. It is nice to be able to—and maybe there is a particular cuisine you like. You can do that as your staple food, but you know, maybe next week, try Italian. Try Greek. Try Ethiopian. Try different kinds of things. It is much more fun that way. Same with interfaith.
Maybe your chosen path is Buddhism, but once in a while, once a year, go with your Jewish friends to the synagogue. Go with your Muslim friends to the mosque. Go with your Hindu friends to the Temple. Or wherever so that you at least expose yourself and can appreciate different experiences of how the one truth manifests in multiple ways, the one infinite light expressed in diverse ways.
And why am I an interfaith Buddhist? Well because if I am only interfaith, then I end up not really practicing anything very deeply. I'm just flitting from different traditions and practices and just doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and it is very colorful and creative but not necessarily very deep. And most of the time all you do is you end up collecting lots of different trinkets, but there is no real depth.
So it is important to combine being interfaith with a particular, specific path, and for me, that is Buddhism, so that is why I am an interfaith Buddhist. So that my interfaith broad aspect can be balanced by my deep, deep, deep path. For me it is Buddhism. And why interfaith Buddhist as opposed to just Buddhist? Because if I am just Buddhist and only just, let's say, Zen Buddhist, very narrow, then I lose out on all these other kinds of Buddhism. So I want to be an interfaith Buddhist who is grounded in one particular way, such as my teacher is Thich Nhat Hanh, but even though that is my basis, I have gone to Soto Zen retreats and Renzai Zen retreats and Tibetan Buddhist events and Vipassana retreats and Pure Land temples and other kinds of Buddhist expressions.
Why do I do that? So that I can stay fresh, because the Dharma is expressed in all these different ways, even though I may personally have a particular nuance that I prefer or resonate with, but by being open and seeing the different other Buddhist traditions along with my particular Buddhist tradition, I keep myself from being dogmatic and narrowminded. And also, I am much better able to communicate with all the different kinds of Buddhists. And not just Buddhists. Being an interfaith Buddhist also means I'm able to dialogue with all different traditions, even though I'm focusing on one tradition.
I believe that being an interfaith Buddhist keeps me much more kind, much more open-minded, and much more open to change when change is necessary. Unlike some of the Buddhists I have met in very, very, you know, specific traditions who are not familiar with other Buddhist traditions and certainly not familiar with other religious traditions, some of them I have noticed tend to be a little more narrowminded and usually are the ones who are much more prone to seeing women as inferior to men or any kinds of ideas like that.
They are not the ones that are necessarily much more pro-human rights and pro-social justice and pro-activism, but the kinds of Buddhists I have seen and the kind of religious people that I've seen are much more open-minded and openhearted are the ones who are interfaith and also in their religious tradition. So for me, interfaith Buddhist. For you, maybe interfaith Christian or interfaith Jew or interfaith Muslim, interfaith Hindu, interfaith atheist. Who knows?
That is another reason why I love Buddhism. You can be a theist or an atheist and still be a good Buddhist, because in Buddhism, we are not hung up on trying to prove or disprove the existence or nonexistence of God. Rather, we just practice wisdom, compassion, enlightened action, and we know that God or not God question will take care of itself.