is a subject I knew almost nothing about until I stumbled across it on E2
. There is quite a bit of information
on the topic here and I've taken to studying it, both on and off E2
. As it turns out, once I got past my own misconceptions
about the practice, Buddhism seems to be very similar to my own view of the world.
My Own Misconceptions
First and foremost, I am what most people would call an atheist or nontheist. I had thought that since many people refer to Buddhism as a religion that it required a belief in some sort of deity that I couldn't see. Buddhism is actually a bring-your-own-deity philosophy. Buddhism doesn't supply any deities for you, but you can have your own if you like. No one is going to get upset about it either way.
Another misconception I held about Buddhism was that Buddhists are all vegetarian. I knew that Buddhists are supposed to refrain from killing things, even ants and such, so it stands to reason that they wouldn't eat meat since it would require the death of an animal. It turns out many Buddhists, even some Buddhist monks, eat meat. There are a couple of great nodes about this under Buddhist vegetarians. For various reasons I do eat meat, although I would probably never kill an animal myself or directly cause one to be killed for my diet.
My third (and just plain silly) misconception was that Buddhists wouldn't like my gun collection. I enjoy target shooting and don't own guns so I can kill people or animals (I don't hunt). So it stands to reason that my guns aren't specifically offensive to Buddhists. I haven't confirmed this with actual Buddhists, so if you are one and/or happen to know how Buddhists get along with guns, please enlighten me.
Becoming a Buddhist
So what does it take to become a Buddhist? Most of the sources I've found on this question indicate that you simply have to declare yourself a Buddhist and try to accept the teachings of Buddha. Fortunately Buddhism is big on lists and there are three main checklists of Buddha's teachings, at least for lay-Buddhists (for monks the lists are more complicated and aren't covered here). The simplified lists (with links to the more complicated versions) are shown below.
The Four Noble Truths
The Buddha taught four truths, as follows:
- All beings are subject to suffering
- The cause of suffering is ignorance
- Ignorance, the cause of suffering, can be overcome
- The way to overcome ignorance is the Eightfold Path
There are many translations of the word "ignorance" in item two, sometimes people say it is "cravings" or "desire". Any of the words seem to fit well.
The Eightfold Path
I'll leave it to real Buddhists to explain the Eightfold Path, however it is my understanding that "right" isn't quite the proper translation and you may want to substitute the words "harmonious" or "appropriate" in its place in this list:
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
The Five Precepts
And finally, there are The Five Precepts, which are a sort of code of conduct for Buddhists to follow:
- To abstain from killing living beings
- To abstain from taking things not freely given
- To abstain from sexual misconduct
- To abstain from false speech
- To abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness
Of course this is where I get into trouble, as noted in the title of this node. I live in a house in the woods which has a neverending supply of spiders. Big, hairy, nasty, icky ones. I've killed 3 or 4 huge brown recluse spiders this week. Brown recluse spiders have venom which is quite toxic to humans and is sometimes fatal. It can also remain active in your body for years, causing great pain and illness. And yes, I wad up paper towels and squish them as quickly as I can. I don't like spiders in my house.
My feelings toward spiders outside my house are quite different. For example, if I come home from work and find a spider has created a new web across my front door, blocking the entrance to my home, I'll use a stick to clear the web and gently place the spider out in the woods.
Furthermore I drink beer fairly often and, once every ten years or so, indulge in various mind-altering drugs. All the rest of the rules and truths and pathways I can handle. So could I be a Buddhist? This leads me to my final misconception...
My final misconception was that any of these rules or precepts or truths were absolute. Buddhism doesn't take itself too seriously. Buddhism tries, and quite successfully at that, to prevent itself from getting in the way of you discovering your own truth. None of the aformentioned rules are handed to you by an angry god who will punish you if you don't get them right. It seems like the goal of Buddhism is to help you find the path, but let you walk it at your own pace.
Having discovered all these things, I guess I am a Buddhist whether I admit it or not. All of the above precepts and truths make sense to me. I'd like to try and understand them better. And there are no mysterious hoops to jump through as part of being a Buddhist. I don't have to skip eating meat on Fridays, or go to confession, or even visit a temple.
I guess I'll try and do something else with the spiders all over the place. Maybe I should buy a cat?