Whenever I’m asked about my religion, I tell people I am Buddhist. People in our village and temple now assume it; my wife has for some time. In reading about our lives here in Northeastern Thailand -- especially how thoroughly integrated into the daily lives of our Kamattan monks and temple that we are -- I’m pretty sure you would think so, too.
Braided fragrant flower buds offered to our monks in respect.
Yet, despite the fact that I have practiced elements of Buddhism since slightly before my wife was born 45 years ago, and well before her father got serious about the family religion, I no longer consider myself much of a Buddhist -- but, a little.
When I was much younger, I used to say “I’m not a very good Christian.” Now, I tell myself “I’m not a very good Buddhist.”
I grew up a Methodist. I was first introduced to Buddhism in 1967, while in my freshman year in college, though the writings of Jack Kerouac who greatly influenced me as a writer. Soon afterward, I got interested in Zen Buddhism and for a long time considered myself a Zen Buddhist. My sons always thought I was just an Athiest.
When I met my wife three decades later, I adopted her practice, which is the Forest Tradition (Kamattan) of Thai Buddhism.
So, why do I no longer consider myself much of a Buddhist -- Kamattan or some other form? I guess it boils down to me being like a guy shopping in a market when it comes to religion. I’ll buy what I feel I need and I’m very selective. Some of the basic beliefs of Buddhism I definitely don’t subscribe to (i.e. reincarnation). As for the five precepts of Buddhism (not harming living things; not taking what is not given [stealing], sexual misconduct, lying or gossip; and not taking intoxicating substances like drugs and alcohol), I only hit about three out of five of those. I still drink beer and I trap rats on a regular basis, killing mosquitoes on sight.
Besides, there are too many other rules to follow in Buddhism. I don’t know half of them and forget much of the half I remember. Heck, as a boy I was challenged just trying to remember the Ten Commandments. Today, I’m glad to report that I’m meeting about seven out of ten of those.
For me, I’ve just selected what I’ve felt I needed and what made sense to me. I’m fine with anyone following a different path. I really believe whatever works for you is the best religion to have. My religion probably defies a label and takes elements from not only Buddhism and Christianity, but also Native American -- which are really the only three religions I feel I know something about.
My religion -- such as it is -- is boiled down to this: Our lives now, as animals on this planet we call Earth, is the only consciousness we will ever know. This is it. Make the most of it.
Make the most of it by being happy with best intent, best thought, best words and best actions (Buddha’s Four Noble Truths).
Do your utmost to help all living creatures. Live the life you will be proud to die by.
Even as simple as it is, “my religion” is a very difficult religion to practice. It makes sense to me though and challenges me to “up my game” -- actively trying to get better and be a better human being every single day.