A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identity

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
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RickThunderclees
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A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identity

Post by RickThunderclees »

Greetings all! :namaste:

I have been a Buddhist practitioner in some capacity for over 10 years now. I'm a westerner, and was raised Methodist. I did not have a strict upbringing at all. We simply went to church as a family on Sundays, that's pretty much it. Upon discovering Buddhism, I quickly took a likening to Zen/Chan and studied it for the first couple years. Zen then led me to Theravada, which then led me to Vajrayana. I have also taken a liking to Hindu beliefs and meditation practices before. Lately, I have also considered myself a Nichiren practitioner. I feel like I am struggling with my Buddhist identity. I know this is just 'ego'. But because I'm constantly changing and re-evaluating my practice, I feel like it is holding me back to a certain degree. Does anyone else have troubles with this or has had troubles with this in the past? What did you do? Did it simply take a lot of time to come to terms with a specific tradition? Does this specifically affect a lot of westerners that are raised in different religious traditions?

I am interested in everyone's feedback, personal experiences, or advice of any capacity. Thank you for your time!

rT
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KathyLauren
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by KathyLauren »

It is human nature to seek novelty. That is the "monkey mind" that meditation is an effort to settle down. So, with so many Buddhist traditions, there is lots of novelty to distract you.

While sticking with one tradition is good for consistency of practice, there is nothing wrong with taking elements from different traditions. The trick is to see what is similar in all of them. The differences that the monkey mind seeks out are all fluff. It is the similarities that may not be obvious that are the substance of value.

Om mani padme hum
Keith
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Alfredo »

"Converting" to Buddhism doesn't generally mean as much as say, converting to Islam. It's not like the ethnic Buddhists are waiting to help us assimilate into the community. Often, it's more like a hobby or type of entertainment. We even buy tickets from the same places.

Ethnic Buddhists get reinforcement from the surrounding culture--holidays, life cycle rituals, and so on--so they don't even have to be very religious in order to feel Buddhist. Converts, by contrast, feel pressure to do more and more--hence all those Ph.D's, three-year retreats, etc.--otherwise we don't feel like part of the group.

In the West, as well as the Middle East and South/Southeast Asia, religion typically forms part of one's group identity. This is less true of East Asia, where Buddhism is either relegated to the funeral industry or mutated into new, aggressive Buddhist organizations. So if you feel as though you are missing a religion-based group identity, you might consider that you are in the same boat as hundreds of millions of East Asians!
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Grigoris
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Grigoris »

Alfredo wrote:Ethnic Buddhists get reinforcement from the surrounding culture--holidays, life cycle rituals, and so on--so they don't even have to be very religious in order to feel Buddhist. Converts, by contrast, feel pressure to do more and more--hence all those Ph.D's, three-year retreats, etc.--otherwise we don't feel like part of the group.
Hate to be the one to shatter your fantasy but "ethnic" Buddhists also engage in PhD's, three year retreats, etc... More so than converts, probably because there are many more "ethnic" Buddhists than there are converts! ;)
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

RickThunderclees wrote:Greetings all! :namaste:

I have been a Buddhist practitioner in some capacity for over 10 years now. I'm a westerner, and was raised Methodist. I did not have a strict upbringing at all. We simply went to church as a family on Sundays, that's pretty much it. Upon discovering Buddhism, I quickly took a likening to Zen/Chan and studied it for the first couple years. Zen then led me to Theravada, which then led me to Vajrayana. I have also taken a liking to Hindu beliefs and meditation practices before. Lately, I have also considered myself a Nichiren practitioner. I feel like I am struggling with my Buddhist identity. I know this is just 'ego'. But because I'm constantly changing and re-evaluating my practice, I feel like it is holding me back to a certain degree. Does anyone else have troubles with this or has had troubles with this in the past? What did you do? Did it simply take a lot of time to come to terms with a specific tradition? Does this specifically affect a lot of westerners that are raised in different religious traditions?

I am interested in everyone's feedback, personal experiences, or advice of any capacity. Thank you for your time!

rT
Have you tried looking around for a Buddhist teacher that clicks with you, whatever the tradition? A teacher you trust, whose teachings really speak to you might get rid of any identity crisis. If you are just studying on your own, that is great, but really for practice there isn't any substitute for direct instruction - just like nearly anything else in life.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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明安 Myoan
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by 明安 Myoan »

Welcome! :cheers:

I've bounced around between just about every variant of Buddhism as well as Quakerism.
Each change was preceded by the feeling that I was incapable of whatever the main practice at the time was, that the teachings and practice were inaccessible to someone like me.
So I thought "this is all wrong, I need something else".
Everyone has their own hangups, their own Big Issue. For me, it's doubt, but it took a lot of wandering to finally make it out against the ever-changing backdrops of different practices.
What do you feel most characterizes your wandering?
The issue after all like you say isn't making a new Buddhist identity, but getting to the heart of the matter: suffering.
For me, the religious wandering was bound up with a lot of suffering.

I settled on zazen as the most direct way to stop being dragged around by every impulse of doubt, every discomfort, and instead see what's going on.
I settled on the nembutsu because of a strong intuition, which I later recognized as Other-Power.
Soto Zen and Jodo Shinshu don't appear at first blush to be compatible, but like Keith said, the deeper similarities have begun to emerge.
By now, you probably have a core of practices that resonate for you, and some kind of intuition that draws you to specific dharma teachers or concepts.
I think that is your dharma insight borne of practice and experience rather than the constantly flitting intellectual games.

Finally in general, I would recommend that if you can find a local sangha with good people and a good atmosphere, to fully delve into that line of practice, for at least a few months.
People you can see and talk to, a place that can support your practice, these are more helpful than specific details.
The Sangha is one of the Three Jewels for a reason.
With a heart wandering in ignorance down this path and that, to guide me I simply say Namu-Amida-Butsu. -- Ippen

Reciting the nembutsu and believing in birth in the Pure Land naturally give rise to the Three Minds and the Four Modes of Practice. -- Master Hōnen
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Alfredo »

Hate to be the one to shatter your fantasy but "ethnic" Buddhists also engage in PhD's, three year retreats, etc... More so than converts, probably because there are many more "ethnic" Buddhists than there are converts!
Of course, but they wouldn't need to do these things in order to "be Buddhist."
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RickThunderclees
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by RickThunderclees »

Have you tried looking around for a Buddhist teacher that clicks with you, whatever the tradition? A teacher you trust, whose teachings really speak to you might get rid of any identity crisis. If you are just studying on your own, that is great, but really for practice there isn't any substitute for direct instruction - just like nearly anything else in life.
[/quote]

Practicing with a group is definitely better than practicing alone. I live in a fairly rural community and access to local groups is very limited. Right now, the only place I have access to is a Karma Thegsum Choling center. I couldn't agree with you more regarding direct instruction.
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Kim O'Hara »

RickThunderclees wrote:
Have you tried looking around for a Buddhist teacher that clicks with you, whatever the tradition? A teacher you trust, whose teachings really speak to you might get rid of any identity crisis. If you are just studying on your own, that is great, but really for practice there isn't any substitute for direct instruction - just like nearly anything else in life.
Practicing with a group is definitely better than practicing alone. I live in a fairly rural community and access to local groups is very limited. Right now, the only place I have access to is a Karma Thegsum Choling center. I couldn't agree with you more regarding direct instruction.
Then that answers most of your questions, doesn't it?
The core of your practice has to be the practice of your local centre, unless you really don't get on with the people there. Supplement it (if you like) by whatever reading you like to do outside that tradition but don't talk too much about it at your centre if the people there don't share your need to explore.

If you do all that, you will be in my own position. The only group reasonably close to me is Sakya tradition and they have been great but I still prefer the Pali suttas ...

:reading:
Kim
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RickThunderclees
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by RickThunderclees »

Then that answers most of your questions, doesn't it?
The core of your practice has to be the practice of your local centre, unless you really don't get on with the people there. Supplement it (if you like) by whatever reading you like to do outside that tradition but don't talk too much about it at your centre if the people there don't share your need to explore.

If you do all that, you will be in my own position. The only group reasonably close to me is Sakya tradition and they have been great but I still prefer the Pali suttas ...

:reading:
Kim
Kim, this is great advice, thank you. :twothumbsup:
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RickThunderclees
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by RickThunderclees »

KeithBC wrote:It is human nature to seek novelty. That is the "monkey mind" that meditation is an effort to settle down. So, with so many Buddhist traditions, there is lots of novelty to distract you.

While sticking with one tradition is good for consistency of practice, there is nothing wrong with taking elements from different traditions. The trick is to see what is similar in all of them. The differences that the monkey mind seeks out are all fluff. It is the similarities that may not be obvious that are the substance of value.

Om mani padme hum
Keith
I pretty much need to learn to 'let go' and realize that this is okay. Hard to believe I have been dealing with this for the last 10 years...........notice how many "I"s are in the last two sentences? :rolling:
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Wayfarer »

*Now* you notice that. Ten years ago, might not have!
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Grigoris »

Alfredo wrote:
Hate to be the one to shatter your fantasy but "ethnic" Buddhists also engage in PhD's, three year retreats, etc... More so than converts, probably because there are many more "ethnic" Buddhists than there are converts!
Of course, but they wouldn't need to do these things in order to "be Buddhist."
So you believe that westerners "do" practices and study in order to "be" Buddhists? Well, that's strange, because I personally "do" practices and study in order to "be" enlightened. Well, that's the goal, anyway.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Alfredo »

There can be more than just one motivation.
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Grigoris
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Grigoris »

Alfredo wrote:There can be more than just one motivation.
Sure, but you'll find that "ethnic" Buddhists do "these things" to be seen as Buddhists
too. Like "ethnic" Christians do Christian things just as a "front". So...
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde
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RickThunderclees
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by RickThunderclees »

Haha this thread was hijacked by global mod.
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Kim O'Hara »

RickThunderclees wrote:Haha this thread was hijacked by global mod.
Sure looks like it!
On your behalf (since you're new here) I will (respectfully) ask SD that we be allowed to go :focus:

:namaste:
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by shel »

:rolling:
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Grigoris
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by Grigoris »

Sorry people! :emb:

Actually it is not so far off topic since what we seem to be talking about here is the OP's inability to find a tradition they identify with.

I would say: Don't stress it. Shop around, but be careful you don't fall prey to "need" to identify. Rather look at how well the practices work (or do not work).

I recommend you read Trungpa Rinpoches book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism just to be aware of the pitfalls you will come across during your search.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde
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RickThunderclees
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Re: A Voyage of Lifetimes: a struggle for a Buddhist identit

Post by RickThunderclees »

Sherab Dorje wrote:Sorry people! :emb:

Actually it is not so far off topic since what we seem to be talking about here is the OP's inability to find a tradition they identify with.

I would say: Don't stress it. Shop around, but be careful you don't fall prey to "need" to identify. Rather look at how well the practices work (or do not work).

I recommend you read Trungpa Rinpoches book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism just to be aware of the pitfalls you will come across during your search.
Thanks, Sherab! The link isn't working right now but I'll check out Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. :namaste:
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