Just Call Me Buddhist

Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

Often I describe my faith in terms of Buddhism. People do this on their own, giving me Buddha statues and confusing my faith with Buddhism, but I also perpetuate the connection because the two faiths do have a lot in common. They’re close cousins.

The difference between Vedanta and the Buddhism advocated by Buddha is one of emphasis. The Buddha lived in India, and initially he was a monk in the pre-Vedanta tradition of the Vedas. He couldn’t realize God through the spiritual techniques of the day, however, so he developed new ones. This is where we get his Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. Following the great Vedic tradition, the Buddha took the wisdom of the day and interpreted it in a new and meaningful way. He created a massively useful interpretation for finding enlightenment.

But Buddhism is Vedanta at its core. It just emphasizes different things.

The core idea in Buddhism is that nothing in this world is forever, that we make ourselves miserable by holding tightly to impermanent things. Everything in our world is created and eventually destroyed: A woman is born and then she grows old and dies. A house is built and eventually it is destroyed. Memories are created and then forgotten over time. Computers are bought and then they break. Everything is laced with both pain and pleasure; we are happy when we buy a glass, unhappy when that glass eventually shatters. The Buddha discovered that he escaped suffering when he stopped attaching himself to these impermanent things. He then went on to formulate guidelines for helping others do the same.

Vedanta teaches the same thing. But whereas the Buddha focused exclusively on the pain and pleasure cycle and what we can do about it, Vedanta takes a wider view and also answers the metaphysical questions like where we came from and where we are going. The Buddha was intensely practical, so he wouldn’t answer these questions even though his answers were the same as Vedanta. His emphasis was stopping the pain in this life, not painting a picture of how the whole machine works.

Getting past attachment is a purely negative process, however. Most of us can’t just leave things. We need to come towards something. Nothingness is not comforting. Which is why Buddhism eventually developed Gods and began worshipping the Buddha himself. Nothingness is scary!

That’s also why Vedanta openly equates nothingness with God. Nothingness is another way of saying our focus should not be on material things and this world as we know it. But whereas Buddhism in its early form tells us to stop there, to focus on getting past attachment before we start asking the big questions, Vedanta lays out the whole journey and gives us something positive that we can move towards: God. Forget about impermanent things, which are so much pain, and focus on that which is free of pain. Focus on God, focus on that part of yourself and your loved ones that doesn’t change and can’t be hurt by injury or expectation.

We can focus on God in many ways: working for others instead of ourselves, keeping God in our mind at all times, intellectually realizing we understand but a little of our world, uncovering our inner nature through deep meditation. We also can focus on God through love.

Forget abstract God for a moment, especially if you’re an atheist. God is concrete and right there in front of us if we know where to look. We just have to look someone in the eyes and find the love for them. Then we see God. We experience God right there in the act of loving. Forget the all-powerful deity, forget miracles, forget everything we know about God. Just love selflessly and you will experience God.

Love selflessly every day and you also will be a good Buddhist, because everything in this world is meaningless when compared with the joys of love. Real love, also known as God, helps us move beyond our attachments to things. It helps us move from the impermanent to the permanent.

The move away from the impermanent is very Buddhist. It also is very Vedanta, so call me a Buddhist any day.

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