Buddhism by any other name?


And there are many of them. This morning I went with Meeta to her Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist group. They basically believe that world peace and happiness (and individual success and happiness) will come about from chanting part of the Lotus Sutra with regularity. We chanted “namu myoho renge kyo” a bunch of times and a few other things, and then there were some sermons and readings. Meeta spoke eloquently about the practice as a tool for her, not to get any material thing in particular, but (by focusing on the repetition of the chant) to change her attitude about things (which is more important). Most of the other people there though seem more focused on traditional religious things like conversions, community support, world peace, and praying for stuff (like a new job or health). They were slightly too evangelical for my tastes, although I don’t see them as particularly harmful.

This morning’s meeting had me contemplating a topic I keep returning to on this trip. Where is the (seemingly) oh-so-simple Buddhism that I learned and read about in the West? The Buddhism that is a philosophy, not a religion? The Buddhism that has no gods or demons? The Buddhism that has no particular rites and rituals? The Buddhism whose goal is simply “awakening” or “seeing things as they are”?

I have been exposed over the past months to several examples of Buddhism:

– In Thailand, where the form is (nominally) Theravada.

– To Tibetan Buddhism in several but not dissimilar forms in Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet (and soon Dharamsala)

– To a lesser extent Chinese Buddhism.

– Here in Delhi, the above mentioned Nichiren Daishonin.

My problems relating to these are the same problems I have had all along my journey and are not specific to Buddhism. I have written a lot in this blog over the past few months of the spiritual traditions I have encountered and what I have thought of them. While there are many wonderful and wondrous things about these traditions, they fail in practice to help me connect with existence (or the infinite, or atman, or whatever you want to call it.) That is not to say that I don’t have these moments of connection. My experience here has helped me to have a great deal of them. And some of the tools I have learned (meditation, yoga, dealing with travel in India) and places I have been have turned out to be very helpful in this regard.

I came back to the flat and started doing a bit of internet research on Buddhism, looking through several forms until I started reading more about Zen and liking the sound of it, especially (from the Wikipedia article) this part:

Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism notable for its emphasis on practice and experiential wisdom—particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen—in the attainment of awakening. As such, it de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct individual experience of one’s own true nature.

The rationalist and scientist (and what the hell, tiny mystic) in me likes the sound of this. I think I need to learn more about this in the coming months. Stay tuned.