Why I don’t call myself a Buddhist

Being Italian, people expect me to be either Catholic or Christian like but after sharing some views on life and spiritual matters, it is obvious to the person I talk with that I tend to be closer to Buddhism. Then the question arrives: are you Buddhist?

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My reply never follows smoothly, there is a moment of silence, few seconds in which I am confronted by this thought within myself: Am I Buddhist?

Let’s go back in time. I was twelve maybe thirteen when I had a bit awkward feeling looking at myself at the mirror… is this me? is this really who I am?

Then I read Siddhartha by Hesse, I got very fascinated with it. Everything made sense, especially the attitude of compassion toward others and the sensitivity to Nature. One book after another I discovered a path of authors, speakers that share the same view: the Dharma.

Osho and Deepak Chopra were my first encounter with this exotic world. Chopra book “The way of the Wizard” impressed me a lot, it was a source of wonder and courage. The same energy I felt watching the starry night, the sea and other beautiful scenery, I could begin finding in reading another person thoughts imprinted in the books.

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During my church activities and few theology studies I felt always one side of me following a slightly different approach. Not so focus with the dogmas but with the teaching cores.

I think it is our way to try making sense of life. When you think of an omnipotent God and you have to see a world in which innocents are most frequent victims, you try to build your own sense.

I was and I am still bothered by the randomness in life. The fact that you can just be in the wrong time, wrong place and no matter who you are, no matter what existence you have lived, it is game over.

Reality doesn’t care loosing you at any time.

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So Buddhism, to call as the western called it, just made more sense to me. This idea that you are born and re born until getting out this world of Samsara, at least it was a practical answer to the apparent randomness of existence.

In my first years in Korea, I found myself for the first time in my life in a Buddhist country. Those years were hard and my research started again probably thanks to it and it begun with a book called “The Compass of Zen”.

This book was written by a Korean zen master who was based in a temple near Suyu dong. After few weeks reading it, I went to the temple hoping to meet him. Upon arriving there, a Tibetan monk told me I was late. He had died 2 years before.

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It was not too late to learn, in Hwaghyesa temple there were many foreigner monks who had lived and practice with Seung Sahn zen master. I had the opportunity to listen from them and I became a practitioner.

I visited Hwagyesa mostly during Sunday dharma talk, after a 3 hours sitting meditation, the dharma talk was my first direct experience of Buddhist live source of information.

Those were the years of the launch of iPod, Podcasts and I had found very useful to listen to the FWBO (Friendly Western Buddhist Order) Podcast with my new device. Wherever I went, by bus, subway or by walk this was my favorite play, my English benefited greatly from it and with it, my theoretical Buddhism knowledge grew as well.

FWBO was found by Sangharakshita, a British man who has devoted all his life to the Dharma. I have felt acquainted to him after years of listening to his speeches and those of his fellow members to a point that it was very sad to apprehend of his death last year.

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Thanks to him I learn about the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra, Vimalakirti stories and that helped me understanding more during the dharma talks at the Hwagyesa. I begun printing sutras and reading them. These texts became an active source of tranquility and strenght in my life.

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Part of my learning was done online, part offline, and in one case I was lucky to meet one monk I had learnt from a lot on youtube, right here in Seoul, Korea. His name is Hyongak an American Buddhist monk who became very popular in Korea. It was very particular to have met him just one day before my first son was born. He has also helped me to confront difficult situation few years later.

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More recently I learnt about Alan Watts, Antony de Mello, Adyashanti, Sadguru and Krishnamurti and I started doing yoga. The core teaching remained that: “Who am I?” Inquiring reality and meditate. I enjoyed a lot Antony de Mello and Adyashanti way of addressing Jesus life.

Then one day, not sure where and why, I found this peaceful smiling face man called Sri Ramana Maharshi.

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More than anyone Sri Ramana Maharshi called my attention. There is no speech by him, amost no texts but almost everyone in this field refers to him. Just like many quote “The Cloud of Unknown” text whose author is unknown, here there is the life of a man to be example of his ideas.

from wikipedia:

Ramana Maharshi /ˈrʌmənə ˈməhʌrʃi/ (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) was an Indian sage and jivanmukta. He was born as Venkataraman Iyer, but is most commonly known by the name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
He was born in what is now Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, India. In 1895, an attraction to the sacred hill Arunachala and the 63 Nayanars was aroused in him, and in 1896, at the age of 16, he had a “death-experience” where he became aware of a “current” or “force” (avesam) which he recognised as his true “I” or “self”, and which he later identified with “the personal God, or Iswara”, that is, Shiva. This resulted in a state that he later described as “the state of mind of Iswara or the jnani”. Six weeks later he left his uncle’s home in Madurai, and journeyed to the holy mountain Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai, where he took on the role of a sannyasin (though not formally initiated), and remained for the rest of his life.
He soon attracted devotees who regarded him as an avatar and came to him for darshan (“the sight of God”), and in later years an ashram grew up around him, where visitors received upadesa (“spiritual instruction”) by sitting silently in his company asking questions. Since the 1930s his teachings have been popularized in the West, resulting in his worldwide recognition as an enlightened being.
Ramana Maharshi approved a number of paths and practices, but recommended self-enquiry as the principal means to remove ignorance and abide in Self-awareness, together with bhakti (devotion) or surrender to the Self.

Arunachaleswara Temple, Tiruvannamalai


Ramana’s main means of instruction to his devotees in order to remove ignorance and abide in Self-awareness was through silently sitting together with his visitors,  using words only sparingly. His method of instruction has been compared to Dakshinamurti – Shiva in the ascetic appearance of the Guru, who teaches through silence:

One evening, devotees asked Sri Ramana to explain the meaning of Shankara’s hymn in praise of Dakshinamurti. They waited for his answer, but in vain. The Maharishi sat motionless on his seat, in total silence.

Commenting upon this silence Ramana said:

Silence is the true upadesa*. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore, they require words to explain the truth. But truth is beyond words; it does not warrant explanation. All that is possible is to indicate It. How is that to be done?

*( Upadeśa, “teaching,” “instruction”, is the spiritual guidance provided by a guru or spiritual teacher. )

Am I Buddhist?

The reason why I can’t answer yes or not, it is because this adjective sound as wanting to create a demarcation line between who is not and who is.

from wikipedia:

The English words such as Buddhism, “Boudhist”, “Bauddhist” and Buddhist were coined in the early 19th-century in the West, while in 1881, Rhys Davids founded the Pali Text Society – an influential Western resource of Buddhist literature in the Pali language and one of the earliest publisher of a journal on Buddhist studies.

but what now is referred as Buddhism, it is anything but demarcation line. It is completely the opposite, it is embracing the whole of existence.

Buddhism say we have all Buddha nature, that means we have this awakening force and we are it. Ramana Maharshi calls it the Self.

The Self alone exists. When you try to trace the ego, which is the basis of the perception of the world and everything else, you find the ego does not exist at all and neither does all this creation that you see. - Ramana Maharshi

Following this perspective who is not Buddhist in this world?
We are all in the same path and under the same sky.

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