By Daniel Scharpenburg
It happens once in a while to me.
I wonder if it happens to everyone who makes it well known that they’re Buddhist. If I get anxious or upset, if I struggle or indulge in some way, sometimes people will say, “Aren’t you Buddhist?” or “That’s not very Buddhist of you.”
Usually it’s anxiety or a tendency to get overwhelmed. Those are my things. I’m a mess.
When I was going through my divorce I had to start taking sleeping pills because I was so stressed out and worried that I couldn’t sleep at night. And by that I mean prescription sleeping pills; I had to see a doctor. Gasp! A Buddhist taking sleeping pills?!
Sometimes people put big expectations on us when they find out we’re Buddhist. Not often though, most people don’t really know anything about Buddhism. But some people know just enough to misunderstand. I’m not perfect because I’m a Buddhist. I’m not sure why anyone would expect that.
We don’t see this in other religions. I haven’t heard anyone say, “You’re a Christian and you’re trying to get rich?!” Gasp!
The truth is that Buddhism attracts people who are, in some way or another, broken. The Buddha described his teaching as the cause of suffering and the way out of suffering. That’s called the first turning of the wheel. That’s why the Buddha sat and meditated under the Bodhi tree in the first place. He saw all of the suffering in the world and he decided to seek a way out. That is the spiritual journey.
So, Buddhism is attractive to people who are needy, sensitive, and anxious like me. It also attracts the depressed and addicted, the sad and the downtrodden.
Buddhism is attractive to people who have seen firsthand what the First Noble Truth is—that life is suffering.
In the 1200s Dogen was inspired to undertake the spiritual journey after the tragic deaths of his parents, and just like him, I also was inspired after the tragic deaths of mine. This is not to say that all Buddhists fit this description.
There are many things that cause people to enter the path, suffering is only one of them. But I think this is an important thing to be aware of.
The lotus flower is a well known symbol in Buddhism. It’s a symbol for Enlightenment. It rises out of muddy water and blooms, becoming clean and beautiful. The mud is our delusion and suffering and blooming is the way we rise above.
Without the mud underneath, the flower couldn’t bloom. If we didn’t understand our suffering and delusion, then Enlightenment might be out of our reach.
It took me a long time to realize that I am the lotus.
Editor: Dana Gornall