People sometimes ask if Buddhism is a religion. The short answer is yes and no.
As it is practiced in Asia, Buddhism certainly has the trappings of religion with its emphasis on ceremony, rules and ritual. But many in the West think of Buddhism more as a way of life.
Buddhists do not seek converts. Buddhism teaches that if you are a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you can connect with the wisdom in those traditions, while also benefiting from Buddhist teachings, which go back 2,500 years.
The Buddha taught that everyone desires happiness and freedom from suffering. He told his followers that he had discovered a path to increase happiness and reduce suffering.
Buddhism teaches that happiness comes from within and does not depend on external circumstances. The Buddha also said that pain (physical, emotional, mental) is inevitable, but we create unnecessary suffering by the way we react to pain.
I host the Greater Hartford Sangha, a Buddhist meditation group. Some of our members are practicing Christians and Jews who benefit from Buddhist teachings on meditation and mindfulness.
I have adopted Jesus Christ as one of my spiritual ancestors,” Nhat Hanh writes. “There is no conflict at all between the Buddha and the Christ in me.”
Buddha and Jesus each talked about the central importance of love, compassion and forgiveness.
I was raised in the Catholic faith, but now consider myself a follower of both Jesus and the Buddha. For the past 15 years I have tried to integrate the basics of Buddhism into my daily activities and have found them to be life-changing.
A useful starting point in Buddhism is the concept of mindfulness, or living fully in the present moment – a simple idea and yet one that is difficult to apply because we spend so much time worrying about the future or stressing about the past.
Buddhism notes that today is the only day we have for sure. We might be gone tomorrow, so we try to be fully present and engaged in each piece of today – whether we are exercising, commuting to work, preparing dinner, changing a diaper or gazing at the full Moon. When we try this approach, we quickly notice how much our minds wander. We might be eating a delicious meal, but our minds are thinking about a trip we are planning or a project at work. It takes practice to stay in the moment when life is filled with so many distractions.
Living in the moment helps us to slow down. We become less stressed, less anxious, more serene, and more aware of the miracle of life.
In future columns I will describe some of the basic Buddhist teachings and practices that have enriched my life and the lives of many others.