I have been lugging Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, around for the past month, reading on the Metro, rather than sticking my nose in a newspaper.
Kabat-Zinn tells us that Buddha was not a Buddhist and that Buddhism is not really a religion, but a highly sophisticated psychological technique for relieving human suffering. That 17th and 18th century Westerners (“ethnologists, philologists and religious scholars”) put the religion tag on the Buddha’s followers because that’s the way Westerners’ brains worked, they needed to classify them with Christians, Muslims and pagans.
“… so we could say that the historical figure of the Buddha, and those who have followed his lead, gave the world a well-defined algorithm, a path of inquiry, which he himself pursued in search of what was almost fundamental to the nature of humanity: the possibility of being fully conscious, fully awake, and free from the fetters of our own conditioning, including our unexamined habits of thought and perception and the afflictive emotions that so intimately and frequently accompany them unbidden.” [page 129]
So “Buddhism” and Zen are not doctrines of faith, but systems of methodologies to explore the human condition. Just as yoga is not a religion — and you can practice it while remaining a Christian, Jew or atheist. This realization intrigues me because I now have another tool set to add to my survival kit and explains why I have felt drawn to understanding more about the Buddha and his teachings.
Cool, I feel more empowered already. Of course, I now have enough knowledge to be dangerous. Excuse my over-generalization.