The title question is not something I lose any sleep over. But the other day I ran across The God Blog over on the Jewish Journal, which asks this question with respect to Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. He’s in the news due to irate Episcopalians who will not tolerate him as both a bishop in the Anglican communion and an ordained Zen teacher.
Of course, Forrester’s ordination is (I’m guessing) more along the lines of giving him the OK to teach meditation. He is not leading a secret life as an abbot of a Buddhist monastery in rural Michigan. I doubt that he even identifies himself as Buddhist. I see nothing wrong with his ordination, but clearly plenty of people (Christian and Jewish) do.
In short, I think the title question is entirely inappropriate for this situation. The question is still an interesting one, but whenever I hear it I always think back to Kusala Bhikshu’s ruminations on practicing multiple faiths. If you’re Buddhist and Christian, then where do you go when you die?
I have a hunch that Rev. Forrester has already made up his mind on this one.
Last week Andrea Miller posted a short story over on Shambhala Sun Space: “Remembering Koizumi” by Wendy Miyake. I’ve tried countless times in the past thirty minutes to try to give a one-sentence summary of this story. Each time I try, my words cannot seem to do the story justice. You just have to read it for yourself.
Miyake manages to weave Buddhist ritual and philosophy into her story both lightly and meaningfully. Her writing is colorful, funny, engaging and touching. I was delighted to read her writing, and I was even more delighted that it was Shambhala Sun Space that brought Miyake’s work to my attention.
This past summer I visited my main spiritual teacher, and he naturally inquired how my practice has developed since we last met three years ago. When I first met my teacher, I told him that I was Buddhist, and he asked me what that meant. I was still active in a college Buddhist association, and for me that was the chief example of what it meant to be Buddhist. I was Buddhist because I was in a Buddhist club.
My perspective on Buddhism has almost entirely been framed by my American upbringing, whether I like it or not. I classify Buddhism as a religion, on par with Judaism and Christianity (among many others). I call myself “Buddhist”, and I wear a symbol of my faith around my neck and wrist. I even use it as an excuse to avoid drinking (“It’s against my religion”) or to justify my behavior (“I’m Buddhist, I don’t kill bugs”).
But I recently stumbled across an interview with SN Goenka, a famous teacher of vipassana meditation, where he says, “I don’t teach Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist.”