I am given to periods of introspection.
Anything; a casual comment, an observation, can send me into prolonged periods of self-examination and enquiry. I have always been this way, even as a child. This explains, perhaps, why in my adulthood, I adopted Buddhism as a personal philosophy.
I was recently involved in two conversations that caused me to take another look at why a farm boy from rural east Texas, raised in a fundamentalist Protestant environment, would decide that the Asian philosophy of the Enlightened One was a better fit than the fire and brimstone preaching of the Southern Baptists. In the first conversation, a government official, discussing my CV, asked how a Buddhist could justify a career in the military (I spent 20 years in uniform). In the second conversation, a member of my staff wondered how a calm Buddhist could become so incensed at a colleague who was making offhanded, but patronizing remarks in a meeting.
These were both very good questions, and they plunged me deep into a day of thinking about what my beliefs really are, and why I believe as I do.
What is it about the philosophy of Buddhism, for instance, that appeals to me? In order to understand that, it helps if I explain my personality. I don’t shy away from confrontation, for instance, if confrontation is unavoidable, or necessary. But, my default position is to find common ground with people and come to some kind of accommodation if at all possible. As a kid, I was often the peacemaker in disputes among my school mates. I have always been sensitive to other life forms, and even though I grew up in a gun culture, where hunting was something everyone did; I never, ever liked taking another life, even that of a four-legged creature.
Why am I that way? I come from a family that still likes hunting and fishing, and frankly has always thought that I was the odd bird. I do not know. But, I am, and I’ve learned to accept me for what I am.
Now, that brings us back to the question: why do I find Buddhism a comfortable philosophy? In the first instance, Buddhism accepts that humanity if flawed and imperfect. The objective is to seek enlightenment – which I interpret as an understanding, not only of the cosmos around us, but of ourselves. We will often do wrong; rather than feel guilty and beat our breasts, we should seek to make merit to ensure that in our next incarnation we achieve a higher plane. One doesn’t really have to believe in reincarnation to see the benefits of this belief. Buddhism does not seek to make us feel guilty for our sins, but to try to do better.
The other aspect of the philosophy that appeals to me is the sense of self responsibility. There is no need of a learned intermediary between oneself and a deity – vengeful or forgiving. It is our own individual acts, our responsibility to ourselves, and how we account for ourselves that determines our ultimate fate.
So, how do I justify serving in the military or occasionally becoming angry with a philosophy that is often thought of as pacifist and serene? I don’t; and that is the beauty of it all. I am what I am, but I seek always to be better. Service to my country or community is one of the earthly things that I’m called upon to do. If in military service I might have been called upon to inflict destruction upon others, I regret that, but it was an imperfect act in an imperfect world. As a counter balance, I have since sought to find ways to avoid conflict. I can’t be sure this will balance in the end, but I can only make the effort. If I sometimes get angry at the inane views of others, and lash out verbally, I recognize that as imperfect, and make my apologies – unless the action that provoked the response was deliberate (okay, I’m really imperfect).
There you have it. That is why I believe what I believe.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial