One City

Jerry Kolber is an award-winning film and TV producer and writer and is on the board of directors of The Interdependence Project.  Past projects include Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Eden Myth, and Inked.  Upcoming projects include Bank of Mom and Dad (Fall 2010), and The Tunnel, a National Geogrpahic documentary about the search for a train, the truth, and John Wilkes Booth diary.  Jerry is also a regular contributor to the renegade food revolution at can follow Jerry on Twitter at

Before continuing, a moment of shameless self-promotion. Tonight (Wednesday, September 10th) at 10PM Eastern a project I am very proud of premieres on SoapNet, a channel many of you may receive on your cable or satellite subscription.  The show is called Bank of Mom and Dad and takes a look at over-consumption, financial advice, and getting real about life situations through the window of young women in debt.  I co-adapted the format from the UK and produced tonight’s episode along with a great team of fellow storytellers. It’s quite compelling and transformational. 

Now….before getting back to our conversation about why Buddhism is not a religion, let me reiterate that  I am not proposing that the practice of what the Buddha taught is superior to any other religion, nor that there is anything inherently “wrong” with religion. I am advocating the non-religiousness of Buddhism because I have seen the benefit of the practices of meditation, the study of interdependence and the Buddha’s teachings,  and participation in a community of like-minded individuals, without anything that resembles what we commonly refer to as religion.

The potential ramifications of this are profound and game changing, because Buddhist practice as an adjunct to a religious life, or on its own, is astonishingly effective at making you aware of how your behavior both fits in to the “big picture” and how you can become a more awake and responsible human.  And while Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, there are a tremendous number of people who are practicing Christians, Jews, or otherwise who have also found the Buddha’s teachings have a place in their life. Thank you to all of you who took the time to share your stories of how the teachings of Buddha co-exist with your religious practice, and please continue to do so.

The converse side to the fact that a growing number of  people are turning to Buddhism either on its own or as an adjunct to a religious practice is that there is not a similar movement of people turning to the teachings of Jesus Christ outside the context of religion.  This is not proof of anything other than the fact that many people following Buddha’s teachings (which, for lack of a better word, I refer to as Buddhists) have discovered for themselves that the core of the teachings – a relentless pursuit of the truth, i.e. present moment awareness – is a path to liberating oneself from the tyranny of ego-domination, self-inflicted suffering, and a path to liberating a great deal of energy to assist others who so desire, without the need to codify it into a religion.

Yes, the end result of a Buddhist practice bears a resemblance to what happens if you truly devote yourself to the teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham, but with the fundamental difference that there is not a huge community of people who follow those teachings in a way that does not require a belief in a higher power to whom your efforts are dedicated. There is not a growing community of people following the teachings of Jesus,Allah, or Judaism outside the context of religion, as there is with Buddhism.

The only salvation in Buddhism is your own ability to salvage your own mind from its relentless assault on itself, and in so doing slowly reveal the truth that lies beneath. It’s not always pretty, or blissful, but this is the truth that the Buddha proposed will set you
free.  Whether you pursue this truth with or without also having a devotional practice to a religion is irrelevant to the efficacy of the teachings.  As has been brought up on this forum over the last few weeks (both in defense of and in opposition to my position), it is possible that pursuing the teachings of the Buddha may lead you to a deeper or different understanding of your religion, be it Christianity, Muslim, Judaism or whatever – or it may not – and so
what if it does?

Yet the same cannot be said of simultaneously pursuing a belief in Christianity or Judaism, or Judaism or Muslim – it’s a bit more all-or-nothing and involves a conversion process before you are “officially” in the religion.  While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be – and that makes it not a religion. Something that can be something some of the time, and something else the rest of the time, cannot be said to be one or the other all of the time.

Again, this only matters because the teachings of the Buddha can be an absurdly helpful non-denominational way to explore the profound implications of being an interdependent being on an overstuffed planet. If the core teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham
included not only the “ideas for living” that are the foundations of the religions and rule books that have been built upon them, but also included a specific set of tools for transcending the obstacles to actually implementing those ideas in your life, we might be here discussing “Christianity is not a Religion”. 

Buddha, in his core teachings, proposed a specific set of techniques for overcoming dissatisfaction in pursuit of greater service to oneself and others, techniques that work whether you believe in salvation by Jesus Christ or a coming Apocalypse or the Messiah or nothing at all, and with no need for judgment, guilt, or exultation of your belief or non-belief.
 While Love Your Neighbor as you Love Yourself is an incredible idea about how to live your life,  it runs up against practical limits when your neighbor is bonking his boyfriend at 2 AM with “Single Ladies” blaring at full volume.  Buddhist practice allows you to make a choice between conditioned or habitual responses and one that is correct for the present moment – based on contemplative practice, study of the four noble truths, and the eightfold path.  Even when you choose the conditioned response, you are aware (maybe right then, maybe later) that you did so, and eventually will have to deal with the effect. 

Put another way, a Buddhist could be a gas-guzzling environment destroying money-grubbing asshole, but it’s unlikely that if they actually practice they can remain that way for long.  Behavior that increases suffering crumples under the harsh light of interdependent reality.   In Buddhism, there’s no one to offer you forgiveness, unless you go and ask someone for it yourself. It’s a shift from unburdening to an external god or authority figure to taking full responsibility for your own actions.  There’s no reason you can’t simultaneously be deeply responsible for your self (or non-self) as you are in Buddhism, and also have a religious practice with external god authority (Christianity, Judaism et al).  Please, no one propose that you cannot simultaneously have an externally devoted religious practice, and engage in a practice that encourages personal responsibility. This would not be fair to the religions of the world.
To those Buddhists who don’t agree, I suggest you consider that ultimately all religious constructs have to manifest as concepts and beliefs, no different than any other, and to separate out the belief in Jesus Christ, Allah, or G-d into a special category of concept that
is some sort of electrified fence around Buddhist practice, to create a magic land called Religious Faith where Buddhist practice suddenly fails, is to say “Buddhism goes THIS far but no further,” which is to deny the eternal unfolding of the practice. In other words, if a Buddhist practice cannot also encompass a Jewish, Mormon, Muslim or other practice, then you have decreed that Buddhist the Buddhist path and practice has limits that are considerably more limited than what I believe.

Less conceptually, look at some of what’s been shared in this forum – many people have told us how following Buddhist teachings has been an amazing adjunct to their religious practice, and imagine how many more people might explore this possibility if Buddhism wasn’t labeled as ALWAYS a religion. 

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