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What would Sid do: 7 steps that make for a “good Buddhist”

by Lodro Rinzler

Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
they’re discussed.


Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and Lodro will probably get to it!

My exhusband insists
that I cannot call myself Buddhist since I do not meditate daily and am
not part of a sangha. Are there any particular requirements to identify
oneself as a Buddhist? Personally, I think he is waaaaay to hung up on labels — one reason he’s my ex. Thanks, Mona


I think if Sid ran into you and you mentioned something like this he might get a little pissed off at your ex. He would probably agree with you and say, “Why do you have to label yourself at all?” Sid wasn’t a Buddhist. Even when he became enlightened he did not exclaim “Now I’m a Buddhist!” He said he was a Buddha. At no point thereafter did he turn to his followers and say, “I want you to make a religious movement based off of my identity. Call yourself “Awakened-one-ists.”

Yes people practice following the Buddha’s example. He’s a hell of a role model. Still, instead of weighing in on what it takes to be a Buddhist I bet Sid would just encourage your meditation practice, mention that it is helpful to have spiritual friends with whom you can discuss your practice, and tell you to call yourself whatever you like.


I’m not Sid so I’m gonna go more in-depth since this raises a larger question, namely “What would make for a ‘good Buddhist?’ ” Would it be going to lots of Buddhist temples? Knowing all the sutras by heart? Having hundreds of Buddhist meditation practices? I don’t think so. Without further ado here is my top seven list of things that would make you a good Buddhist (I couldn’t think of ten, sue me):

The top seven things to do if you’re going to call yourself a good Buddhist even though I highly recommend avoiding the label entirely

1) Have a connection to mindfulness-awareness practice
It’s hard to call yourself a Buddhist if you aren’t even working with your mind. So it’s important to learn shamatha meditation, visualization practices and so on from skilled and authorized teachers within a Buddhist lineage


2) Seek enlightenment/further awakening
What’s the point in having a meditation practice if you’re not trying to change at all? In my experience when people came to the meditation center I used to direct they weren’t yet seeking enlightenment; they were seeking a way to work with their mind to reduce their own suffering. I think any motivation in between wanting to be less mired in confusion and ultimate awakening is damn fine since it’s based in a desire to better oneself.

3) Learn something
Study. Study a lot. Read a dharma book. Go receive instruction from great teachers (I’m inclined to plug Kilung Rinpoche‘s upcoming visit to the New York Shambhala Center). Listen to a podcast. Watch a video. But meditation without study is like riding a bicycle with one wheel – you’re not going to get very far. I am always impressed by the greatest meditation masters who just exude wisdom and compassion. They continue to study every day. As the great scholar Sakya Pandita said, “Even if you are going to die tomorrow you can still learn something tonight.”


4) Learn from fellow practitioners
Just because they’re not enlightened doesn’t mean you can’t learn from a sangha. Personally speaking I’ve found it essential to have fellow travelers on the path to discuss my experience of meditation practice, to debate philosophical topics, and to call me on my shit. I talked about that in more depth in this post.

5) Don’t cause harm
Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try. It does take time and care though. So often even the most seemingly harmless comments can cause negativity in the minds of those around us. The more we become mindful of our words and actions the less we find ourselves creating harm in the world.


6) Do some good for the world
Sid could have sat under the bodhi tree content to believe that none of us jerks would really be able to understand his teachings. Instead he got up and went about trying to lead everyone he encountered towards awakening. Granted we’re not yet buddhas but beyond trying not to f things up in the world around us we can try to plant some positive seeds. While a bit corny I think even just smiling at someone who looks like they’re going through hell has a ripple effect not unlike that of a butterfly’s wings leading to a tsunami.

7) Last but not least, consider meditation practice practice for our life
It is wonderful to sit on a cushion for a period of time each day or week. However, it doesn’t really mean anything unless we consider that we call it practice because we are training ourselves for the 23 1/2 hours of our day when we are not meditating. We can do any number of outwardly spiritual things to show the world how holy we are but if we do not take the teachings on wisdom and compassion to heart then we’re just spouting confusion under the label of Buddhism. And that’s dumb.


I remember when I was a beginning practitioner I went on a long drive with my mother, someone who had at that point been practicing meditation for over twenty years. She was speaking negatively about someone and, once frustrated, I turned to her and exclaimed, “How can you say that and still call yourself a Buddhist?” I feel quite foolish looking back on that incident. I know many Buddhists who are much sloppier with their speech, who drink forties for breakfast, who will try to fuck anything that moves. Still, I would never deny them the right to call themselves Buddhist because their primary motivation is not to give in to negative habits but to wake up from them.

The Buddhist path is that of change through working with your own mind and heart. It seems you’re into that Mona, so feel free to call yourself whatever you like. The important thing in my mind, and I imagine Sid would agree, is that you are trying to wake up.

Comments read comments(14)
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posted October 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Buddhism has Four Seals.
1. All compounded things are impermanent.
2. All emotions are suffering.
3. All phenomena are empty.
4. Nirvana is beyond concepts.
If you believe those four statements, you can call yourself a Buddhist. If you don’t, then you’re not.

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posted October 4, 2009 at 4:20 am

If you choose to call yourself a Buddhist, then go ahead. No-one, not the Dalai Lama, not the Grand High-an-Mighty Mucketymuck of Bangkok, has the right to say differently. Buddhism is just not set up that way.
What they CAN say is that, in their opinion, you are not a very good Buddhist, that you could do better. We could all do better.
The Dalai Lama has been known to say that it is far more important to be a decent human being than to be a good Buddhist. And whatever your position on the DL might be, that is something we can all keep in mind. If Buddhism gets in the way of being a good, kind human being, perhaps it’s time to ditch Buddhism.

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Jerry Kolber

posted October 4, 2009 at 9:03 am

Lodro that’s a really concise and sweet explanation of what it means to you to be a Buddhist. Rock out. Count me in.

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posted October 4, 2009 at 10:19 am

Great points! Could we get the point across without the language barriers?

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Anan E. Maus

posted October 4, 2009 at 2:22 pm

It’s a good list. I think it comprises the heart of the path.
Re practice and how much is enough.
I think we can err in either direction – not enough or too much.
Our mind does have an attraction to sloth and to not working hard enough (at anything)…and then also coming up with elaborate explanations about why this is necessary. So, I do think that the path does require hard work in spiritual disciplines. But, sure, it is better to do some spiritual work than none, to do a medium amount than just a tiny bit.
At the same time, we have to know what our real capacity is. If we just force spiritual activity that we have absolutely no inspiration for, then we are just torturing ourselves, not engaging a spiritual path. So, we can err in that direction, meditating hours and hours daily out of force of will, in a way that is not truly spiritual. More is not necessarily better.
So, balance is, I think, always necessary.

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posted October 4, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I think that most if not all spiritual teachers would roll over if they realized what a mess we human beings have made of the messasages and truth that they have left behind for us. The simple meaning of the word religion is “way of life”. That is where prartice what you preach comes from. At the end of it all our soul will be known by how much love we brought into life and also how we treated our fellow travelers (including the animals).

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posted October 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

I once told someone I was not a very good Buddhist because I didn’t go to a temple or adhere strongly to any one set of rules, except to live my life with decency and have a positive effect on the world. He told me that I was probably a very good Buddhist for not being extreme in any one direction. That statement brought me a lot of peace because it freed me from the need to justify my beliefs to several people in my life who did not accept that I had chosen a different path from my family and friends. Those same people told me that I was “lost” when I felt I had finally found my spiritual home. They could not believe that after what I have endured, that I could still find compassion within myself and make a positive impact on the lives of others. I think it helped to understand that it is not my job to make them understand and just let them be as they are. I really liked your article. Humor and modern language might help more people connect with the teachings in the context of their lives.

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posted October 4, 2009 at 5:40 pm

As a yoga instructor, i remind my students that yoga is referred to as yoga practice, not yoga perfect.
Buddhism, for most of us, will always be a practice, we will never be Buddha. Inherently imperfect. Not a religion, with rules, but a way of living, thinking that may free us, now more than ever.
So there are a long list of things you can practice- too many too fill all the hours of alll your days and not spill over. But if you never practice (as i never practice my guitar in the corner) you are not buddhist. If you practice the things that resonate for you, you are buddhist. You will have to read, listen, study, because there is no other way to know the way for you. Labels, rules are inappropriate. It is black and white. You either are a guitarist, or you are not. I am not a guitarist. :}

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posted October 4, 2009 at 7:30 pm

I would say the first step in being a good Buddhist is not worrying if other people are good Buddhists.

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Your Name

posted October 5, 2009 at 1:59 am

I agree with Greg,we are not to worry and compare ourselves to others.People are brought up of their parents in many different ways,from different cultures,beliefs or Religion.Our characters are the sum of all those ways we have lived,our characters and practices especially the way we think are the manifestations of what we really are and we are not to worry if others are different from our ways.Instead,we should do our best to self realize and analyze,get inspiration from others experiences who are dead and still alive.To me,no matter what Religion or beliefs we were in,for as long as we don’t cause harm to people around us especially avoiding bad thinking towards others,for the way we think,we are committing and conceiving sin already.Above all,let love be always our theme, for God is good all the time,and all the time God is good.Buddhist or non Buddhist,we are all children of God who is cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ,when we learn to realise,analyze and accept that fact,we are claiming our right as the child of God.

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manette xbox 360

posted October 5, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Thank you for sharing such a nice information. I like this site very much. I will surely bookmark it for future use. Good Work! Keep it up!

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posted October 6, 2009 at 10:39 am

I got a load o’ Lod’ and am laden with enlightenment on the wonders of enlighteners and him.

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posted October 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

I got a load o’ Lod’ and am laden with enlightenment on the wonders of enlighteners and him. If the darkness were lit by enlightenment completely, we’d never see it for the darkness that it is, having vanished in the light. It is only at the edge that we can see it. And, if the light were wholly lit, we’d realize the puzzle of the paradox within it and be enlightened. Or maybe not.

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