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No more labels

No more labels

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The word 'atheist' on a red label.

We shouldn’t be labeled because of our beliefs. (Photo by Jason Michael)

Recently I came to the well-thought-out conclusion and decision to no longer label myself. I will no longer consider myself as a member of a particular religious denomination or of any particular religious philosophy or even consider myself as being non-religious or atheist. I have what I believe to be the truth—my truth—truth as I see it. If someone wants to label me “Buddhist” because I meditate and live by the five lay precepts, that is their label. If they want to call me an “atheist” because I don’t believe in divine intervention, creationism, the divinity of Christ, or any of the fundamental concepts of the Abrahamic religions, “atheist” is their label, not mine. Do I believe in the concept of an omniscient God who is all-knowing and all-seeing? Clearly not. Do I believe in the various dogmas, rituals, and exclusionary practices of organized religions? No. So why should I be labeled? I shouldn’t.

Even though I don’t believe in organized religion, I do believe in human spirituality. There is an unexplained energy in our lives that has been labeled the soul, spirit, spirituality, or whatever. I think organized religion comes from this as a way of trying to explain it.

Nevertheless, the Dharma has offered me an alternate explanation of what this energy is and has shown me a different philosophy. The Dharma is the closest that any religious writings have ever come to fitting with the way I feel inside. No, I don’t believe in most of the ritual (even though it is there as representations of things) or in the religious dogma. But the concepts of impermanence and the goal of loving-kindness are two of the things that fit me like a glove. Due to Dharma, meditation, and introspection, my mind and thought processes have changed. Maybe I’ve matured too? Then again, maybe the Dharma, self-awareness, and meditation have been the reasons I’ve matured.

Out of the many things that Dharma has shown me, two that are especially important are perspective and impermanence. I think and feel much differently than before. My perspective has been radically altered for the better, and my understanding of impermanence influences my life everyday. I’ve never claimed to be a full-on, hard-core Buddhist, but I am an adherent to the Buddhist philosophy. It has changed my life. I tell people not to label me a Buddhist, but to call me a man. I am not a label; I cannot truly be labeled. But I am a man, at least in this life. And I intend to be a good man, a good person, for the remainder of my stay in this incarnation. The Dharma has helped me to be able to be who and what I truly am: a person who cares about many things and intends to help others.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.

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