After over 16 years of practice and considering myself a student of the Buddha, this would seem a rather odd question to pose.
But this question of what Buddhist believe, or believe in, has actually been asked of me quite a lot recently. And each time, I find myself slightly perplexed and grasping for a mindful and accurate response. All to often, I am tempted to give a somewhat elaborate explanation so as to make sure there is no misunderstanding. But I quickly realize that this is not the most mindful way of answering most people. They are just trying to get a one sentence overview, yet I have so much to share!
I decided to do a Google search of “What do Buddhists believe”, and was a little shocked at the answers I found. it appeared that there were basically two pat answers to this question. The first one is that Buddhists do not believe in God, and the second one is that Buddhists believe in seeking enlightenment and Nirvana.
Well, without sounding like an expert, I have to say that I think both of those responses are highly incorrect. Or, at least hugely incomplete and would probably lead most to some very harsh assumption. This practice is far from being anything so cut and dry or black and white.
So rather than continuing to struggle with finding the right words to answer, I thought it might be better to reach out to monastics. My first contact was of course to my teacher Bhante Sujatha of the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple in Woodstock, Illinois.
I did this via text message, and asked how he would respond to this question of “What do Buddhists believe” if he were contacted by someone in the press or media. And in a matter of seconds, Bhante responded the perfect answer. He simply typed the word “nothing”.
I was speechless because I understood the answer, but still wished he said more so that I had ammunition for the future when I would once again be confronted with this question.
And then, just a moment later, came another text from him. He said “believe in you or I”.
I will be skillful enough to not even try to explain this any further, but leave it to your own exploration to understand. And I think that is really the foundation of the teachings. A self discovery and exploration of our own minds and existence and impermanence. It’s way to much to answer in sentence tor two, and even the wisest of us could never do that, nor even attempt to. “Nothing” is in fact the answer to the question!
And instead of trying to be a teacher to strangers who ask this question, I think that I see I need to leave each of these people to their own discovery. And if “nothing” is not a sufficient answer, then like me many years ago, they will begin to investigate and discover for themselves. The path, the wisdom, the awakening, is all very personal to each of us. I can accept that and all other belief systems as well without judgement. And if someone does not understand or accept mine, then that belongs to them. Peace!