Dharmavidya's latest book on Dogen's Genjo Koan, 'Dark Side of the Mirror' is available to buy via the ITZI site
Dharmavidya's latest book on Dogen's Genjo Koan, 'Dark Side of the Mirror' is available to buy via the ITZI site
A DIFFERENT PARADIGM
In Western philosophy we have been much concerned with ideas of free will and determinism, guilt and responsibility. rights and laws, and these debates have taken place against the background of religions dominated by the idea of an all-powerful god who made laws and punished transgressors. In the East, although there was also a strong sense of divine presence, it was not associated with laws and judgements in this way. The consequences of actions were seen to be more in the domain of a kind of natural law called karma. Thus in the West nowadays we have the notion of ethics as a boundary within which actions occur whereas in the Eastern approach consequentiality is inherent in the action itself. This has many obvious as well as subtle consequences. Thus, these days, for instance, there is debate in the West about what ethical framework should be put around the practice of mindfulness, whereas the Eastern practice of mindfulness needed no such boundary because mindfulness as originally understood was the very basis of ethicality itself. It is often difficult to discern these differences because they are so deeply ingrained in our paradigm of thought. Nonetheless, they have powerful impact upon feelings, faith, actions and society.
In this series of postings I shall explore some of the main aspects of the Eastern idea of karma and draw out both seeming implications and paradoxes. Karma is not so much a single idea as a framework within which a range of debates have occurred and different understandings developed. The East has not much concerned itself with the philosophical dilemmas that have obsessed Western thinkers, but it has had plenty of conundrums of its own.
KARMA, INTENTION & ATTACHMENT
Karma refers to the inherent consequentiality of intentional action. It is the principle that there is a spiritual effect of every action of the will. It has physical, psychological and spiritual implications. It goes with the idea that what happens in the spiritual domain is more important than what happens in the material world.
Thus, if you give somebody a diamond, then in the material world a crystalline piece of carbon is displaced from your hand to that of the other person. In itself, this means virtually nothing. Yet, the diamond may be a token of love, or it may be a bribe, or a peace offering, or a commercial transaction. Or the diamond may have been stolen from you or extracted by blackmail. Or you might have been passing it to the other person, who was an expert in the matter, to have it tested and assessed for value and authenticity. We can readily understand that the meaning of the transaction is different in each case and that the social, psychological and spiritual consequences are going to be different according to the motives and intentions involved. Karma thus has something to do with meaning.
We can also probably understand that while the quality of motivation is significant, so is the intensity: the degree to which the motivation is important to the people concerned. A cat or dog would not use a diamond for any of these purposes, but a bone or piece of meat might serve for some of them. A person who had no interest in financial gain might be immune to some of these alternatives, finding them uninteresting. Thus karma is affected both by the actual motivations and intentions and also by the degree of attachment to those intentions. Buddhism thus includes ways of reflecting upon and changing our motivations and also a good deal about avoiding becoming overly attached.
MERIT & WELFARE
Karma is commonly taken in a negative sense and, as we shall see, this may be the correct or deepest understanding. However, it is common in Buddhist countries to also think about positive karma. This is conceptualised as “merit” or punya. It is logical to think that just as a person who does bad deeds will eventually get their comeuppance, so a person who does good deeds shall receive their reward.
From this has developed the popular idea of doing meritorious deeds and in some Buddhist cultures this has become a quite sophisticated system with, as it were, more points adhering to some actions than others. In such a system of values, there are generally three contributory factors. One is the nature of the deed, the second is the intention, and the third is the merit of the beneficiary. This last leads to a rather different system of social values from that common in modern society.
Thus, it is more meritorious to give a large benefit than a small one. That much is obvious enough. Then, as explained earlier, the intention matters. To give a large gift as a way of showing off is less meritorious than to give a small gift discretely. Then, thirdly, to give a benefit to a more worthy person is more meritorious than to give one to a less worthy. This is different from the common modern idea where the roughly equivalent factor is the need of the recipient. In fact, the most worthy recipients are holy beings and they, by definition, are those with least needs. What can you give to somebody who needs almost nothing? This is why feeding monks is such a feature of traditional Buddhist societies. The monks are the most worthy, but they have hardly any needs. Once per year there may be elaborate robe giving ceremonies and more regularly they get fed. In temperate climates, of course, there is a greater need for shelter and lay devotees become involved in providing residences and all that goes with it.
Historically this led to monks becoming the pivotal points in a system of basic welfare. The laity gave food, clothing and medicines to the monks well in excess of their need and the monks then redistributed this excess to the poor. This provided a particular style of social safety net. Nowadays we are much concerned with fairness and equality, but in that old system everything was personal. The monks knew the beggars and street people individually and so could provide them with what they needed in an individually tailored manner. Of course, the system was open to favouritism, but it is an open question which way is really best.
In any case, the merit system tends to foster pro-social attitudes, encourages generosity and sustains the monks in an influential position in society which, in turn, means that their virtuous teachings are disseminated through the population. This can all work extremely well as long as the monks live up to their calling. They are the lynch pin of the system and so long as they remain virtuous and “worthy of offerings” all goes well. If the monks become lazy or selfish then all falls apart. The laity thus also have a vested interest in making sure that the monks stay up to scratch. In traditional Buddhist societies the equilibrium of checks and balances generally worked well. The influence of modern consumerism can, however, be quite corrosive to traditional societies of this kind.
A PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL TURN
Buddhism gave the old idea of karma some new twists. For one thing it made it more future oriented: if intentional action brings results then it matters what one does and what one's real intentions are and this matters inasmuch as the future matters. This means that in Buddhism karma is more about creating a good future than about paying off a bad past, though a variety of views exist, as we shall see. This change of orientation gave things a psychological turn: if intention is the crucial variable rather than the performance of formulaic actions then some introspection is called for to examine what one's motivations really are. This leads to concern with insight and it also leads to reflections upon human nature - upon what is actually possible. This then leads to an interest in the psychological, rather than merely physical, nature of karma. I once asked a monk what merit is and he said "happy mind|". If one has a clear conscience one lives a less troubled life.
In the next section we shall develop some of these ideas further.
THE IN BETWEEN
The word bardo refers to the state between lives. It is a gap or transition period. More generally, we experience many such periods, not merely after actual death but also after every ending before a new beginning has taken form. Mahayana Buddhism envisages a period of up to seven weeks between lives in which the karma of a person transitions through a non-physical, dream state before condensing into a new rebirth. During this time the things that our life is usually anchored to are missing. We are adrift with only our own karma to rely upon.
LIFE WITHOUT SUPPORTS
Reflection upon the bardo, therefore, is both an investigation of what we are when we give up our customary supports and, simultaneously how we cope with change - whether it comes to us as liberation or as a terror. Many people who seem stable and strong, fall apart when their props are no longer there.
This is, therefore, part of the Buddhist teaching on conditioning. Buddhism sets up a contrast between the world of conditioning and "the unconditioned". In ordinary life, everything seems to depend upon conditions. The spiritual or holy life is an attempt to ground oneself beyond conditions. In the bardo this is tested in the most extreme way and the result of this test is the next life.
The experience of the bardo is much like dream. At the end of each day we dream and one of the main functions of dreaming is to integrate the day that has passed in such a way as to provide a healthy mental attitude to the day that is to come. However, this does not always work. Sometimes what we have experienced is too extreme to be integrated. Also, depending upon the mental resilience one has - which is substantially a function of faith - so the same experience may feel more or less overwhelming. The person who has found faith in the unconditioned - in nirvana - experiences the bardo as access to bliss and the malevolent appearances there are seen as insubstantial, whereas the person still mired in conditions experiences them as real, overwhelming and terrifying. The average person experiences a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant visions and sensations, never quite reaching the highest nor sinking to the lowest.
At the death time there is a spontaneous review of the past life and in the bardo the effects of the past life are reencountered as dream-like experiences, both seductive and terrifying as the residues of the past life are sifted through and represented in symbolic form. One can think of Buddhist practice as being about getting ahead of the game by making such a life review earlier and in a sufficiently penetrating manner as to really make a difference to the way one lives, such that when the death time comes one is not unprepared. Our Western culture has turned its back on death whereas in Buddhism the time of dying is the one great moment for which all else is a preparation.
The bardo teachings thus have relevance in helping us to prepare for and beware of what may follow this life and also in relation to all transitions that occur actually in this life, each of which is a forerunner of the one great moment. Life is full of changes, many of which are unchosen. Do we learn? Do we grow or are we defeated? Does our past become an asset or a nightmare? Do we become more liberated or do we cling more tenaciously? Is our faith strengthened or does it fail us?
ENTERING UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
According to Buddhism, at death there firstly appears unconditional love in the manifestation of a clear white light. This may also be accompanied by visions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas - sambhogakaya - who come to assist us and take us to realms of light where our spiritual life will be enhanced and refreshed. However, the intensity is too much for most people and they are unable to merge into or go along with it and this refusal sets in train the passage toward another incarnation. Similarly, within this life, when something ends we find ourselves in a phase of unprecedented freedom, but generally people are unable to grasp this liberation and quickly flee into attachment and dependency of a new kind that, often enough, turns out to be just the same old prison in new guise.
ROUND AND ROUND
Although we can reflect upon this intellectually and understand that it is our own mind that is making life difficult for us, when change comes along we still fall prey to panic and make all the false moves that have let us down in the past. Instead of advancing into the light, we regress into old ways and become entangled all over again.
The basic model that is found in so many Buddhist teachings is that of going round in circles, the action that we take to escape being precisely what lands us back in the same old trap. This is samsara. In the bardo, before the bardo, and after the bardo, there is always opportunity to find liberation, but unaided we almost always fail to make the leap.
The latest edition of the Amida magazine:
Pure Land practice is simple. It doesn’t require that the practitioner be learned in Buddhist thought or exceptional in moral virtue, meditation, or spiritual discipline. It is suitable for those with busy lives, and it is as suitable for those who are struggling with self-destructive habits or feelings of despondency, anger, sadness, or confusion as it is for those who are full of joy in living. It connects us with the beauty in the world, is full of art and poetry, fosters gratitude for all we receive, and restores basic faith.
The origins of Pure Land practice lie in Shakyamuni’s teachings to laypeople and the devotion that people felt toward him during and after his lifetime. The great popularizers of this approach—Shan Tao in 7th-century China and Honen Shonin in 12th-century Japan, and their teachers, disciples, and associates—were people who lived exemplary Buddhist lives and knew the whole range of Buddhist teachings, yet chose to emphasize an approach to practice that was accessible to the ordinary person, no matter what their circumstance, personal virtue, gender, status, or history was. These teachers lived in dark times and offered hope.
Honen Shonin saw his father killed in civil war. He worried about the fate of his mother, who was a Korean immigrant. He was shocked by what he saw of human brutality in the Hogen uprising (1156). He understood that many people were trapped in oppressive social conditions they could do little or nothing about. He instituted the nembutsu, the recitation of the Buddha’s name, as a practice of solidarity with and solace for the oppressed.
The questions at the heart of Pure Land Buddhism are perennial and universal: How can we put ourselves in relationship with unconditional love and live a life that is open, spontaneous, compassionate, and full of trust, given that we are only ordinary human beings living in a world that is, as Buddha said, on fire with greed, hate, and delusion? We ourselves are not immune: we are part of this world. How can we entrust ourselves to a way that goes beyond the worries and small-minded concerns that clutter ordinary existence and be part of something greater that contributes to the welfare of all sentient beings, when our capacity is so limited and we are already corrupted by beginningless karma?
THREE CORE ELEMENTS
In Pure Land Buddhism, the great unconditional love that we intuit is embodied in Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light. In Mahayana Buddhism, of which Pure Land is a part, there is a strong sense that the being of Buddha is not something limited to a single place and time but is universally present and available, inspiring and benefitting us. This is known as the Buddha’s sambhoghakaya aspect. In Pure Land, enlightenment is not so much something to be achieved by personal attainment but rather something that constantly bathes us, a light for the world already given by the boundless presence of buddhas and their teachings.
Then, in contradistinction to this inspiring intuition, Pure Land practice also begins with a recognition that in oneself, one does not perfectly embody such wisdom and compassion; that as a matter of fact and daily evidence, we are deluded beings, emotionally vulnerable and prone to all kinds of errors. This is the state that ordinary people recognize when they say, “I’m only human.” In Japanese it is our bombu nature. In this sense we are literally “foolish beings,” and it is this humble self-recognition that is the second foundation of Pure Land practice.
Putting these two things together—recognition of universal love on the one hand and of our own limited nature on the other—we may suddenly experience a shift, or even a shock. Here we are, prone to greed, hate, and delusion in all their many forms, often acting selfishly and making mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences, yet from the perspective of universal compassion, loved and accepted just as we are. In the language of Pure Land Buddhism, we are accepted by the love of the buddhas, Amida Buddha in particular. In Pure Land practice we recite the Buddha’s name to express our feeling about this, especially our gratitude and wonderment.
These, then, are the three foundations of Pure Land practice. First, to recognize the universal presence. Second, to face our own limited nature. Third, to express wonderment through calling out the name of the Buddha. As we continue with such practice, the calling, as it were, turns around and turns us around. We start to experience it not so much as me calling to the Buddha, but more and more as Buddha calling me. Pure Land Buddhism is, therefore, a “calling” in both senses of the word. It is a practice of calling out, and it is also a sense of being called—a practice that shapes one’s life and provides a spiritual security that transcends even birth and death.
PRACTICING THE NEMBUTSU WAY
There are many ways to call the Buddha’s name, and throughout the Buddhist world devotees do so in one way or another. It may be “Namo Buddhaya,” “Namo Tassa,” or “Buddham saranam gacchami.” In China it may be “Omito Fo” and in Japan “Namo Amida Butsu.” In the West this last tends to be Anglicized as “Namo Amida Bu” in order to preserve the six-syllable form of many Japanese chants. This method of calling the Buddha’s name is known as nembutsu.
The term nembutsu means “mindfulness of Buddha.” Namo Amida Bu means “I call upon measureless Buddha.” However, in reality this practice is not an intellectual or cognitive assertion; it is an expression of sentiment and a way of opening one’s heart to receive. When one recites the nembutsu it is an expression of gratitude and wonderment but also an expression of whatever spiritual feeling is arising at that time. In this sense it is an offering of oneself and a reception of grace. Reciting nembutsu is a two-way street connecting you with Buddha. It is not a straitjacket, not an attempt to squeeze oneself into a prescribed form or arrive at a prespecified state of mind. Each time one says the nembutsu, something different may arise. Whatever one is, one offers, and one receives what one needs. The hallmark of Pure Land is great acceptance, and one of the most difficult things may be to accept that one is already accepted.
Nembutsu can be said, called, chanted, or expressed in any of a great many different ways, rhythms, forms, melodies, and formats, in groups, in big, beautiful formal ceremonies, or while out on one’s own having a walk. Something good happens, “Namo Amida Bu.” Something bad happens, “Namo Amida Bu.” Stuck at traffic lights, “Namo Amida Bu.” Meeting another practitioner, “Namo Amida Bu.” As one gets into it, other practices also start to become forms of nembutsu. Bowing is nembutsu with the body. Acts of generosity are nembutsu for others. Visiting a shrine is nembutsu, because it brings us into mindfulness of Buddha.
What we are talking about is not really a technique but more an approach or orientation. It involves a positive use of imagination and a mobilization of emotion. The whole person is accepted. Pure Land is expressive and poetic. It encompasses the fullness and the pathos of life. It is sometimes said that Pure Land is for those of us who have already failed at more disciplined, ascetic, or demanding approaches, who are perhaps too sensitive, or too artistic, or too ordinary for the more heroic paths. Just say the nembutsu, and keep on saying it, and see.
One thing that we may well see is that insofar as we do take on board the sense that we are accepted even as we are, we tend to become more accepting of others. After all, they are flawed and fallible human beings just as we are, and they are up against the same samsaric difficulties burdened with their own karma, just as we are. We become more sympathetic to the failings of others. We feel loved and more able to love others in return. This is the foundation of true compassion and fellow feeling, which is the universal flavor of the dharma. When we take up the Pure Land orientation, the failures and tragedies that occur confirm rather than shake our faith.
Time to fall
is time to float
for a lotus blossom
In order to start the practice, you don’t need a clear idea of exactly what Amida is or how nembutsu works. Don’t inhibit your imagination, intuition, or emotion. This is not a creed or a dogma; it is a style. You can generate a sense of Amida as an unfolding wholesome energy, as the spirit that moved the Buddha to live a good life, or as unconditional love, but don’t worry about precision or accuracy. If you just have the sense that nembutsu might be a good thing and do it trusting that it will do its work, that is fine. In fact, it is more than fine, and for a special reason. Where many spiritual practices are about becoming more and more conscious, alert, and sharply aware and precise, Pure Land is more a matter of letting the spiritual sense sink down into one’s unconscious. It is not really that we do the practice so much as that the practice works on us, and it does so quietly, in the background, little by little transforming one’s life. Try it. If it works for you, keep going!
A good way to start practicing nembutsu may be to chant “Namo Amida Bu” for five minutes, once or twice a day. That’s it. You can either say the words or listen to a recording of the chant, which you can find online. Feel free to chant along with audio, or chant alone and vary the speed or pitch to suit your own voice. Some people feel self-conscious when they first start chanting, or worry about whether they’re getting it “right.” These feelings will likely fade after a few days [see “Getting Started” for more tips on beginning your practice].
If it helps, you can also simply incorporate nembutsu into daily life. The founders were aware that many ordinary Chinese or Japanese people would have to do their practice while planting rice seedlings or sailing a boat. In our case it might be mowing the lawn or driving the car.
Then again, as in any practice, it is good, if possible, to associate with other practitioners. In East Asia this is easy enough, but in the West one might have to reach out through the Internet. It is excellent when we can meet in person and chant together. Chanting is a practice that brings people closer, even if it is via a video link. A nembutsu meeting with some time for chanting and some time for personal sharing can be a great support to practice even when only two or three people are present, although this is even more helpful in a larger group.
In all of these ways we can express thanks for what we receive. A core element of the dharma is the teaching of dependent origination. Everything arises from causes and conditions, which means that everything that we are and everything we have depends upon other things to which we can express gratitude. Nembutsu is the way to do that—a way that not only gives thanks for the specific circumstance but also simultaneously, in a mere six syllables, invokes and connects all involved to the infinite wisdom and compassion of the buddhas. When you get your cup of coffee, “Namo Amida Bu.”
One can’t say exactly how this wholesome energy will affect you—it will depend upon what you need. Sometimes we don’t even know what’s best for ourselves, so we must trust that something good will begin to unfold. As the days go by, you may begin to feel more peaceful or gain more perspective on your problems. Some people notice that they are dealing with their emotions differently and having more patience with themselves and those around them. Most people feel more settled and more secure, less anxious and more natural.
Shinran, the most famous disciple of Honen Shonin, says in one of his songs that the Pure Land is jinen, which is sometimes translated as “naturalness,” or “things in their natural state.” Or as the Pure Land teacher Zuigen Inagaki writes:
Just as you are,
just as you are!
I hope that you enjoy your explorations with nembutsu, and that it brings you the inspiration, peace, courage, and comfort that it has brought me.
Namo Amida Bu!
This article is a part of the special section “Meditations Off the Beaten Path” in Tricycle’s Winter 2018 issue.
Jill Suttie: I’ve been an avid hiker my whole life. From the time I first strapped on a backpack and headed into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I was hooked on the experience, loving the way being in nature cleared my mind and helped me to feel more grounded and peaceful.
Nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior.
But, even though I’ve always believed that hiking in nature had many psychological benefits, I’ve never had much science to back me up … until now, that is. Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and to increase our attention capacity, creativity, and ability to connect with other people.
“People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several hundred years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers,” says researcher David Strayer, of the University of Utah. “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.”
While he and other scientists may believe nature benefits our well-being, we live in a society where people spend more and more time indoors and online—especially children. Findings on how nature improves our brains bring added legitimacy to the call for preserving natural spaces—both urban and wild—and for spending more time in nature in order to lead healthier, happier, and more creative lives.
Here are some of the ways that science is showing how being in nature affects our brains and bodies.
It’s clear that hiking—and any physical activity—can reduce stress and anxiety. But, there’s something about being in nature that may augment those impacts.
In one recent experiment conducted in Japan, participants were assigned to walk either in a forest or in an urban center (taking walks of equal length and difficulty) while having their heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure measured. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their moods, stress levels, and other psychological measures.
Garrison Keillor writes:
I saw Hillary once working a rope line for more than an hour, a Secret Service man holding her firmly by the hips as she leaned over the rope and reached into the mass of arms and hands reaching out to her. She had learned the art of encountering the crowd and making it look personal. It was not glamorous work, more like picking fruit, and it took the sort of discipline your mother instills in you: those people waited to see you so by gosh you can treat them right.
So it’s no surprise she pushed herself to the point of collapse the other day. What’s odd is the perspective, expressed in several stories, that her determination to keep going reveals a “lack of transparency” ---- that she should’ve announced she had pneumonia and gone home and crawled into bed.
I’ve never gone fishing with her, which is how you really get to know someone, but I did sit next to her at dinner once, one of those stiff dinners that is nobody’s idea of a wild good time, the conversation tends to be stilted, everybody’s beat, you worry about spilling soup down your shirtfront. She being First Lady led the way and she being a Wellesley girl, the way led upward. We talked about my infant daughter and schools and about Justice Blackmun, and I said how inspiring it was to sit and watch the Court in session, and she laughed and said, “I don’t think it’d be a good idea for me to show up in a courtroom where a member of my family might be a defendant.” A succinct and witty retort. And she turned and bestowed her attention on Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was sitting to her right. She focused on him and even made him chuckle a few times. I was impressed by her smarts, even more by her discipline.
I don’t have that discipline. Most people don’t. Politics didn’t appeal to me back in my youth, the rhetoric (“Ask not what your country can do for you”) was so wooden compared to “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” so I walked dark rainy streets imagining the great novel I wouldn’t write and was still trying to be cool and indifferent well into my thirties, when other people were making a difference in the world.
Hillary didn’t have a prolonged adolescence and fiction was not her ambition. She doesn’t do dreaminess. What some people see as a relentless quest for power strikes me as the good habits of a serious Methodist. Be steady. Don’t give up. It’s not about you. Work for the night is coming.
The woman who does not conceal her own intelligence is a fine American tradition, going back to Anne Bradstreet and Harriet Beecher Stowe and my ancestor Prudence Crandall, but none has been subjected to the steady hectoring that Mrs. Clinton has. She is the first major-party nominee to be pictured in prison stripes by the opposition. She is the first cabinet officer ever to be held personally responsible for her own email server, something ordinarily delegated to anonymous nerds in I.T. The fact that terrorists attacked an American compound in Libya under cover of darkness when Secretary Clinton presumably got some sleep has been held against her, as if she personally was in command of the defense of the compound, a walkie-talkie in her hand, calling in air strikes.
Extremism has poked its head into the mainstream, aided by the Internet. Back in the day, you occasionally saw cranks on a street corner handing out mimeographed handbills arguing that FDR was responsible for Pearl Harbor, but you saw their bad haircuts, the bitterness in their eyes, and you turned away. Now they’re in your computer, whispering that the economy is on the verge of collapse and for a few bucks they’ll tell you how to protect your savings. But lacking clear evidence, we proceed forward. We don’t operate on the basis of lurid conjecture.
Someday historians will get this right and look back at the steady pitter-pat of scandals that turned out to be nothing, nada, zero and ixnay and will conclude that, almost a century after women’s suffrage, almost 50 years after Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, a woman was required to run for office wearing concrete shoes. Check back fifty years from now and if I’m wrong, go ahead and dance on my grave.
“When looking at the big picture — the yin, the yang, of things — grief and loss are, more precisely, about finding the courage and the determination to come to a more complete understanding of life in its glorious yet, utterly baffling, entirety.”
~ Daisy A Hickman
Many Modes of Spirituality
The contemporary world is such a confusing place. We have available to us a greater plethora of ideas than perhaps any previous age. The spiritual treasures of the whole world and much of history are spilled out at our feet and we do not know how to choose from amongst them. Actually any single jewel may be sufficient. It is surely not a matter of finding the right one any more than it is a matter of quantity. Sufi, Buddhist, Catholic, or even agnostic-yet-spiritual... there are many modes. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, said Shakespaere, but if one wastes so much energy disputing the name that one never stops to savour the aroma, the point is missed. They are all modes of expression of our deepest longing, our prayer and it is important that that longing find expression one way or another.
Loving the Divine No Matter the Creed
There are a growing number of people whose spirituality transcends the boundaries of traditional religions. They might be those who, like myself, practise one specific creed and benefit hugely, yet still know that it is just one vehicle and that many other vehicles might have done passably well; or they might be people who have never really settled in any one confessional community yet still harbour a strong spiritual sense of life. Such people, and there are many, find themselves at home with others who have fallen in love with the Divine no matter what their creed, but are less at ease with those who claim that one single interpretation of ultimate truth and one single book and church are exclusively right, all others being wrong and blameworthy, even if the church in question is our own – what embarrassment – and even if the creed is called "science" and the book was written by Darwin.