While in Malaysia in 1994, I was exhorting people to ask questions during one of my Dharma-talks, and someone responded: "But Malaysians are not in the habit of asking questions; it’s not the Malaysian way". I replied to this: "What is a Malaysian? Can you really stereotype people like that, as if they are identical? Moreover, you cannot speak for other people but only for yourself. Do you presume to know others so well that you can speak for them and say that it’s not the Malaysian way to ask questions? Can you—or anyone else—give a description of a Malaysian that would fit all Malaysians? You obviously have the idea that Malaysians are like items from a factory, mass-produced and identical. Are you content to identify yourself with a large group of people, or do you want to find yourself and become an individual?"

What we say about others often says more about ourselves than about them. It happened that after I had explained about this, there were quite a few questions from my audience, but the person who had raised the objection earlier was silent. He should have said: "I am not in the habit of asking questions; it’s not my way", rather than speaking for all Malaysians, because Malaysia, like every other nation, is composed of many kinds of people; also, each person is not constant but changes, and at one time might be like this, and another time, like that. It is really a mistake to categorize ourselves and others, as it prevents discovery.

When we say what we are—that is, when we say "I am a Buddhist", for example—simultaneously we are saying, unspokenly, what we are not, that "I am not a Hindu, am not a Christian", etc. We categorize and thus limit ourselves—put ourselves in a box with a label on it, as it were. And, because we do not know who or what we are—we really do not—however can we call ourselves anything at all? It is not only inappropriate to do so but it acts as an obstacle to finding out who we are, as it often happens that the names become so important that we think we have already arrived; we take the words/names for real, when a little investigation would reveal that a name is not a thing, is not the thing that it refers to. This side of Enlightenment, it is inappropriate to call ourselves ‘Buddhists’, as we do not know who or what we are, so how can we call ourselves anything? That side of Enlightenment, all words and names are meaningless and superfluous. So, when is the name ‘Buddhist’ appropriate?

It is derived from the root-word Budh or Bodh, meaning ‘awake’ or ‘enlightened’. Does calling oneself ‘Buddhist’ make one enlightened, or does it not restrict and impede one from learning from non-Buddhist ways? And who is so bigoted as to think that Dharma is the monopoly of Buddhism, not to be found in other ways?

If we would relax our grasp on the names we call ourselves and others, and cease to identify with them as closely as we do, if we would see through and beyond them to our basic humanity, to see that "I am a human being, and you are, too", instead of dividing ourselves with names—"I am a Buddhist and you are a Christian", and so on—we would be in a much better position to avail ourselves of the accumulated wisdom of the human race, and it would certainly help us in our search for Truth, if that is what we are really looking for, as many of us say we are.

< Previous  -   Next>

Home  -   Against The Stream  -   As It Is  -   Because I Care  -   Behind The Mask  -   Boleh Tahan -   Just A Thought -   Let Me See  -   Lotus Petals  -   Not This, Not That  -   Parting Shots  -   Ripples Following Ripples  -   So Many Roads  -   This, Too, Will Pass  -   Wait A Minute!  -   Your Questions, My Answers  -   Download  -   Funeral  -   Links  -   Contact