Behind The Mask ~ RELIGION DIVIDES,
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.