The Only Buddhist in America
I was “on the road” a few days ago, and stopped at a restaurant to eat. I took a couple of books with me to read and cross-reference each other. Well, a woman came over shortly after I sat down, and asked what I was reading. She said she was interested in Buddhism, but was confused by the stuff she finds on the internet. I gave her a copy of Dr. R. Walpola’s “What The Buddha Taught,” and went back to my food.
I was almost done eating when a fellow came over and said he saw the book I gave the lady, and asked if I am a “Lama.” I choked down the desire to respond with, “No, I’m just an overgrown old goat,” (Lama vs. llama – get it?), and told him I was a “bhikkhu” originally ordained in a Sri Lankan tradition. He then told me that he was really the only Buddhist in America. I invited him to sit with me, and elaborate on his statement.
This fellow, we’ll call him “George,” is probably in his early thirties. He told me he works for a defense contractor and travels all over the country. He was on his way from Oklahoma to North Dakota. In his travels he has been from coast to coast and border to border in the U.S., traveled all over Europe – north, south, east, and west, and has been to Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and South Asia. He has also been to Africa, and spent a lot of time in Israel. And he seeks out Buddhists everywhere he goes.
George contends that he has visited with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Buddhists – priests, monks, nuns, and lay practitioners. And, he avers, none of them are practicing the Way of the Buddha. They are practicing stuff, and most have a small part of the Way of the Buddha, but not one has ever explained their practice in terms of the Four Noble Truths. George avows that if you’re not trying to live the Four Noble Truths, then you are not a Buddhist.
As we continued our discussion, George clarified what he meant; that one needed to spend time every day reflecting on the Four Noble Truths, and seeing how one could practice and apply them in one’s moment to moment life. The more we talked, the more it became clear that what George was talking about was the Fourth Noble Truth, that is The Noble Eightfold Path.
George meditates on the four factors of mindfulness – body, emotions, thinking process and the things and events in the social and physical environment. He tries to study something for an hour or so each day. He struggles with his role as representative of a defense contractor. He thinks about the moral/ethical implications of his actions, and also the moral/ethical implications of all the “actors” on the world stage. And so on.
I gave George a business card – the Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society – and pointed out that Ariya Magga is Pāḷi for Noble Path. George asked a bunch of questions about my practice, and I think he may have changed his mind. He’s not “The Only Buddhist in America.” There are at least two of us.
And probably more. Many more.
If you sincerely and rigorously – maybe even religiously – practice the Ariya Magga, let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll pass the numbers along to George if I ever cross paths with him again.