We need to get beyond mindless stereotypes about religion if we are to deepen our understanding of this important dimension of human life. One definition of religion is a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion. In Old French, or from Latin - ‘religio’ means: obligation, bond, reverence. There is the Latin word: ‘religare’ (to bind). Buddhism is pursued by many with great interest and devotion. Therefore, it is a religion for those who relate to it in this way.
As a consequence of this relationship to Buddhism we can become ‘bound to’ (religare) various teachings and practices. We need to give attention to the nature of the relationship. If it is a fanatical relationship we develop it is going to lead to dukkha - just like any other form of mania we may succumb to.
To be fanatical about any teaching or philosophy - or anything - is going to create a sense of the ‘wrongness’ of those who do not ascribe to the fanatics belief system. The belief system may be secular or based on any kind of ideology. We are all victims of our own delusional systems until we find the clarity and care that wakes up, lights up, in ‘this life’ - despite what we think about ourselves, others or, anything else. In-groups create out-groups!
We come out of dukkha by holding things lightly, gently, with kindness and, with presence of mind. The purpose of Buddhism is to help us to realise our freedom - to inquire into the nature of our tendency to become ‘bound to’ anything! Therefore, Buddhism is only a skilful means for ‘crossing over’ the stream of the world to the safety of being human - without needing anything from the world for our sense of self worth - our inner peace, joy and deep abiding care.
We cannot be bound to the truth that liberates because there is nowhere to tether ourselves - and attach. All bonds can - and will - be broken. Existence is self-liberating! We only need to avoid getting in the way. Who is it that attaches and ties itself to freedom without measure - without conditions? To discover this ‘freedom’ (unbinding) we need to start somewhere. We require a heart-felt interest in finding out what is going on with us that makes us suffer without good reason. The true goal of religious inquiry - religious practice - is to let go of the religious inquiry. It is not required when we find the answers we need - and live them without reservation.
Letting go does not mean throwing away - it means holding lightly with care and wisdom. We don’t need to throw away anything that serves a useful purpose for ourselves - or anyone else. Any ideology that divides people and prevents them meeting with care and mutual respect should be let go of without hesitation.
All formations arise and cease by themselves. Sometimes, when we struggle to be free of things they are kept alive beyond their natural ‘used by’ date and they follow us and intrude on our sense of wellbeing - like ghosts in the night. We need to give up fighting ghosts and embracing apparitions. Direct seeing/feeling is the catalyst that remedies our faulty perceptions and ideas - the misunderstandings, problems and torments they give rise to.
Religious inquiry is of great benefit. It is a process of healing and renewal. Fanatical ideology is a real danger to our welfare - not the religious or spiritual impulse that many of us feel and respond to. Clinging tenaciously to dualisms of light versus darkness, knowledge versus ignorance, truth versus superstition is not a waking up to anything that is truly liberating - it does not free the heart from dukkha.
If one is committed to being a believer/non-believer you are wasting your time in a useless pursuit. These are assumed identities that we cling to! They are persona’s (masks) that cover and hide our simplicity of being. They obscure the process that drives us to despair and they prevent us from realising those shifts in consciousness that make a real difference in life and living - freeing us from self-centred love and our futile attempts to control the uncontrollable.
In caring for and understanding ourselves properly we can then benefit others in ways that are meaningful and deeply transformative. We are really nobodies going nowhere! We are not what we take ourselves to be! We are not who we think we are! Our thoughts - out of which we create the stories we live by - are just passing clouds without substance without essence - let it all go. Waking up is not an imaginative exercise.
“Do not be a bodhisattva, do not be an arahant, do not be anything at all.” - Ajahn Chah