April 14, 2007

Book Review - What Makes You not A Buddhist

What Makes You Not A Buddhist
ISBN 978-1-59030-406-8
By Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
Shambhala Publications, December 2006

Dzongsar Khyentse is one of the most creative and innovative young Tibetan Buddhist lamas teaching today. The director of two feature films with Buddhist themes (the international sensation The Cup and Travelers and Magicians), this provocative teacher, artist, and poet is widely known and admired by Western Buddhists.

Moving away from conventional presentations of Buddhist teachings, Khyentse challenges readers to make sure they know what they’re talking about before they claim to be Buddhist. With wit and irony, Khyentse urges readers to move beyond the superficial trappings of Buddhism—beyond a romance with beads, incense, and exotic people in robes—straight to the heart of what the Buddha taught.

In essence, this book explains what a Buddhist really is, namely, someone who deeply understands the truth of impermanence and how our emotions can trap us in cycles of suffering. Khyentse presents the fundamental tenets of Buddhism in simple language, using examples we can all relate to.

From What Makes You Not A Buddhist

Sometimes out of frustration that Siddhartha’s teachings have not caught on enough for my liking, and sometimes out of my own ambition, I entertain ideas of reforming Buddhism, making it easier - more straightforward and puritanical. It is devious and misguided to imagine (as I sometimes do) simplifying Buddhism into defined, calculated practices like meditating three times a day, adhering to certain dress codes, and holding certain ideological beliefs, such as that the whole world must be converted to Buddhism. If we could promise that such practices would provide immediate, tangible results, I think there would be more Buddhists in the world. But when I recover from these fantasies (which I rarely do), my sober mind warns me that a world of people calling themselves Buddhists would not necessarily be a better world.


By writing this book, it is not my aim to persuade people to follow Shakyamuni Buddha, become Buddhists, and practice the dharma. I deliberately do not mention any meditation techniques, practices, or mantras. My primary intention is to point out the unique part of Buddhism that differentiates it from other views. What did this Indian prince say that earned so much respect and admiration, even from skeptical modern scientists like Albert Einstein? What did he say that moved thousands of pilgrims to prostrate themselves all the way from Tibet to Bodh Gaya? What sets Buddhism apart from the religions of the world? I believe it boils down to the four seals, and I have attempted to present these difficult concepts in the simplest language available to me.

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