0300 – Engaged, but not attached

300th post!

Purposefairy wrote in her wildly popular inspirational post “15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy” that we sometimes have to embrace change and let go of things that are holding us back from happiness. This notion is something I’m very familiar with as I was raised Buddhist. “Attachments”–that’s what we call them. Attachment to worldly things is part of the cause of suffering–a fact of life, one of the Four Noble Truths.

I actually don’t consider myself Buddhist anymore. Little-known fact: When I was young, I was ordained as a novice monk in a forest temple for two weeks in 2009, right before my arrival in the US. That experience, unfortunately or otherwise, was the pinnacle of my Buddhist pursuits. The experience aught me a lot and I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again if you ask me right now. I could definitely see why heading down this path would lead to ultimate happiness, but I felt like it wasn’t right for me.

Monkhood, in my very limited understanding then, seems like removing oneself from the world–an act I was not ready to commit to. As I’ve said many times, there’re things that I’d like to see in the world, and I still yearn to make a valuable contribution. In a nutshell, I still have attachments in the world that I was and am not ready to let go of. I still hope that one day, I can make a contribution. To me, in order to make a contribution, I need to remain very committed (synonymous to “attached” to me then) to my dreams. And this belief of mine seems to not fit into the Buddhist scheme of things.

Earlier this year, I was introduced by my friend, Mr. Eric Weiner, to the concept of “Engaged Buddhism,” which captivated me. The phrase engaged Buddhism seems oxymoronic at first, but this emergent interpretation of Buddhism is saying that one can be engaged, but not attached. Huh.

I found this video:



The beauty–and sometimes point of contention–of Buddhism (and other religions as well I suppose) is that its interpretation and translation into actionable items in everyday life can be largely subjective. There’re different ways to adopt the teachings, and I am always interested in hearing about one that I can apply to my life. Engaged Buddhism is pretty intriguing and plausible in that regard.

Engaged Buddhism is pioneered by the great Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teachings have reached millions both in the East and West. I resonate very well with this interpretation, and m really glad to see that I learned about it. Yet, I won’t consider myself a Buddhist again.

Our society is obsessed with labels, from grades, nationality, age, race, religion, college major, etc. Some of them we have no control over, but some we do. Regardless, we seem to be very interested in learning about others’ labels, which I think is not right. In my refusal to choose a single religion, I have been free and able to internalize the teachings of various religions. Why must we choose a single label, when one is unique and a single label doesn’t really define who you are?

I’m not saying that I don’t believe in Buddhism anymore. I still do, and I still draw comfort and peace from the Buddha’s teachings often. But I no longer see the reason to call myself a Buddhist, when many other teachers have also found the Way, the Truth and the Light.


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