Marie Rose White on what being ”Buddhist” really means to her.
If I met Buddha on the road, would he care whether or not I called myself a Buddhist?
Would it matter whether I identified as Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen, Tibetan, Pure Land……
Would he care if I chanted sutras correctly or whether I practiced Tonglen vs. Zazen?
Would it matter if I looked the part, wearing saffron robes, or robes at all? What if I wore my hair long, and had on a short skirt that day?
If I met Buddha on the road, would I slow down enough to even recognize him? Or would I leave him in my wake as I raced to catch the bus?
I’m new to this highway, to this Dharma road. I haven’t chosen a tradition. Or maybe no tradition has chosen me… I do not have a formal teacher. But I find teachers everywhere. In the books I read, the online communities to which I am so fortunate to have access, and in less likely places as well. I’ve met Buddha on the road in all different shapes, sizes, and incarnations.
I met him in Detroit once, when on my way home from the bar at 3 a.m., I saw a man stop in the middle of stealing a car to help a woman whose boyfriend had just pushed her out of the car into the street.
And in Alaska, when thanks to a stubborn moose smack dab in the center of the highway, our morning commute came to a halt for 20 minutes. We all got out of our cars, talked to each other, and experienced the morning for the first time that day exactly the way it was at that moment. Moose and all.
I met him in California, when, while fighting with a (now ex-) boyfriend, I saw with a soul-searing clarity how deeply words could wound myself and others, and vowed to never again purposely use them as a weapon.
I met him in a parking lot in Denver when everybody, including an old man carrying an oxygen tank, dropped everything to help a little boy chase down his dog that was making a dash for a busy street.
Maybe with time, and a stronger need for discipline/focus and a deepening of practice, I’ll settle into a tradition. I can see there being comfort in alignment. Like sinking into that groove you’ve lovingly worn into your sofa, or putting on an old t-shirt that still smells like your lover after they’ve left for the day. I can see the value in a long term teacher/student relationship, the same way friendships, marriages and family bonds can mature with age.
But until then, the road itself is my practice, my lineage, my teaching, and I meet Buddha there every time I look for him.
I meet Buddha on the road every time I meet myself… even when it is only part way.
Marie Rose White grew up Catholic in Detroit, and after college, she left to live and work all over the United States. She’s not sure what or where she’ll be next year, but right now, she’s in Denver.