Over at Open Buddha, Al recounts this useful story:
A friend of mine, named “Robert,” used to own an esoteric bookstore in Seattle. Much of his stock and customers were Buddhists, as opposed to the pagans that I normally ran with. It was one of the places where I began to encounter Buddhist books and ideas though. Robert used to mention that one of the problems with Buddhists, in his experience, was “ABP,” or “Artificial Buddhist Personality.” This is the persona that so many Buddhists seem to assume where they take up the trappings, the mental ones as much as any physical ones like statues or beads, of what they think a Buddhist should be and they wear them like a new skin. They aren’t necessarily compassionate, for example, but they know they should be so they go through the motions. The problem here is, of course, that realization is not a persona. It is not something that we take on or assume as mask or role. It is a waking up from masks and roles. The compassion and other attributes of awakening are the natural result, as expressed in the world, of this awakening.
There is an insidiousness to this "ABP" Al's friend pointed to. It's very easy to get into the habit of acting a certain way you believe is better, and avoid looking at the motivations behind it. I think there is some value in the "faking it until you make it approach," for example, but it's also the case that too much of it leads you away from seeing what's actually arising. You do something kind for another, but you miss the resentment or need to be liked behind the surface. Or you refrain from expressing anger at your co-worker, but you fail to express the need for support or honesty from the same co-worker. There's so much energy put into trying to "do the right thing" that you don't have enough to see what's actually present.
When you think about it, there is a corresponding version of ABP in all religious and spiritual traditions. And this tends to be one of the things secular humanists, atheists, and other folks point to when speaking about how delusional these traditions are. The way I see it, they're totally right that these inflated personas, from which those inhabiting them shame and guilt everyone else around them, are certainly delusional.
Another challenge I have experienced with ABP is that when you put on a "good front," people start to expect that from you all the time. Acting like a saint reinforces the commonplace stereotypes about Buddhists being always kind, peaceful, and loving individuals. Not only is it suffocating for us practitioners to try and uphold such ridiculous standards, but it makes it that much more difficult for others to gain any insight into what Buddhism is all about. Not that some general insight into Buddhism by others is all that important. But it's easier, from my experience, to be yourself when there aren't expectations of some form of perfection inside and all around.