Scott, over at the buddha is my dj, made a rare, but appreciated appearance in the form of a new post today. Having just listened to the Buddhist Geeks interview with Michael Trigilo about his new film "Bodhisattva, Superstar" two days ago, it was cool to discover Scott's reflection on the movie so quickly after.
Amongst his points, this one struck me:
Most of us know folks who are nominally Catholic — they’re the ones who only go to church on Easter or Christmas. Ask them about transubstantiation and they’ll likely tilt their heads and, at most, mutter something incoherent before changing the subject. Most of us probably know (or are at least familiar with the concept of) secular Jews — folks who are Jewish by birth and maybe they feel some strange familial pressure to have their sons circumcised but they have no qualms about eating bacon. Do they believe in God? Meh. It’s not really an issue. For some reason, these nominally religious folks are given a pass. We’re familiar with them and we don’t press them too much about their religious or spiritual lives.
But in many a Buddhist quarter, as soon as you announce to a crowded room that you are, in fact, “a Buddhist,” invariably the first question someone’s going to ask you is some form of the “do you practice?” question which almost always translates to “do you meditate?” And if, god forbid, you say no, you’re likely to suffer the stigma of not really being a Buddhist.
In the post, Scott writes about how he views his scholarly work on Buddhism as a form of practice, but that he also feels that it isn't sufficient to just do that. But he also questions the mindset that says you must meditate to be Buddhist, which he felt the movie implied is the case.
It might be helpful to note that Scott is a Shin Buddhist, a tradition that really hasn't emphasized sitting and walking forms of meditation.
As I have been bumping up against the question of "what is lay practice?," I find Scott's comments quite fascinating, in part because there are a lot of probably fruitless arguments going on in convert circles about what Buddhism is, and isn't. Everything from searching for an "essential core" of teachings to whether it's a religion or not.
But most of the converts, myself included, reside in traditions that emphasize meditation, and view doing it a lot as essential. I don't think that's a problem necessarily, and certainly I, myself, meditate a fair amount. However, it's not the only way. And my own experimenting, and the sometimes interesting reactions I get to it, show that it's kind of easy to get hung up on forms, forgetting that forms are skillful means that may or may not fit the situation at hand.