Are you Buddhist?

For many people a shaved head plus orange robes equals a Buddhist. At least that’s been my experience as a traveling monk. While the Buddhist and Vedic path are two distinct schools, they do share many things in common. The teachings, culture and spiritual practices bear striking resemblance to each other, and the ways of thought and action are both intriguing. Interestingly, followers of the Vedic tradition accept Buddha as an incarnation of Krishna, the speaker of Bhagavad-gita. The Buddha’s life and teachings are discussed in numerous passages of the Vedic texts, where his mission, contribution and spiritual achievements are expounded and predicted.

Fundamental meditations in Buddhism awaken one to the unpleasant facts of life, the nature of this world, and the reality of suffering. In the Buddhist teachings we find particular emphasis on the development of saintly qualities such as nonviolence, compassion and truthfulness. Buddhist texts describe how the root of suffering is found within the powerful material desires embedded in our hearts. The Buddha talked of karma, reincarnation, and transcending samsara (cycle of birth and death) through mind and sense control. The very same teachings are elucidated within the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts. Followers of both traditions work at quieting unnecessary passions or desires, and instead cultivating desires of the spirit, pursuing the passion for truth.

So is there any difference? For Buddhists, nirvana, or cessation of material existence, is the goal. In the Bhagavad-gita, however, Krishna explains that relief from distress is only an intermediate stage on the path, but that spirituality ultimately evolves into positive emotion and action. One path is likened to awakening from a bad nightmare and experiencing relief and freedom. The other path encourages one to get up from bed, and go on to experience life to its fullest extent.  As Buddhism focuses on escaping this material world, the Bhagavad-gita talks of entering the spiritual world. That world is known as Vaikuntha, the place of no distress, but also the place where every word is a song, every step is a dance, every action is selfless, and every relationship permeated by love.

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