Let me be clear. I am not Buddhist. To declare myself a true Buddhist I would need to subscribe to the precepts and make some lifestyle changes that frankly, I am not ready for. My guess is that anyone you know who calls himself “a Buddhist” doesn’t really adhere to the precepts, but is willing to let the lines blur for the sake of the label. I am also not an expert on Buddhism, not by a long shot, but I have done my fair share of reading and research. I’ve learned enough to know that I really resonate with Buddhist philosophy, ideas, and practices, all which I strive to incorporate more into my life. I know that Buddhism is not a religion; it is a philosophy that teaches said ideas and practices, and one can certainly utilize these things, as well as the precepts, without making bold declarations or any sort of conversion. (One cannot convert to Buddhism, as it is not, again, a religion). Christians, Jews, Muslims, believers and non-believers alike can all practice Buddhism and incorporate it into their own religion and lifestyle. I mentioned in a post last year that I half-jokingly call myself a Buddhist-leaning atheist, which I think is a fair description. Take from that what you like, but also know that I don’t put a lot of stock in labels or subscriptions, but rather actions and practices. Walk the walk and all.
I am also not Catholic, obvi. I used to be, if you can call going to mass with my parents, doodling on the program and trying not to get kicked out for snickering with my sister being Catholic. (Although, many people do a whole lot of worse shit and call themselves Catholics, but I digress). I did take communion, but had no idea what it really meant or what eating those oddly delicious wafers entailed. Body of Christ? Sure, I’m just trying to tide myself over until lunch. I think my parents actually were righteous Catholics at some point, although we “converted” to the Presbyterian church in the early 90’s because all our friends went there. The fact that both sides of my extended family practice Catholicism devoutly makes this nonchalant transition even more surprising, and also accentuates how unattached we were / I am to labels, which I guess is a good thing. I like to think that my parents’ rationale was “if you’re not walking the walk, don’t talk the talk” and not “when in Rome…”, pun intended.
So how can I practice Lent? I’ll tell you how… I just do. Again, I don’t believe that one needs to slap a label on their chest or take a big-deal vow to partake in a tradition (see: Christmas). I appreciate and respect the Catholic faith and I have a huge human-crush on the Pope these days. There is something really lovely about the sanctity and old-schoolness of Catholicism (er, at least some of it). Like all religions, if taken too literally it can get a little extreme (see: birth control). So, yes, I pick and chose ideas from various traditions to make my own personal mash-up of faith… a poo-platter of piety, if you will. And, no, I don’t think it’s sacrilege or disrespectful, as I 1) am not religious and 2) have the utmost respect for all religions (when practiced with common sense and human decency).
After all that build up, I bet you think what I am giving up for Lent is pretty epic, right? Wrong. I am abstaining from eating meat and cheese for these mighty 40 days (sorry for the let down). To elaborate, if you care, I am still eating fish, so I’m not a true vegetarian, and I am having milk and yogurt, so I’m definitely not vegan. I’m just saying no to anything that flies, crawls, or walks, and, most heartbreakingly, that deliciously stinky, gooey, stretchy taffy of love. Udder crack. The big cheese. All in all it’s gone swimmingly well so far; I’m generally pescetarian anyway, so carving that in stone for a month or more (or forever) was not a big leap. Yes I love some cheesy goodness, but I also know that my body feels way better without it, so keeping that in mind softens the blow when passing on the ‘za. Honestly, I have other vices that I could give up and and would be much more challenging and impactful, but again, there are certain lengths I am just not willing to go to for the sake of my spiritual enlightenment or purity of body right now. (Pause to refill glass).
The point of this whole spiel was not to brag about my willpower (or lack thereof) or to persuade you to give up something you enjoy or crave. My point, if I have one, is to say that just because I am not “a Christian” (gasp!) it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and practice certain aspects of the faith. Just like you certainly don’t have to be Hindu to practice yoga, repeat Sanskrit mantras, or chant Kirtan. We can be Buddha-like without being Buddhist. We can do what Jesus would do without going to church. It’s called being a nice person, which may include embracing aspects of other faiths and traditions that could make you an even nicer/stronger/healthier person if you are open to it. You know what would be baller to give up for Lent? Judgement. Hate. Assuming that those who are different from you are threatening and dangerous. Maybe then when ‘merica piles into our churches and country clubs on Easter Sunday, gathering around an inhumanely fattened and tortured pig, we could celebrate not just the miraculous rebirth of a man, but a reawakening of compassion, tolerance, and understanding. Invite someone outside of your circle to your brunch table. Visit a mosque, a temple, or even a yoga studio if that’s foreign to you. To paraphrase P-Franky, let’s build less walls and more bridges. And maybe next year, skip the honey baked ham (although that might take a real miracle).