In some circles there is quite a lot of back and forth of late about who is a Buddhist. Specifically, what is it one must “believe” to be able to call themselves a Buddhist with integrity.
While I am inclined to accept anyone who says they are a Buddhist at face value, I do think there are three assertions about reality that trace right back to the founder and which I believe are at the heart of the tradition. And, I admit, it would be hard to see someone who rejected them as a Buddhist.
The following is a rearrangement of several verses from the Dhamapada, the Path chapter, said to have been preached at the Jatavana Grove. The Dhamapada is one of the most beloved of the traditional Pali documents, itself a section of the Khuddaka Nikaya. The great physician offers his diagnosis of the ills of our human hearts, and presents the cure.
They are to the best of my understanding the heart of the Buddha’s message.***
All elements of conditioned things are without essence. When you fully understand this your heart will be liberated. All conditioned things are impermanent. When you fully understand this your heart will be liberated. Trying to hold onto conditioned things is the source of the heart’s pain. When you fully understand this your heart will be liberated.
Enter this path and you will find the end of sorrow.
Teachers can only point the direction. Each of us must make our own way to liberation through meditation and harmony of thought and action.
Can these assertions be engaged? Of course. I personally think the assertion that all conditioned things are suffering needs unpacking. But this is a faithful engagement, an honest attempt to encounter with one’s heart and mind an invitation that seems to speak deep truths, and offers something wondrous to a suffering world.