During the rest of the day, I rarely, if ever, think about my Buddhistness. I don't wear a pirith noola, I don't wish people the blessings of the triple gem, I just go about my business. I do go to temple twice or thrice a year but I’m not a huge fan of temples because of how concrete they are and the people who do everything but worship. I don't wear my religion like some people do. I don't remember much of what I learnt at school about Buddhism. I went to daham pasal for a couple of weeks only.
But I do love reading and hearing about the Dhamma. I look at the Buddha not as the statue we worship and offer flowers or food to. I take part in this form of worship only because it calms me. Mornings are hectic at home and the ritual of offering flowers, lighting a joss stick, reciting those few words, gives me a way of stepping away from the morning rush.
If someone asks me what my religion is, I might say I'm a Buddhist and it is this conversion to religion that has brought about the distortion of Buddhism. It's not easy to be, for instance, a Christian and believe in the entire Buddhist doctrine too. Anithya, or impermanence, is defeated by the concept of a soul that, after its time in this human world goes to heaven or hell.
However, this doesn't make Buddhism a religion. I dislike the Buddhist rituals that contradict what the Buddha preached, for instance, the offering of flowers to a statue of a person who is no longer alive, in any form. I remember one Buddhism lesson in school where the teacher told us that the Buddha’s presence is everywhere. She made the Buddha seem like god. And then they tell us the Buddha attained enlightenment. His samsaric journey ends. He no longer exists. His aathma is no longer there.
So the Buddha has been deified, even though wrong perceptions or beliefs or mithya dushtya is warned about in the Dhamma. Some Buddhists have gone the extra mile and converted Hindu gods to Buddhism. There was a time when I accompanied my uncle, aunt and cousins to Katharagama each year. Usually, we first worship the kiri vehera and then they go to the dewala while I try to avoid the puja. The last time I went with them, I remember how they said they would be late for the puja if they went to the kiri vehera first. So they went to the dewala while Athamma and I said our gatha, walked around and meditated.
So what is Buddhism if the gods are given more importance than the Buddha? Is your shrine room of any use if I can't worship or offer flowers or just meditate simply because your deity statues don't like it that I'm on my period?
If you look at the niyama dhamma, offering a tray of fruit and money to deities will not change anything in your life. The number of people you invite to an alms giving isn't as important as the alms you give a person, especially a monk, or animal.
A saffron robed person isn't necessarily a monk. Hell, I can don a robe, shave my head and slander Buddhism. My appearance doesn't make me a monk, and my views and what I say cannot be turned into a story where a monk herself insulted Buddhism. It takes more than a robe, a shaved head and residence in a temple to be a monk.
During a sermon, a monk once explained who a Buddhist is, and it sure as hell isn't someone whose birth certificate says he is a Buddhist.
Imaad Majeed had recently posted a photograph where beneath a picture of the Buddha is a garbage bin. Some people called it disrespectful. How is it disrespectful? Yes, it is trash but the Buddha is so much more than paper and ink. And then, if you are talking about Gautama Buddha, he is in the Dhamma and the Sangha and not in the statues and pictures we worship. The statues give us a way to focus our wishes and gatha but they are here due to our weaknesses, our inability to worship something that's not, in some form, before us.
One of the ladies in the staff transport van I travel in spends most mornings reading gatha. She slightly raises her bum from the seat when passing the golden Buddha statue in Panadura and a small statue on the New Galle Road. And yet, she makes racist comments about the 'Muslims that are taking over' and believes that deities can change our lives. She also raises her bum from the seat when passing the kovil in Bambalapitiya. It really doesn't seem like she's paying attention to the Dhamma.
We tend to look over the second of the three gems. The Buddha we have in our homes. The Sangha we offer alms to. But the Dhamma goes forgotten. Who, after all, has time for the truth, for a reminder of reality?